As football constantly evolves, the sport's stakeholders are adapting to create a better, safer game for participants at every level.
The New Orleans Saints are working with USA Football, the official youth football development partner of the NFL, to change the culture of the game and improve player safety at the sport's grassroots level.
On March 9, youth football commissioners from across the state gathered at the USA Football Louisiana Youth Leadership Forum, hosted by the Saints at their training facility in Metairie.
Youth league commissioners took part in an open discussion, sharing best practices and innovations to improve player safety.
"The most valuable thing we take away from the forum is the exchange of ideas," said Leon Blouin, president of Tri-Parish Youth Football in Gonzales and a returning forum attendee. "Everybody has different ways of doing things. Some of the fundraising ideas were fantastic, and, of course, there is the safety aspect. We always take things away to make sure our kids have a better, safer time."
Another forum attendee, Stanley Dillon of TNT Youth Football in Mississippi, reiterated the importance of friendly discussion and cooperation between youth leagues.
"Being able to sit down and discuss football issues with other leagues was great," he said. "We had the chance to compare league rules and league policies. It gave us the chance to form partnerships amongst leagues, which is really great."
USA Football regional manager Mike Cuzzone directed the discussion, focusing on several important aspects of youth football, including concussion recognition and response, coaching education, equipment fitting and tackling technique.
He discussed USA Football's new Heads Up Football program, a comprehensive approach to improving player safety that is now available for youth leagues throughout the country for the 2013 season.
"The entire forum was valuable," Dillon said. "Mike was a great guy, a super person to work with. It was great to meet him and hear the knowledge he has of the game of football for our youth."
For many attendees, the highlight of the forum was learning what options USA Football has to offer youth leagues in the region.
"We never considered flag football," Dillon said. "But someone talked about the NFL FLAG program at the forum, and now we are in the process of starting an NFL FLAG league."
For Blouin, coaching education was the primary takeaway from the event.
"Education," he said, "is the most important thing we can instill in our coaches, volunteers and parents."