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“Showing up” on Education

During the summer of 2008 I attended a sports concussion conference at which I presented, and at which we displayed our then brand new Xenith X1 Football Helmet. Our helmet was displayed on a table covered by our Xenith-branded drape reading “Advancing Safety & Activity Through Innovation & Education.” We spent a tremendous amount of time developing that line, which reflects Xenith’s mission statement.

An energetic gentleman walked up and said, “I’ve never seen a helmet company talk about education.” He was right. Helmet companies never had talked about education, until Xenith.

I told him, “thanks for noticing that,” and introduced myself. He said, “I’m Coach Bobby Hosea. I run tackling camps.” I told him that I was very interested in that subject and suggested perhaps we could work together. In that brief moment, a connection was made and a partnership was born.

What more important educational topic than proper tackling for football players? What more important educational topic for a company that makes helmets, and was founded to advance safety and activity through innovation and education? More innovative head protection, coupled with better technique to reduce blows to the head in the first place: a powerful combination.

The Facts On Football Helmet Safety

The fact is that I was, and still am not, an expert on tackling. I played defensive end as a youth football player and free safety in high school, but I don’t feel like I ever really learned how to tackle the right way. I basically threw my head and shoulders at players’ legs and hoped for the best. This technique is not necessarily effective, not at all safe, and not at all uncommon. It is definitely not recommended.

During the conversation with Coach Bobby, he challenged me to show him my idea of proper tackling. I put my lack of knowledge on display by dipping my shoulder, but at least keeping my eyes up, following the recent and lame “see what you hit” advice.

Coach Bobby said, “You are still leading with your head, even if your eyes are up. Now your head is at risk and you’re going to get knocked over because you’re not in a powerful position.” He briefly demonstrated his Dip n’ Rip technique, showing how to deliver an upward force while leading with the chest and hips, and not the head. It was one of those “moments of enlightenment” and I wanted to know more.

Given that we were in a small lobby area, it was not an ideal teaching environment. He said, “You need to come and watch me teach. I’m doing a clinic tomorrow. It’s about an hour away from here.” I told him I would come. I don’t think he believed me, because when I showed up the next day, he appeared very pleasantly surprised. I have a policy that when I tell people I’m showing up, I show up.

I watched Coach Bobby teach his Dip n’ Rip technique, unlike anything I had seen, to what I would estimate was about a dozen young players, who were focused on his every word. Coach Bobby’s energy level was amazing, and he was “laugh out loud” funny too. I thought “this guy is really on to something,” and I wanted to help. I also spent some time on tackling dummies myself.

It was obvious that the physics of his tackling technique make a profound difference in reducing the number of blows to the head, by teaching players to make contact with their chests and shoulders, while generating energy from the legs and hips. Done properly, the head barely comes into contact, if at all. It also improves tackling efficiency, so it’s a win-win situation. See the Dip n’ Rip technique here.

I decided right then that I needed to help Coach Bobby spread his word, so Xenith began contributing to his tackling camp in a variety of ways, including subsidizing costs and providing gear, simply to help him be heard. I really wish we could do more, and hope one day that we will.

It appears he really was on to something. In 2010, Coach Bobby was the subject of an article in the NY Times and a couple of weeks ago, Coach Bobby was demonstrating his technique, now called “helmet free tackle” not to just a dozen kids, but to hundreds of other coaches.

It’s simply great to see this education spreading, and to see someone with the energy and commitment of Coach Bobby Hosea being heard. I’m happy that we could help in a small way, and his success makes me optimistic about the future of football. I’m glad I showed up at his camp, and Xenith will continue to show up on education.

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