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The Sports Journal

JR ‘Canes Get Visit from Mike & Christine Golic as Part of NFL Heads Up Program

On Wednesday, Oct. 9, there was a buzz in the air at Chesley Park because Mike and Christine Golic, members of the NFL Heads Up program, were coming to talk to the players, coaches, and parents about proper tackling, reducing injuries, and how football is a sport where the positives outweigh the negatives.

For the Golics, football has been a huge part of their lives. Mike played in the NFL for various teams and is currently a radio host on ESPN Radio on Mike and Mike in the Morning. Their two sons played at Notre Dame and one spent time in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Christine Golic, a member of the NFL Heads Up Advisory Committee, says part of her job is to come out to youth football practices and talk to the mothers to get a better idea of what is happening.

“They [NFL] realize that moms hold a lot of cards when it comes to youth football. There are too many moms nowadays that say they’re not going to let their kids play because of concussions and other bad things they hear,” said Golic. “My role is to get out to moms who are just like me to let them know what steps we are taking to make it a better game and how the good things outweigh the bad things as far as football.”

Christine pulled the mothers aside during practice that evening and talked to them about a wide variety of issues – from concussions, injuries, challenges they face, how the program has been working, and more. One of the main points that Golic wants to drive home is the fact that playing football shouldn’t be seen as an automatic injury and/or concussion.

She said, “The only thing you can do is put out information on how you’re going to make it better and the precautions they [NFL] are taking as far as concussions and kids. I know so many people who have played soccer and have gotten multiple concussions. It’s not a football problem, it’s a spot problem. You can fall off your bike and can get a concussion.”

Katie Gibbs, who is the parent of Christopher Gibbs, agrees with Golic.

“Chris is ten-years-old and has been playing football for four years,” she said. “He’s never gotten an injury that has required medical attention. However, he’s been playing baseball for the same amount of time and just this past spring, he was hit in the head by a pitch and required medical attention and a trip to the hospital.”

Mike Golic, who likes to come with his wife and talk to the players, says that the NFL is starting a new wave of player that will learn the correct fundamentals of tackling with their head up, which will continue to minimize injuries when playing football.

“The tackling in the NFL is horrific. In college it’s not even that good,” Golic said. “This group here and groups like this across the country, they are our next high school players, college players, and NFL players. So imagine when they come in and we see guys tackling the way they should be tackling.”

Golic talked to all of the players in the program about having fun and doing things the proper way. He mentioned to the players that every guy playing in the NFL now once started on a youth football team like them and if they want to get to the NFL, they have to put in the hard work, do well in school, and listen to their coaches.

However, none of this is possible without the coaches. Golic said, “In the end, the main thing is that the coaches have to buy in and teach the proper technique every single game and practice.”

That is exactly what Alex Torres, President of the Junior Hurricanes program, is working tirelessly to make sure happens. The program has over 300 players and is the first youth football program in Connecticut to complete the Heads Up certification and implementation process. Elvin Silva, who was named the Player Safety Coach, had to attend a training seminar where he received direct one-on-one training. Silva then trained all of the volunteer coaches in the program.

When a player has been diagnosed with a concussion, it is Silva’s job to make sure that child is ready to play again by running through five stages of a variety of drills. Since the Junior Hurricanes take an extra precaution and don’t let a child play for one week after being diagnosed with a concussion, all of this takes place over a two-week period. However, for some players, it may take longer. This is because if a player fails one stage, even if it’s the last one, they have to go back to the beginning and start all over again. This ensures that the player is symptom free and is fully ready to resume full contact in practices and games.

In addition to all of that, they have an EMT at every game and have full responsibility of all injuries on the field. When it comes to concussions, the EMT will diagnose players and if necessary, will work with the coaches and parents to make a decision on whether or not to allow them back in the game.

Torres doesn’t believe that the talk of concussions has or will lead to a decline in the number of kids participating in their program. He said, “Parents definitely have expressed concern but we have not seen a decline in numbers due to injury risks and concussions. We definitely try to limit contact so we have limited injuries in practice. Most injuries when it comes to youth football happen in practice and not in actual games.”

The NFL Heads Up program will continue to travel all over the country throughout the remainder of the football season. Earlier this summer, they held a clinic at Ohio State University and towards the end of October, they will hold a clinic at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. At these clinics, which is only open to mothers of youth football players, proper tackling is demonstrated, the mothers participate in drills, and there is a question and answer session where nothing is off limits when it comes to football.

Concussions and injuries will forever be a part of the discussion when the NFL is involved. It is the mission of the NFL Heads Up Program along with youth football leagues all over the country to get the message out there to parents that if everything is taught and implemented the right way, concussions and injuries will be minimized and they will see that football is a sport where the positives truly outweigh the negatives.

(Follow Matthew Cannata on Twitter by searching for @MC958. If you would like to get in touch with Cannata, you can e-mail him at matthewcannata@gmail.com)