One boy caught the eye of Chris Fritzsching, the Lions’ Director of Youth Football Programs. The boy was wearing a sling, so Fritzsching walked over to him and asked him how he was injured.
The boy told him he hurt his shoulder doing the “Bull in the Ring” drill at a recent football practice.
The drill places one player in the center of a circle formed by the rest of his teammates. The players on the perimeter are instructed to do anything in their power to keep the player in the middle from getting out of the circle.
“The Bull in the Ring drill has been banned for decades,” Fritzching said. “And that was just last year.
“You look up Bull in the Ring and you’ll see countless articles on the negative impact it has on kids and the number of kids who get hurt doing it. That’s just one prime example of a drill that is outdated that we just need to educate youth coaches on.
“A lot of (coaches) do it because they did it 25 years ago when they were playing. We have to get youth football coaches to evolve and educate themselves. It’s not just picking up a clipboard and putting on a whistle and going out to the field and doing drill work that you did decades ago.”
That’s why Fritzsching recently spent two weeks in Indianapolis in the USA Football’s Master Training Program initiative.
Fritzching is now one of only 34 Master Trainers across the country who’s job is to teach player safety coaches on the fundamentals of the new USA Football “Heads Up Football” program.
More than 900 youth football leagues across the country, representing more than 200,000 players and 30,000 coaches, have committed to the Heads Up Football, a new joint USA Football and NFL pilot program for the 2013 season dedicated to making the game better and safer.
The program is a comprehensive youth football initiative, whose aim is to take the head out of the game. Fritzsching and the other 33 master trainers will focus their teachings on head up tackling, concussion recognition and response and proper equipment fitting
“My job as a master trainer will ultimately be to teach the player safety coaches that are part of youth football organizations around the state, who then take that information that we’ve taught them and impart that within their organization and among their coaches, kids and parents,” Fritzsching said.
The Lions are the first NFL organization to have a master trainer on its staff. That makes sense seeing how Michigan is the second-leading state in the number of youth football programs who’ve adopted the new program.
“Hopefully it shows that we as an organization are taking the initiative and taking the lead as far as teaching these coaches and these kids the importance of this and how impactful it could be towards the future of our game,” he said.
“One example used at our clinic was the safety belt or seat belt rule (in cars). However many years ago that was implemented some people would get into their cars and think twice about putting it on because it was inconvenient and a pain in the butt to put on.
“But ultimately. over time, you grow up and you start having kids of your own and you’re making sure they’re safe and on and on and on it becomes habit.”
Fritzsching says USA Football is at the ground floor of implementing some of these terms and techniques to take the head out of football. He says the hope is that the new techniques become habit forming in the way the game is fundamentally taught at the youth football level.