Youth sports have gradually become less and less about the youth and more and more about adults; parents and coaches. I’m not the only person who believes this; there are plenty of articles out there on the topic. The perspective I write from however, is not one of a doctor, family counselor, or blogger. I write as the head coach of an organization that currently has around 100 youth athletes a year, 60 per season, on anywhere from 4-9 teams, ages ranging from Pre-K to 6th grade. The main result of this shift has been increased competitiveness in youth sports. This is good for Nike and Under Armour and perhaps even other adults and organizations that run these programs, but what about the youth? Full disclosure, it’s also been good for us as we combat this epidemic and offer an alternative.
One thing this ultra-competitiveness has led to is specialization at a younger age. There are teams and organizations out there that focus on one sport year-round and want to get in as many games as possible. Growth and development happen in practice not games. There is much cross-over in skill-set and technique from sport to sport. Kids need a break. We coach three different sports and do our best to give children (and parents) a couple of weeks off in between seasons.
More competition has also led to an increased focus on the scoreboard. The scoreboard does not tell the story of a child’s development. It does not tell the impact that the game, season, or sport has had in the life of the young athlete. Our focus has and continues to be character development. Most people do not make a living in sports. Who they are off the field, however, will affect their entire lives. Our goals are for the kids to have fun and get better. This is not measured by the scoreboard, and the harvest for what we are sowing will not be fully seen until long after the child has left organized sports and will impact many more people than those involved in a little league game.
These things are very important to us as an organization. They are major factors and motivators as we do what we do and make decisions that will impact many, many children and their families. This is why we choose to coach flag football. The increased competitiveness of youth sports has not only led to specialization and a focus on winning but specifically to the sport of football has led to a younger age of involvement in tackle football. I believe this to be unnecessary and do not see how this benefits the youth involved. In addition to character development, safety is a top priority for our organization. There have been countless reports and articles on the dangers of tackle football. I want to be clear; I do not oppose tackle football, I just oppose it at such a young age.
More and more, information comes to light about concussions and other injuries. Professional football players are retiring at a younger age because of this. A number of them have said they wouldn’t let their kids play tackle football. Concussions are serious. A helmet does not keep the brain from hitting the skull. The brain does not heal like the rest of the body. The brain is not fully developed until one is in their twenties.
I talk to several families and especially moms who are concerned about the risks. Yet, the culture we live in has produced an environment where the expectation is for youth to be in tackle football at a younger age. We do what we can to offer what we feel is a better alternative, but ultimately this is the parents’ decision. If you feel uneasy about your child being in tackle football then don’t let them.
In our flag football league kids learn the fundamentals, skills, and techniques of the game. We do not work much on special teams and we currently do not have the numbers at our older levels to involve blocking, but they do learn many of the basics. They learn about throwing, receiving, running, hand-offs, offense, defense, and especially tackling.
One does not have to watch an NFL game for very long to see a defensive player miss a tackle because they did not attempt a tackle; they only dove into the offensive player hoping to knock them over. Our players “wax on and wax off.” They learn to stay in front of the ball, get in front of the ball carrier, break down, and grab both flags form each hip with both hands and their head up. They know how to tackle and don’t even know they know how to tackle. They aren’t thinking about hitting or being hit nor are they worried about all of the heavy equipment they are wearing.
We coach flag football because we believe it is a safer and better environment to learn the game. We don’t want the thought of tackle football to scare a child from the sport altogether. There are a number of collegiate and professional athletes in football and other sports who didn’t start playing until junior high, high school or later. We want kids to have the opportunity to grow into whatever it is they will become athlete or not. We want them to experience a variety of sports in a safe environment to help their development as an athlete, but more importantly as a person.
This is what we do and why. I encourage parents to ask themselves why. Why do I have my child in sports? Why do we choose the sport we do? Why tackle football or flag football? Is this for them or for me/someone else? We believe strongly in what we do and what we provide for youth, families, and our community. We’d love for you to be a part of it!