With the NFL now in full swing this week, it’s a good time to highlight some of the initiatives the NFL has in place to get kids active and eating right. In fact, you may have seen one of these programs in action if you attended an NFL pre-season game this summer.
Probably the most visible is the “NFL Play 60” program, which is really the umbrella title for several youth initiatives, including Fuel Up to Play 60, an in-school program emphasizing good nutrition along with activity; NFL Punt, Pass & Kick, the long-time national skills competition for boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 15; and NFL Flag Football, a youth football league for boys and girls ages 5-17.
NFL Flag Football partners with recreation commissions in cities around the country to form leagues—at last count, more than a thousand leagues across the country. The highlight of the year for many of these teams is playing at halftime during an NFL game—and many were able to do just that during the NFL pre-season games.
There is a cost to be in the league (usually $25 per player) but scholarships are available in many leagues to pay the fees of the kids who cannot afford. Players get an NFL-branded jersey to play in, along with their official flag and belt and a membership to USA Football.
“We continue to enhance our programs to support the health and safety of athletes of all ages and communities through the NFL PLAY 60 campaign, Heads Up Football and grants to support youth and high school football programs,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his year-end “Beyond the Game” report on NFL community partnerships.
Last year the NFL supported more than 73,000 schools nationwide in activity and nutrition programs, exposing some 38 million children to opportunities for being active and eating healthier.
The newest push for the NFL has been USA Football’s Heads Up Football, teaching kids to play the game the right way in an effort to avoid serious head and neck injuries. In 2015 more than 6,300 youth leagues and nearly a thousand high schools signed up for Heads Up Football, involving 150,000 coaches and a million players.
The NFL has weathered its share of criticism recently, from how it handles domestic violence to the most recent player protests involving the National Anthem. But the league does put a value on connecting to young players as it looks to extend the popularity of the game to the next generation. If getting those players active and eating right is a byproduct of the NFL brand’s extension, then it’s not a bad lesson for our kids to learn.