USA Football model takes new approach in developing players

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              FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, file photo, coach John Galligan, left, directs players during a Rookie Tackle youth football game in Islip, N.Y.  USA Football is implementing its Football Development Model nationwide, after six youth organizations around the country took part in a pilot program last year. (AP Photo/Ralph Russo, File)
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Jeff Gorringe is a longtime coach and administrator in the same Utah youth football league that he started in as a player in 1972, and likes USA Football’s new player development model that is now nationwide.

“Too many people look at football as X’s and O’s. … This is a holistic approach to the game of football,” Gorringe said. “This is a re-imagination where it makes the game stronger, better and longer lasting than we’ve ever had.”

The Ute Conference, with about 6,500 players between ages 7-14, was one of six youth organizations across the country that last year was part of the pilot program for football’s first long-term athlete development model. The Football Development Model is based on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s American Development Model that focuses on skill development by offering multiple entry points and types of a sport.

USA Football serves about 9,000 school-based and youth programs with its nationally endorsed coaching education and playing standards programs. The FDM is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and teaching in a way that meets athletes where they are in their development as players and individuals.

Even at a time when USA Football can’t do in-person presentations and training sessions with league boards and coaches because of the coronavirus pandemic, USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck said more than 5,000 organizations have enrolled or sought information since the FDM was introduced at the group’s conference in February.

“That’s a significant number … the majority of organizations that are already embracing the idea of the concept. And that’s even with information rolling out,” Hallenbeck said. “That speaks volumes to us that there is a need and there’s a sense that we have to continue to evolve and change, and really adapt to what the new normal needs to be, and that this concept is resonating and has great potential.”

While football’s governing body has postponed or canceled all in-person coach certification clinics and other events through at least May because of the COVID-19, it conducted a webinar about the FDM for coaches and league officials earlier this month.

Along with expanded coach certification online, there is also enhanced curriculum there with new courses and other resources aligned with the new model.

The model’s six pillars are a whole-person and multisport approach to development; a focus on physical literacy and skill development; coach education and training; creating multiple pathways and options into and within the sport, such as non-contact and flag football, 7-on-7 programs, as well as full contact; making football fun and fulfilling; and participation in the sport and retention of the athletes.

Hallenbeck said there is an emphasis on the importance and value of teaching proper fundamentals in a way that is positive, fun and engaging, and also at the right age and stage for each player.

USA Football officials know the transition can take some time, and say leagues don’t have to feel obligated to try to implement everything all at once.

“Pick a few things that really interest you, that you really find that fit, would be beneficial to your league, and work with our regional managers or our staff,” Mike Krueger, the senior director of football education, said during the webinar. “Identify the bits and pieces that will work for you right now and create a strategy.”

The FDM incorporates programs such as Rookie Tackle and Tackle Bar football. Rookie Tackle is a condensed version of football, played on smaller fields and usually with fewer players with coaches nearby directing the action. Tackle Bar fits in the “limited contact” category as a teaching tool and stepping stone between flag football and full tackle.

Gorringe said the Ute Conference has offered modified versions of the game for about five years, and is “progressively introducing new elements of this development model each year.” A full flag football season was planned this spring before the coronavirus, along with 7-on-7 tournaments an eight-man full-tackle tournament on a field 40 yards long and 40 yards wide.

The Ute Conference’s Rookie Tackle games are played with 11 players, but on a shorter field that last fall was next to where flag football games were being played so those parents could also see the next level.

“That rookie tackle thing is so awesome because you take kids that are in their very first years of development and you put them on a smaller field,” Gorringe said. “The kids are getting reps, they’re getting plays, they’re having fun and it’s been awesome.”