An Indiana lawmaker said Friday he'll sponsor a bill next session requiring all youth football coaches using public fields to undergo training to help prevent their players from suffering head injuries and to learn how to spot the signs of concussions.
State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said his measure would require coaches using taxpayer-funded facilities to be certified through the "Heads Up Football" online program created by USA Football, the nation's governing body for the sport.
Preventing football-related concussions is a growing national topic, with state legislatures in recent years passing measures to protect young players. And last month, the National Football League reached a $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players who developed dementia and other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by on-field violence.
If lawmakers approve the measure, Holdman said Indiana would become the first state to require that youth coaches be certified through USA Football's online training program.
Holdman said during a Statehouse news conference that he's optimistic his colleagues will approve the legislation after they reconvene in January.
"When legislators have an opportunity to really look at this, what the issues are, what it can do for player safety and our youth, we think there won't be any question they'll endorse it," he said.
"Heads Up Football" focuses on proper tackling techniques — including keeping one's head up. It also teaches coaches to recognize the signs of a concussion, how to respond to concussions, how to properly fit players in helmets and other equipment and how to handle the threat of heat stroke.
USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck said the program was used last year in only three pilot locations but this year has been adopted by nearly 2,800 U.S. youth football leagues.
He said the online course is divided into 16 chapters with quizzes after each section and takes about two hours to complete, but can be done in segments at different times. Participants must pass by at least 80 percent or take it again.
Hallenbeck said he's often asked whether the training program is "sissifying" football, but replies that it's about correctly teaching the complex contact sport.
"We feel you shouldn't walk out onto a field without having some level of certification, some standard of excellence," he said.
The cost of the online program is $5 for youth football coaches and $25 for high school coaches.
An Indiana law that took effect in 2012 requires schools to remove student-athletes immediately from play or practice if they are suspected of sustaining a concussion and not allow them to return until they have written clearance from a health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions.
Holdman said the bill he'll sponsor next session is the next logical step in protecting young players from injuries that have been linked to neurological problems, including dementia and depression.
Former NFL and Purdue player Rosevelt Colvin, who now coaches youth football in Indianapolis, has been certified through the Heads Up program. He said that without going through that program, he wouldn't have wanted his 8-year-old son — who's one of his players — to try tacking another youngster.
"I think everyone knows that a lot of parents, a lot of coaches, are trying to live their dreams through these young men. But when you line up two young men 15 yards away from each other and say, 'Hey, go try to hit each other in the head!' that's not a good thing for them," he said.