Fairfax County adopts program for safer contact sports

High school football players go through drills. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Since time immemorial, coaches have badgered players to keep their heads in the game.

Now, football coaches in Fairfax County are trying to take heads out of it – at least the excessive helmet contact.

Fairfax County Public Schools has become the nation’s first school district to adopt a program called “Heads Up Football,” a curriculum from USA Football.

All 250 high school football coaches have been trained in the program, which is designed to reduce head injuries by stressing proper technique.

“This is the first time anyone at the high school level has looked at, ‘What do we do prior to the concussion to make it safer so we avoid that situation?'” says Bill Curran, the director of student activities and athletics for Fairfax County Public Schools.

He says coaches in recent years have learned to better recognize the signs of a head injury and to take appropriate methods for treatment.

This effort, a pilot program, is trying to get out ahead of concussions.

“What we’ve done and what USA Football has done is create this curriculum that uses sound fundamentals, where you’re not throwing your body at people, you’re wrapping up, you’re tackling, you’re taking the head somewhat out of the game,” Curran says.

Teaching sound fundamentals may not appear revolutionary. But traditionally, coaches have taken similar concepts and presented them in different ways and terms.

Now, high school football players are hearing the same words and doing the same drills, regardless of which school they attend.

“In the highlight reels you see the big hits where guys are throwing their bodies at other players, and frankly that’s not sound tackling,” Curran says.

After the season, the school district will compare data about injuries with previous years.

Curran also said he hopes to meet with lacrosse and other contact-sport coaches about expanding the program.

Below are the primary elements of the program:

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