Youth football commissioners from the Bay Area visited the San Francisco 49ers' Santa Clara complex Saturday to discuss the state of the game and how to improve it on the grassroots level.
The 2011 NFC West Division champions hosted the USA Football Northern California State Leadership Forum at the 49ers' Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Centre.
Dennis Neal of the Diablo Valley Youth Football Conference oversees players and cheerleaders in 18 cities crossing four counties. Saturday was his fifth USA Football forum.
"We've now become professional volunteers, and there's a certain amount of professionalism you have to have," Neal said. "Coaches have to be. Administrators have to be trained to put on a professional production to the community and keep the community safe."
Nearly 30 representatives of Northern California leagues met at the 49ers facility, illustrating the team's commitment to youth football throughout the region. USA Football West Regional Manager Bassel Faltas led the meeting. Discussion topics included background checks, coaching education, player safety, league registration efficiency, fundraising and how to become affiliated with USA Football, the official youth football development partner of the 49ers, the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Neal began as a coach, and his current responsibilities include educating the current coaches. He wants to see leagues across the area unite, and he's started a tournament between the champions of his league and neighboring organizations.
"With USA Football, we found that making coaches pass certified courses, it's given us a lot better product," Neal said. "The coaches like using the tools available. (The online) tools are dynamic, it's not static and it keeps me fresh as a coach."
To earn a trip to Canton, Ohio, this July for the NFL/USA Football Youth Summit, commissioners were invited to submit an essay stating why they are the best delegate to represent Northern California for the summit. Approximately 200 coaches and league commissioners from all 50 states participate in the annual event to discuss topics vital to the continued success of youth and high school programs. President of the Trans Valley Youth Football League, John Nixon's essay was selected as the winning entry. He will join one commissioner from each USA Football State Forum in Canton.
Nixon has been involved with youth football for 19 years after starting as an assistant for his son's team. In his third appearance at a state forum, he was looking for feedback on coaching courses, utilizing USA Football's online resources such as building a league website, coaching drill videos, concussion awareness and online league registration options.
"It was a good exchange of ideas, common problems and solutions among leagues," Nixon said. "We submitted a few question and got a lot of solutions and alternatives to try."
"For example, even though our coaches have been certified through USA Football and we've had 100 percent of our coaches do the tackle certification course, we wanted to see what other leagues were doing."