‘Heads Up Football’ in Bothell keeps helmet hits out of the tackle mix

Sep 3, 2013, 8:30 AM | Updated: 9:05 am
With heads Up Football coaches are better trained and equipment is better and more properly fitted. Kids aren't picking out their helmets, like above, based on a facemask. (AP Photo/File)
(AP Photo/File)

There has never been a more concerted effort to make football safer, to limit the helmet-to-helmet hits and to better deal with concussions and head injuries.

There are rule changes and coaches are better trained and have better techniques.

But of all their resources, how coaches speak to their players might actually have the biggest impact on making the game safer.

When I was playing 25 years ago, coaches would use creative language to give us visuals of what they wanted us to do, like “put your screws under his chin,” or “ear-hole them” or “bite the ball.”

Tom Bainter is the head football coach at Bothell High School and now he’s using different phrases. He played football in college, and he’s been coaching for more than two decades. He’s a master trainer for USA Football, a program created by the NFL to improve the safety of the game at all levels.

He teaches other coaches how to coach better and safer. One of his biggest tools is using language differently.

“We have to choose our words better. When you say, ‘Put your screws under his chin,’ what that really means is get your pad levels under your opponent. And that’s what we have to say. ‘Pad under pad. Low man wins,'” explains Bainter. “Those are things we need to say now, instead of giving them a visual of taking the front part of your helmet where your forehead is and smacking it under the guy’s chin who is in front of you.”

Coach Bainter teaches “Heads Up Football.” It takes the idea of keeping your eyes up and looking at what you’re hitting to the next level by teaching players to hit with the fronts of their shoulders and chests instead of the tops of their shoulders. It helps take the head out of the tackle.

They practice tackling at low speeds and against air, not other players. They only take players to the ground in limited reps.

Coach Bainter says they’re not turning this into flag or touch football. They’re just teaching the game smarter.

“You’re absolutely to be as physical as you can. You run through the tackle. You do everything correctly, and at full speed, and go – but let’s do it safely.”

No more “Bull in the Ring” or tough-man contests at the end of practice. There’s no need to toughen players up or question their manhood. Coach Bainter says if they’re out for football they’re tough enough.

“One of the things we’re told – is if we don’t change the culture of football – it can go away, and they’re not saying in three years, or in five years. But we’re hearing in 10 or 15 or maybe 20 years.”

So coaches are better trained. Equipment is better and properly fitted.

Gone are the days where a kid would pick a helmet based on its face mask. Coaches measure heads and shoulders now to make sure everything fits, even at the lowest levels.

Parents go through the “Heads Up” training too so they know what to look for and how to check for concussions.

It’s all in the name of safety.

“To me, it’s education,” says Bainter. “We’re educating coaches and parents and players, and that’s a huge step to me.”

Bothell is one of the first high schools in the state to adopt the “Heads Up” program. It will be expanded in 2014.

Local News

catalytic converter...
MyNorthwest Staff

Competing proposals for catalytic converter theft crackdown up for Thursday vote

Competing proposals from Democrats and Republicans to crack down on catalytic converter thefts are set for Thursday, Jan. 27. committee votes.
1 day ago
Redistricting, long term care tax delay...
MyNorthwest Staff

Long-term care tax delay inches closer to passage after approval from state Senate

The Washington State Senate voted to delay implementation of the new long-term care payroll tax on Wednesday. 
1 day ago
Rideshare companies...
Nick Bowman

Rideshare companies pour millions into PAC ahead of push for Washington ballot initiative

Rideshare companies have poured over $2 million into a new PAC, in what appears to be the precursor for a Washington ballot initiative. 
1 day ago
KIRO 7 News Staff

Earthquake early warning app now available in Washington

Washington residents can now download MyShake, an earthquake early warning app, and get extra seconds of warning.
1 day ago
KIRO 7 News Staff

Suspect arrested in Pierce County hit-and-run that killed one 12-year-old girl, injured another

A Pierce County SWAT team has arrested a 32-year-old man believed to be responsible for a hit-and-run collision that killed one 12-year-old girl.
1 day ago
Bills, pickleball...
Nick Bowman

Pickleball, dinosaurs, and a state nickname: Lawmakers weigh trio of lighthearted bills

Among the bills under consideration during the 2022 legislative session are a handful of more lighthearted proposals from lawmakers.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
‘Heads Up Football’ in Bothell keeps helmet hits out of the tackle mix