01
Aug
13

Questions to Consider Before Letting Your Child Play Youth Football (part 2)

So this is the second part of the earlier post on what to consider when thinking about letting your kids play youth football. You can find the first part here.

I say kids because, while not common, it’s not unheard of for girls to play—especially among the younger groups.

Mind you, there are probably a whole host of questions I haven’t covered for the parents of girls which haven’t occurred to me because, well, I don’t have them.

Girls, I mean, not questions. I have plenty of questions.

Back to the point though, in this segment we’ll talk a little more about supporting your kid without being “that parent,” choosing the right team, and checking your (and the kid’s) expectations. Among other things of course.

So there you guy—again ask questions in the comments or on twitter if you’d like. I’m happy to help.

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How do I Support Without Becoming the Next Craig James/Marv Marinovich?

image via theridgewoodblog.net

Ah, helicopter dads.

One day, when I have millions of hours of free time (which is to say, never), I will start a blog called HelicopterParents.com (sidenote from 8/1/13 – It’s going to be a recurring post here at DMR) and fill it with all the horrible and ridiculous things I have seen parents do in many, many different sports.

How can you be supportive without crossing the line? Sure, invoking James and Marinovich is pure hyperbole, but I’ve seen parents do some pretty stupid things.

It can be a fine line between cheering your child on and pushing them too hard, harassing their coach for more playing time, and shouting plays to the kids on the field.

I once saw a dad pull his kid out of a basketball huddle at halftime to coach him up, while the coach was talking. That’s not even the worst of it, but I can’t repeat the rest without dropping language we here at Bleacher Report try to avoid. (sidenote: We here at Dad Moon Rising DO encourage such language so you’ll hear that tale soon in full glory)

There are a few ways to avoid this.

First, make sure your child is your guide. Learn your kid’s limits and respect them. I’m not saying you can’t push them to do better, I’m saying don’t be the parent haranguing their kid when they are in tears and begging to stop playing.

I’m saying be the parent who focuses on the positive, not the negative. You can point out where he or she can play better. Just don’t make that the only thing you point out.

I am in constant dialogue with my son. He’s expressed an interest in playing college ball, and that’s great (he’s 10, next week he could want to be Eddie Van Halen). He’s asked for my help, but I make sure he knows that he is in control, not me. If he tells me “Dad, enough,” then I back off.

That hasn’t happened yet, but that’s not the point. He needs to know if it does happen, I will listen.

Second, let the coaches coach.

image via youthsportsny.org

Both last season’s coach and my son’s new coach have welcomed parent involvement overall, but also have been clear that, on the field, our kids are now their kids. The coaches are in charge.

You want to work on catching the ball, tackling, running routes with your kid? Great. Do it outside practice or game. Sure, you can sneak little tips in during a water break—my son always checks in and asks if he did this or that right. But you can’t do it when the coach is coaching.

Maybe you think I’m being ridiculous, but I see it all the time.

Here’s another thing about letting the coaches coach—be careful not to contradict what they are doing. If I’m going over something with my son and he tells me they do it differently, then I learn how they do it and that’s what we practice.

Finally, control yourself. Again, you think it’s simple but something happens to a great many parents—moms as well as dads—when a game starts. They start out cheering and the next thing you know they sound like that obnoxious fan two rows behind you at an NFL game, screaming at the refs, the coaches, the kids and other parents.

The Incredible Hulk looks at these parents and says “Dude, seriously?”

image via ndcdfw.com

Look, I get it because we all get lost in the heat of the moment when the game is close and the ref blows a call/a kid fumbles the ball/the coach calls a bad play.

You feel your temper rising? Walk away, cool off, breathe. Come back and cheer.

Because that’s all your kids want to hear. They want you to cheer. They don’t need you screaming about a missed tackle. They’ll probably beat themselves up without your help.

If you need to be more involved, get more involved by coaching or becoming a team parent.

What Sort of Conditioning is Suitable for Still-Developing Bodies to Help Prepare Them for the Rigors of Even a Youth Football Season?

This is, to me, a dicey issue because it’s really easy to screw it up. Many parents will assume that getting your kid in shape is much like getting yourself in shape. However, their bodies—even teenagers—respond to certain exercises much differently than adults.

Dr. Bramel cautions parents to ease into it. “Grade-school age kids and teenagers can be prone to overuse injuries if they do too much, too quickly.”

In my experience, coaches suggest keeping it real simple. Stretching exercises, sit-ups, push-ups and jogging to build endurance.

image via the Maine Morning Sentinel

Coach Serrette feels the same way about not going overboard. “You see people buy tons of equipment but most of those people cannot move their own body weight.”

“I am a big fan of body weight exercises,” he says. “You will see me do planks, burpees, mountain climbers with the players.”

Core exercises are key as well, something that I learned watching players train under Travelle Gaines several years ago in California.

