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Heads Up Football - How Wrestling can Help USA Football

The NFL in conjunction with USA Football have recently been promoting the "Heads Up Football" campaign in order to change the culture of football so that youth, high school, college, and professional coaches can teach players how to more properly and safely play the game. We have all seen the dangers of playing football, and as someone who played the sport for ten years, even if never at the college level, I can testify to the bumps and hits one takes on the field. The campaign is most specifically focused on tackling, as we have seen neck, back, shoulder, and head issues mount as a result of poor tackling and targeting specific body areas. The NFL and USA football are attempting to get coaches to teach better fundamentals at the youth level, in hopes that these techniques carry up the chain as the child continues to progress playing football.

Duke Wrestling Head Coach Glen Lanham, a two-time NCAA All American, reminded me of a fact that I had otherwise ignored as a wrestler, former football player, and fan. What the NFL and USA football are preaching can be covered in a wrestling room. When learning a proper double leg, or any other leg attack for the matter, the positioning of the head and back are preached over and over again by wrestling coaches. On a double leg attack the head must be up and the hips should be underneath you so that your back is not hunched over so so that you can explode through your opponent. This is essentially what is being preached by "Heads Up Football" with their tackling. Wrestling teaches kids to get their base underneath them, to lower their level, and explode. I know on a personal side that my years of wrestling helped improve my football technique. Without the sport of wrestling, I do not know if I would have been able to earn the accolades I did on the football field.

Of course not every tackle will be perfect, as the speed of the game and positions will change, but wrestling is very similar and teaches the body how to adapt and react to those situations in order to make the position more favorable. Wrestling preaches setting up your attacks and position yourself for the right attack. In football with the speed of the game, the instincts of a wrestler will only help the athlete determine the most proper way to make the tackle. Getting youngsters in the wrestling room to learn this position will only help their football skills down the line. Players like Hall of Famer Curley Culp, an NCAA Champions, Super Bowl Champion Stephen Neal, a two-time NCAA Champion and 1999 World Champion, Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, NFL All-Pro Roddy White, and  have preached the importance of wrestling on their careers. Neal did not even play football in college, yet started for the New England Patriots, the NFL's most dominant franchise during the first decade of the 2000's when he was active.

Now both sports do have their differences, especially with the padding involved, but the discipline to positioning and the realization of properly scoring in the sport can crossover to the NFL's campaign. Wrestling not only preaches these positions, but if you do not do them properly, then you will most likely be punished for it. Wrestlers all know when someone takes a shot with improper technique and pays the price of two points, as I've been there way too many times. In football, this isn't as strong a correlation, as players are getting away with improper technique, but these plays continue to carry the risk of injury. Every time I see a defensive back (sorry DB's, but it's the group most often associated) drop their head when contacting a running back I worry about the consequences. I've personally witnessed a kid be stretchered off the field due to dropping his head. Maybe with some work in the wrestling room, which allows the child more of a feel for body positioning and body control, we can help change the culture of the game.

I for one love football. I also love wrestling. I can testify that the lessons I learned when I first started wrestling helped me become a better football player, as I was still learning and getting better without the pads on. It just took a much wiser and accomplished athlete, and coach, to remind me of that.