VANCOUVER — One of the first meetings of the Clark County Youth Football season did not involve any children.
It certainly was for the young athletes, though.
More than 100 adults made it to McKenzie Stadium for a coaching clinic Saturday administered by the senior manager of education and training at USA Football.
“How can we make them better prepared to teach kids proper tackling?” Andrew Ryland asked. “It’s a fun challenge, trying to coach the coaches, teach the teachers.”
Terry Hyde, the president of the CCYF, said all of the coaches in the league are required to attend clinics such as this one, or take online classes, in order to become certified in the Heads Up program.
Saturday’s event gave local coaches a chance to learn from one of the best in the nation.
Hyde saw Ryland speak last winter at a USA Football function, discussing the wave of the future in football, shoulder tackling.
“At that point, we knew we were going to bring Andy in,” Hyde said. “Come out and teach this to our guys.”
This is Ryland’s busy season in terms of traveling and teaching. Based in Indianapolis, Ryland has been on the road nine of the last 11 weekends, giving in-person clinics.
“I’m trying to help educate the coaches to deliver the best possible experience for the kids,” Ryland said.
USA Football and league commissioners across the country want what is best for the sport, which is also what is best for the athlete: A safe game.
Of course, injuries will always be a part of a collision sport. However, Ryland believes proper technique performed by players who are coached the correct way can reduce injuries.
“To say all of our coaches are trained, that’s a powerful message,” Ryland said. “Anyone looking after someone’s children should be held to a standard.”
USA Football teaches its Heads Up program. Coaches who are certified are trained in these components: Concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, proper equipment fitting, shoulder tackling, and blocking.
There is an emphasis on shoulder tackling. Players should have their heads up and eyes up at all times, but the striking point is the shoulder, Ryland said. Stressing that was the key point of Saturday’s clinic with the coaches.
“We don’t want to stop what makes football great,” Ryland said. “What we’re trying to look at is how … to engage in this competitive, collision battle. We just think we have a better way of approaching the contact.”
Positive reinforcement is key. Even if the opposing team gains six or seven yards, if your player makes a great, safe tackle, it should be celebrated.
“When a player executes great technique, you want to go nuts on the sideline,” he said.
On the flip side, if a player makes an unsafe tackle for a loss of yards, the outcome can be celebrated but the technique should be corrected.
“Know what you’re doing wrong and fix it. Know what you’re doing right and celebrate it,” Hyde said.
In the end, it is all about the experience for the athletes.
USA Football does not run any leagues. Instead, it is a support system for leagues across the country. “Evolving and growing the sport of football, USA Football is setting the standards and best practices to advance coach and player development,” its website says.
That is why Ryland is on the road all summer.
With so many coaches on hand Saturday for the four-hour clinic, Ryland called this one of his favorite stops. The coaches went through the same drills they will be asking of their players, and they took turns coaching each other, under the watchful eye of Ryland.
“It was awesome. A really cool energy. A great vibe,” Ryland said.
It is the goal of USA Football, CCYF, and every youth league for players and parents to come away with the same positive experience.