NY Jets Host MOMS Football Safety Clinic

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I am a mom to three boys ages 6, 8 and 10. I will pause while you gasp! and quickly follow up with a "good for you" as if I just aced my spelling test or a "God Bless You" which is often code for “better you than me.” I will also tell you that all three of them play football. I know. Crazy, right? Now I will sit quietly in the dead air as you wince and judge me. I get that a lot. There are many things to love about football- not the least of which are the life lessons our kids can learn from being a part of a team: Working as a group in order to achieve a common goal; Listening to and applying criticism in order to improve your performance; Reaping the rewards from hard work and effort; Working through the ups and downs; Graceful losing; Graceful winning; Committing to practices and games - showing responsibility, dedication and accountability. To name but a few. Unfortunately, it seems as though lately, all we hear about youth football is that it causes concussions.

What’s a mom to do? They love it. They are good at it. Is there risk of injury in my letting them play the sport? Absolutely. Isn't there risk in almost everything? If I didn't allow my kids to participate in things I feared they'd get hurt doing, the list would include, but is not limited to: bike riding, sleigh riding, swimming in the ocean, skiing, monkey bars, skateboarding, eating what I call "chokeables" such as grapes and popcorn, running on pavement and... dating. Now, I realize football has an increased risk over other activities such as, let’s say, cup stacking. However, we can't bubble wrap our kids and keep them chained indoors trying to hide from harm. Lord knows if this was even remotely socially acceptable, I would be first in line armed with enough bubble wrap to choke a hippo. I am a worrier. That’s an “o” not an “a.” I often say I am not cut out for motherhood because of my over-worrying ways but it seems once you’re in, there’s no turning back. What I can do, is be present and involved and educate myself on ways to make anything and everything my children participate in safer. So, scary as it sounds, I let my kids play football (and eat grapes).

On Monday night, I attended a Mom’s Youth Football Safety Clinic hosted by the NY Jets, in association with Chase Bank and USA Football. About 40 football moms from around the state of NJ, and a few from Staten Island, filed into the Jets facility in Florham Park to listen to an esteemed panel of speakers, watch a proper equipment fitting and participate in drills demonstrating safer tackling techniques - all in hopes to educate themselves and leave feeling more secure about letting their sons play football. Yes, I did say that the moms were involved in tackling drills. More on that later. Spoiler alert: it’s kind of false advertising.

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Dr. Damion Martins, Director of Internal Medicine for the NY Jets, was the first speaker. Not a shocker to most, he pointed out the symptoms of a concussion to include: headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, irritability, confusion and diminished comprehension, balance and/or memory. Something I had never heard of before was that some kids are more prone to sustain a concussion if they suffer from one or more of the following: motion sickness, chronic headaches, migraines, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and other learning disabilities. Another thing he had referenced that was news to me was the use of Fish Oil supplements as a preventative measure in warding off concussions. The Fish Oil can have a protective effect against inflammation in the brain. (A good programming note: if your child is allergic to fish, do not give him Fish Oil supplements. Consult your child’s doctor before giving him any supplements). Another precaution is as simple as proper hydration. A common misstep here is to only hydrate DURING physical activity, when in fact, our kids need to hydrate before, during and after. Maybe the biggest point Dr. Martins tried to drive home was to trust our motherly “gut.” A bold move using that term in a room full of middle-aged moms wearing yoga pants. He emphasized how we, as parents, are as close to a scientific baseline test (without being a scientific baseline test) in knowing what our son’s “typical behavior” is and assessing from there if something seems amiss. He also championed ACTUAL baseline testing for all youth players– one in particular called imPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is the most widely used computerized concussion evaluation system. This is a useful tool in concussion assessment and management, helpful in initial diagnosis and determining a player’s safe return to play.

Next to speak was Scott Hallenbeck, Executive Director of USA Football. USA Football is a program designed to create a unified education model for youth football coaches and to implement better and safer tackling techniques for young players. His goal is to have all youth football programs subscribe to this program so that, in laymen’s terms, everyone is on the same page. Safer tackling techniques are much more effective in being safer if the team you are playing against is also using them. Makes sense. Not all youth football teams are USA Football certified, but they are currently up to about 50% of programs and you’ll be happy to know that Madison is one of the teams already on board. That means every Madison youth football coach has taken the time to undergo special training to include proper equipment fittings, mid-season equipment checks (to ensure the equipment still fits properly after some wear and tear), and a new tackling initiative called “Heads Up Football” where kids are taught to keep their heads up and not down in tackling posture, lessening the chance for impact to bear down on the helmet/head. Blah, blah, football speak, blah.. long story short: educated coaches + better tackling techniques = a safer environment for our kids. Love it.

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After that, class was dismissed and all the moms pranced out onto the indoor practice field where they were told they would be doing some tackling drills. Hence the yoga pants. But before any fur would fly, we watched USA Football Master Trainer, Vincent DiGaetano, show how helmets and shoulder pads should look and feel when properly fit, with the help of his fit model and NY Jets cornerback, Kyle Wilson. Definitely an interesting demo, as most moms typically show concern when the helmet leaves an imprint on their child’s forehead, which, DiGaetano insists, is exactly what you want. A snug fit ensures a safer helmet. Same is true for shoulder pads. Not surprisingly, if either are too big, the movement and shifting impedes the equipment’s ability to protect properly. Next it was time to line up and watch Wilson, as instructed by DiGaetano, perform various drills to promote proper tackling postures and then break off into smaller groups to try them out ourselves (but only with padded thingys, not on each other). Sooooo, we “practiced tackling drills,” comedy ensues, no one breaks a hip (phew!) and I got a selfie with Kyle Wilson. Actually, truth be told, a lot of these moms were the real deal and I think some were a little disappointed that they were unable to ACTUALLY tackle someone. I was not one of those moms.

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The clinic wrapped up with a quick question and answer session. In addition to Dr. Martins, Scott Hallenbeck and Vincent DiGaetano, the panel also included NBC news anchor and youth football mom, Darlene Rodriguez.. former NFL player and Director of Player Personnel for the Jets, Dave Szott.. and Christine Golic, a member of the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee. In conclusion, each panelist was asked to give some words of advice to the auditorium full of moms, the Momatorium if you will. By and large, the same sentiment was echoed over and over and that is: trust your motherly gut (not the same as your muffintop).

You know your son best. Be involved, be educated and be his biggest champion. Act in his best interests at all times and do whatever you can to ensure he is in a safe environment. Is it me, or isn’t that basically the definition of being a mom? Not specifically a football mom, or a cup stacking mom.. just, a mom. We are all doing our best to strike a balance between protecting our kids and letting them experience and explore all of what life has to offer. It’s not easy. All we can do is try our best, and if we keep doing that, we will likely stay ahead of the game.

Oh –and all the men on the panel unanimously agreed in recommending your son wear a cup. Good talk.