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AURORA -- As football programs around the country address player safety concerns, the Aurora Youth Football Association is extremely committed to making safety its number one priority.
"We want to be leaders in the national football community," said Phil Quinn, past president of the AYFA. "We should be leading the way in safety and how to coach and play youth football the right way."
In 2015, Quinn created a safety director role on the AYFA board. Mike Acomb, former college gridder, father and school principal, has filled that role since its inception.
"We want parents to know that since we've placed a special focus on player safety, football related-injuries have been low," said Acomb. "Over the past two years, we've experienced zero heat-related injuries, and fewer than 2 percent of our players have experienced an injury which resulted in a loss of playing time."
As a fully accredited member of USA Football, the national governing body for U.S. amateur fooball, every AYFA coach is required to complete the training for Level 1 tackle ertification through USA Football's Heads Up Football program.
Key topics for this training include proper tackling and blocking techniques, concussion awareness, heat management, athlete hydration strategies and proper equipment fitting. To supplement this required training, the safety director also assigns and monitors the completion of additional concussion awareness training provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Certificates of completion are collected and filed as an entrance requirement to a final training program that focuses on coaching leadership, athlete safety and specific strategies to provide responsible, effective and developmentally appropriate instruction to young athletes.
It is only after Acomb verifies that all three phases of training are complete that a coach is permitted on the field with the athletes. Additionally, once practices begin in August, AYFA coaches require players to observe heat-related safety precautions at the start of each season.
"Research shows that about 90 percent of heat stroke cases occur during the first few days of practice. This happens because athletes may be unprepared for physical exertion in the summer heat," said Acomb.
"Acclimation days are critical to safely transitioning each athlete into the season, and each athlete is required to complete four consecutive practices gradually adding and wearing equipment before they are permitted to wear full gear."
Further, athletes are given access to fluids at all times and have scheduled periods of rest throughout each practice, usually every 20minutes. Once practices start, coaches adhere to strict guidelines regarding full contact. Full-contact drills are limited to 30 minutes per practice.
After the first two weeks, tackle teams practice three days per week. After the first game, full contact during practices is typically limited further, as the first practice of each week is generally conducted without full gear or contact drills.
AYFA coaches believe that reducing exposures to hitting drills will minimize player injuries and provide opportunities to focus more practice time on teaching the wide-ranging fundamental skills of the sport.
"We believe that our children deserve our best efforts to build a program that becomes known as a leading youth football organization," said Tim Courtad, current president of the AYFA.
Registration for the 2017 season begins soon. Assistance is encouraged with coaching, fundraising, game day operations/concessions and sponsor recruitment. For details, email Courtad at firstname.lastname@example.org.