Help, My Kids Want to Play (American) Football!
Football, or soccer, as we say in the U.S., is a fine, healthy game and if your kids want to play it, you don't have too much to worry about.
In American football, on the other hand, teams put on armor and line up against each other like medieval armies. The object is to destroy the guy across from you. To "pancake" someone is not to take him out to breakfast, but to knock him flat on the ground.
The quarterback has it even worse, because everyone is trying to clobber him, preferably behind the line of scrimmage while he's holding the ball. Hitting him hard after he's released the ball is not frowned on, either.
Now when the kids are six or seven and they play PeeWee football, there's not much cause for concern. They're all covered in pads and helmets that are way too big for them and jerseys that look like Scrooge's nightshirt. They're too small to hurt each other and they don't understand the plays, so they mostly run around and laugh. Every now and then they fall down and can't get back up, like flipped-over turtles.
It's when the kids get to junior high and high school, and are getting some strength, that parents may start wondering if football is really a good idea. There are a lot of things to consider before reaching a decision. Here are some questions you may want to ask before signing that consent form:
Is your kid ready to play football?
Does he really want to play, or is he being pressured into it by peers and coaches? Football is a big commitment of time and effort. He should genuinely enjoy the time he spends playing it.
Is he in reasonable health? Football is physically demanding. He should be in good enough shape that he's not likely to get hurt the minute he steps onto the field.
Does he understand the concept of team play? If he doesn't yet, he should soon learn that he's there to contribute to the team, not be a one-man superstar. Sadly, some pros never seem to catch on to this.
Can he play football and still keep his grades up? If not, Mom and Dad have a responsibility to say no more football, Slick.
Will he be well-coached?
Will the coaches always put the kids' safety first? Will their equipment fit and be in good condition? Will the coaches limit practice during very hot weather? Will they make sure the kids have plenty of water to drink? And get them off the field if there's lightning? Will the coaches make sure that injured kids don't play? (Because injured kids will try to!)
Are the coaches upbeat and encouraging, or do they yell at and belittle the kids? Yelling coaches will not teach the kids anything, unless it's how to be obnoxious bullies. Parents have every right to refuse to let kids play for coaches like this. Both coaches and kids should understand that anyone can make a mistake, no one is going to win every game, and the important thing is to play hard and do your best.
If kids genuinely want to play and the program is a good one, football has a lot to offer. Kids need to test themselves to gain confidence, and football is a great way to do this. Football is also a good way for kids to stay in shape. Even though they only play in the fall, a lot of players will condition themselves for the football season year round by running and lifting weights. Football is a great game of strategy, sort of like chess with hitting. Learning the fine points of it can improve a kid's ability to think.
Nowadays a lot of girls play junior high and high school football, and they can get the same benefits from it as boys. Football can teach both boys and girls the importance of working with all different kinds of people for a common good.
So if the kids want to play and you're happy with the program, you may want to let them go ahead and kick off their high school football careers.
Picture by Kathleen Murphy