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New England youth football leaders gather at home of Patriots

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Success starts from the ground up. The New England Patriots are a prime example of that.

With solid coaching, strong decisions in the front office and excellence on the field, the Patriots have been a premier team in the NFL during the past decade.

That dedication extended to football's grassroots March 5 as the Patriots hosted the USA Football New England Youth Leadership Forum, bringing together 22 youth football leaders from throughout the region at The Hall at Patriot Place presentd by Raythron to discuss the successes and the challenges they face in teaching America's favorite sport to the next generation.

Topics included concussion awareness, training coaches, team sizes and the formation of a New England association to help leagues remain in contact throughout the year.

Mark DuBois of the Suburban Amateur Football League in Western Massachusetts attended his fourth USA Football forum and said he finds new ideas each time.

"It gives me a handle on whether my league is behind the curve, in the middle of the curve or ahead of the curve," DuBois said. "If you just stay in your own little world, you are not going to grow. The goal is to give kids as much of a chance to have fun as you can."

DuBois' league recently held its first postseason playoff tournament, and he continues to gather information from fellow commissioners to find a balance between a focus on player development and rewarding success.

"Prior to this forum, I sometimes felt like we were out in Western Mass all by ourselves," he said. "You think you are doing things right, but you have nothing to compare yourself to."

Ray Saigneault of the Rhode Island Pre-Teen Football League was a first-time attendee and thanked both USA Football and the Patriots for providing the opportunity.

"It was an excellent forum with many great ideas being shared and the potential for all leagues and teams to finally coordinate efforts," Saigneault said. "I would definitely attend similar future forums."

The group also discussed USA Football's Player Progression Development Model (PPDM), which introduces age-appropriate techniques and skills based on a player's physical and cognitive maturity.

DuBois said PPDM is a natural progression from the USA Football coaching education his 400 coaches took last year.

"We found that to be invaluable," DuBois said. "This year, with PPDM, we are going to incorporate the entire package with our players and parents. This will get us on the same page so our goals are similar. PPDM helps reprogram a coach who may have played in college or high school but hasn't coached in 15 years and may never have worked with younger kids. It's not always what he remembers.

"USA Football is an organization that has a good focus and working toward a common goal - that kids are having fun and playing safe."

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