The glory on the gridiron may be best known for breaking the plane, marching into the end zone for either an aerial or rushing touchdown.
But, as any good football mind knows, you need good blocking to reach pay-dirt.
That’s what a new partnership between the Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA) and Football Canada are hoping to provide, creating avenues to get more youth involved in football in the country.
The partnerships’ first project is called the First Down Program, an initiative to help develop and grow the sport at a grassroots level.
“It goes even beyond just our sport of football, we see that kids are less active these days,” Football Canada President Jim Mullin explained.
“A program like First Down is really loosely structured to about 45 minutes of activity – it gets the kids out on the field, grass underneath their feet, picking up a ball, throwing a ball.
“It’s great for us that we’ve constructed a program that has that introductory factor to start that relationship for football, but it’s also a relationship to physical activity.”
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“The lessons that sport teach you are instrumental,” CFLPA Executive Director Brian Ramsay added.
“Our members have gone through those programs to get where they are now, today, those lessons are important, the programs are important and growing those programs are important.
“When you look at sport and what it does for the mind and body, these are things that our members want to be part of. If there’s an opportunity to help and grow those opportunities then this is something that our guys want to do.”
Football Canada has noticed that a large number of players that come to the sport do so as teenagers when they’re exposed to the game in high school, something they hope changes with the growth of grassroots programs in place to engage with younger children.
“In Canada, our sport has late adopters, and what I mean by that is kids that are 14, 15, 16 grow up playing other sports before getting brought into football,” Mullin explained.
The First Down Program launches on the Sept. 16 weekend, dovetailing with football weekend in Canada.
The free-to-try program for kids ages 4-8 will take place in CFL city’s that weekend and will feature current players association members helping to generate hype for football amongst the youth.
“How important is it to have those players have those ambassadors going out to communities, running these first down programs, I think it’s absolutely essential,” Mullin said. “There’s no great plan or scheme, it’s personal one-on-one relationships that we share to grow the game.”
Mullin knows all too well how big an impact a personal connection between a young athlete and players who’ve made it to the professional ranks can be.
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“I remember when my fandom was galvanized with the Canadian Football League, it was at the age of nine for me,” he reminisced. “There were four B.C. Lions showing up at a sporting goods store. I went over with my parents, saw the four BC Lions. I was a chatty kid and totally engaged with them, was throwing a football around the aisles with them – my love of football was galvanized at that moment.”
Experiences like Mullin’s are something both the players association and Football Canada hope to grow as they’ve also committed to partner on programming that will set union members up with coaching certification, as they continue to give back to the sport in Canada.
“If we can help our members become educated in the coaching techniques, the safety techniques and those ones that they can then take on to the next generation,” Ramsay said. “It helps our members on the day-to-day as they transition, but it also helps the sport in the future.”
“We’ve got a pool of professional players that want to have that educational opportunity and Football Canada has coaching certification, there’s all kinds of layers that go on right now in terms of coaching and coaching education.” Mullin said.
Mullin says that he hopes to reach roughly 5,000 kids when the program is launched in September.
Locations, dates and times will be announced later in August.
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