In similar fashion to the popular TV show Game Of Thrones saying “Winter is coming,” so to is change on a more local level regarding the sport of football.
Already underway, there’s a league involving four separate school communities that are changing the way we think of youth football. Within the communities of Dallas Center-Grimes, Norwalk, ADM, and Johnston lies a new youth football league that uses gradual methods to bring a better learning experience to not just those who play the sport, but to parents and the rest of the public who views it.
Leading the charge for this league is a former president for the Iowa High School Football Coaches Association and current DC-G High School head football coach Scott Heitland. Heitland has always been a big proponent of bettering the game through youth football starting with one big fundamental flaw in the way youth football is run.
“The thing about football that is different to any other sport at this point is that other sports have a gradual system like hitting off the tee in baseball and a reduced field size in soccer,” began Heitland. “With football, those at the youth level play with the exact same dimensions as those playing in the NFL. Superstar Tom Brady plays on the same dimensions as a fifth grader and that is something I’d like to change about the game.”
With football not being an Olympic sport, there isn’t an enveloping governing body to oversee things such as youth involvement. From that nothing more than flag football and the normalized tackle football have come about. That is where individuals such as coach Heitland come into play. Already in existence for a year now, coach Heitland has established a youth football league which he states stresses the real ideals behind youth football.
“Beforehand you would have one kid who was the fastest and would outrun everyone else and it would turn into more of a game of chase than football,” began Heitland. “That’s not the best way to do what we should be doing which is to focus on proper technique. We have a gradual system in place that covers our core values of drawing interest, developing players, and retaining them all the way through the high school level.”
Heitland added that with the premise of drawing more interest, retaining, and developing, kids can play the game at a safer level, and parents can understand how much safer the sport really is compared to the perception of some.
The system in place is a gradual system that is broken up into three different phases starting with flag football and then moving up to a modified version of tackle football, and then finally onto the standardized 11-on-11 style. Teams around the grade levels 3-5 will be playing an eight-on-eight game with roughly a 40-yard field, all while playing the flag football version. The fifth-grade level would still be a form of flag football, but players will also wear shoulder pads and helmets, still in an eight-by-eight setting. Players an age level up (6th grade) would be moved up to the full 11-on-11 system with a full regulation field and full pads and contact.
All players within the league are guaranteed the same amount of playing time which will be up to the individual coaches to monitor.
This system was initiated around January of 2018 as coach Heitland started what would be the beginnings of the league with a simple meeting of coaches from around the metro. Of the original eight communities that came to that meeting, four remained who shared the same thoughts as coach Heitland. One of those individuals was none other than second-year head coach at ADM High School, Garrison Carter. He too felt the intense need for a change within youth football and couldn’t wait to get started.
“When Coach Heitland contacted me about this idea I couldn’t jump on board fast enough,” began Carter. “It is a phenomenal model and I believe we are reshaping the way youth football is going to be done in the country. I firmly believe in this model and I believe that is what is best for our program. I believe this system will both help encourage participation in the game of football as well as teach age-appropriate skills along the way.”
Within the initial makings of the new youth league came the fundamentals that it lives by to this very day. With an emphasis on learning how to play the sport the right way with the correct techniques and skills, the league hovers around development, fundamentals, and retention of those who go through it to the highest level. That’s why you won’t see any post-season type formats, no championships, barely any scoring of any kind. That’s exactly what coach Heitland had envisioned when he started the league.
“When this whole thing started it wasn’t and still isn’t about making money, it was about four communities coming together bringing about better ways to introduce the game of football,” started Heitland. “What we are doing is putting such an emphasis on proper skills and techniques so that when the more violent parts of the sport take place, the athletes will be so sound that the chances of injury are almost non-existent.”
With football sometimes being perceived as an extremely violent sport, coach Heitland also stated how it would help curb the negative perceptions of the game mentioning that the majority of football-related injuries come about from poor technique.
Right now the league sits at just those four teams but with the thought of gradual expansion, something that coach Heitland had envisioned since day one.
“Right now we have just the four communities but that’s actually probably better than if everyone jumped on board all at once,” began Heitland. “It has allowed those who truly believe in this league to get this league off the ground and flourishing. It has allowed us to fine-tune some things along the way.”
Right now the league exists with just the four communities of DC-G, ADM, Norwalk, and Johnston but with the thought that more will join the league and continue the work set by coach Heitland, to improve the game of football through the youth level.