Struggling through two-a-days, one of the Titans' players becomes overwhelmed by the intense August heat. So he asks his coach, Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington), for a water break.
“Water is for cowards!” Boone barks at him. “Water makes you weak!”
Keep in mind, the film was set in 1971, and that was the thinking back then. Water was for the weak, a concussion was “getting your bell rung,” and helmet-fitting was simply a matter of trying it on. Coaches are more enlightened today, but there's still some old-school thinking that needs to evolve.
Enter USA Football, which preaches the importance of safety and education. Those were the topics Saturday morning at the Heads Up Football Player Safety Clinic at Phoebus High.
The speakers — head coaches Patrick Kane of Hermitage High and Kevin Lynott of Middletown (Md.) High — shared ideas to promote player safety from youth leagues on up. Whether it's proper hydration or concussion awareness, it all comes down to learning the right way to do it.
“The power of education is what changes people,” Lynott said. “For the health and safety of our players and for the betterment of the game, there's been a culture shift with putting players' needs first and making the game better.
“Not only is USA Football trying to train coaches, they're trying to train the whole community. The information is based on great principles from the Korey Stringer Institute that the NFL uses, to the greatest medical research from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), to the best techniques on how to tackle and play the game.”
There were approximately 50 coaches at the clinic, many from outside the 757.
“It's a really good program,” said Paul Houston, a youth coach from Gainesville. “These are the same principles we've used before, but it's good to have them reinforced. I'm a true believer that in football, techniques are more than just squaring up and hitting in practice.”
Saturday morning's temperatures were comfortable, but if history is any guide, the first week of two-a-days will be in the 90s. Kane and Lynott talked about common-sense methods, like practicing in the morning when conditions are cooler, avoiding long drills, and having frequent water breaks.
They also recommended that players remove their helmets from time to time, especially during instruction. Reason being, much of your body heat is released through your head. And just because you can practice in full pads does not mean you should, especially when the heat index is too high.
“In the old days, you'd run hills with helmets on and not have any water,” Lynott said. “Those days are gone. That's not smart.”
Kane also said it's unrealistic to expect big linemen to do the same drills as speedy wide receivers.
“You can't do the same conditioning for everyone,” he said.
Though awareness is rising, concussions remain a major issue. According to Youth Sports Safety, high school football accounts for 67,000 diagnosed concussions nationally every year. USA Football's motto is “When in doubt, sit them out.”
Lynott told a story of a former player who took a knee to the helmet while making a tackle. After standing up, he staggered to the wrong huddle. After making his way to the sideline, he became angry when told he couldn't play. Then he began crying.
Dizziness and mood swings are two indications of a concussion. But detection isn't always easy.
USA Football is stressing awareness not only to coaches, players and parents but also to teachers and other school employees. A teacher, for example, might notice that a student has become suddenly sensitive to light, which is another symptom.
Given the danger of “second impact syndrome” — a second concussion after coming back too soon, which often leads to catastrophic results — USA Football developed a five-step return-to-activity program. That process can last as long as two weeks, which critics say is going overboard.
“I know this is a culture change from the old school,” Lynott said. “But it's absolutely the right thing to do and it protects them.”
Other ways to curb concussion rates, the coaches said, include proper helmet-fitting and tackling techniques. USA Football promotes “heads up tackling,” which, as the name implies, teaches keeping the head up and leading with the shoulders while tackling.
“We're teaching the fundamentals, and the fundamentals should be taught all the way through,” Kane said. “Not just at the youth leagues, but at the high school level. If you're better at the fundamentals, you're a better product on the field and it's going to be safer.
“It's an education process. When people are educated, they understand how it helps you have a safer, better performance on the field. It's easy to get people to accept that once they're educated.”
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.