“It is the key to overall fitness,” agrees Coach Serrette, “That is what the entire core craze is about. People spend all this time working body parts but you need to do more things that work your entire body.”

Again, I remind parents to keep an eye on their child’s limitations.

Keep in mind that your child will be working out multiple times a week with their team. So once the season starts, I make sure my son cuts back to an easy routine of sit-ups and push-ups a few times a week and I make sure he listens to his body.

If he’s too sore, he skips.

With football, the mentality is to play through pain, but for a child that can be dangerous. If it hurts, you have to give it attention (this goes for conditioning as well as in-season injuries).

“Pain is the body telling you to pay attention to the area of the body that hurts,” Bramel reminds us. “If simple things like rest, ice, stretching and/or a short course of anti-inflammatories don’t alleviate the symptoms, talk to the trainer or see a doctor before returning to play and risking further injury.”

Bramel also suggests that before you start any regimen, you speak with your child’s doctor for advice. I would add that you should talk to their coaches as well. Remember, these are resources and they will have practical experience that can help you avoid mistakes.

Check Your Expectations

You are about to spend an awful lot of time as your child plays football. If they fall in love with it, you could be doing this for years on end. So it’s natural to wonder where it’s all leading.

Can my child play in high school? If they’re good enough, could college ball be a possibility? Will they play in junior college? Division II? FCS? Maybe even FBS?

What about the pros?

As I have said several times in this piece, it may seem crazy to you, but I see parents (and kids) get carried away all the time.

One thing Coach Serrette does is send his parents a little reality check in the form of a link to an NCAA study which lists the percentages of high school athletes in several sports who make it to the collegiate and pro levels.

A table from an NCAA study tracking kids who go from high school to Pro Level (image via NCAA.org)

A table from an NCAA study tracking kids who go from high school to Pro Level (image via NCAA.org)

I was surprised to get this but realized that for many parents, there isn’t always a guidepost on where this could all lead. What is pretty common knowledge given my line of work is not always obvious to other parents.

Coach Serrette doesn’t do this to discourage parents or kids, but to give them a realistic idea of what they face.

“I always tell my players the same thing. Do not shoot for the pros, shoot for college.”

Using football to get an education is certainly attainable for many players according to Coach Serrette.

“There as tons of colleges that will give you money to play for them in the FCS or D-III and I have had more of my players that have gone to smaller schools and received a free education than I have had gone to the FCS schools. I think the goal should always be to play to get that money for college because THAT is truly doable.”

Like everything else, it’s important to go into this with both your and your child’s eyes wide open. Not every child becomes the next Drew Brees, or even Danny Amendola. Many children can use football to help further their education.

What is the Right Team/League for My Child?

This is a critical question, maybe the most critical because it combines a lot of what we’ve already talked about.

via bendbulletin.com

If you’re like me, you may not be spoiled for choice. We didn’t have many teams within a reasonable distance from where we live in Queens. We lucked into what I feel is a great organization in the Queens Falcons. (sidenote and update: Now living in New Jersey we once again have hit a fantastic organization in the Montclair Bulldogs. Seriously, we’re 2-2 which is a blessing.)

If you have a choice—and hopefully you do—you need to research those choices as thoroughly as possible. Search for the organization’s website (most have them now). Call and talk to the president of the group. Talk to the coaches your child will play under. Attend a practice or two.

Many teams will allow a child to try out for a practice or two to see if they want to really play. I assure you that a lot of kids will know the moment they get hit whether this is the sport for them.

Even though we were really looking at just one team, I did all the above. I read everything on the website. I emailed the Falcons’ president. I talked to the coaches. We went to check out the practice.

Think hard about what you’re looking for in a team, how much practice you feel comfortable with, the personality of the coaches, the personality of the kids—heck, the personality of the other parents.

Other parents, by the way, are an excellent resource. While your child is talking to his potential teammates and watching drills, chat with the other parents. More often than not, they are very friendly and happy to tell you what the score is with the team you are looking at.

via gawker.com

Even if you do all of the above, you could very well decide to sign up and, midway through the season, decide that this isn’t the league for you and your child.

That’s fine. You can always continue the search the next offseason, now armed with an even better idea of what you’re looking for.

Even if your child plays a minuscule amount of time, the key is that any team they join is a place where your child can enjoy themselves.

“I try my best, although it is not easy, to make everyone feel a part of the team,” says Coach Serrette. “It does not matter if you play 40 minutes or two, you are a part of the family. You will see that as they get older no one remembers many grand stories of their accomplishments, but they can relive many laughs and jokes from practice.”

What’s the Upside Here? What Is My Child Going to Get out of Playing Youth Football?

Aside from the obvious physical benefits of conditioning and physical activity in a world which sees a greater and greater percentage of childhood obesity, as well as far more interest in playing video games than being outside, youth football has a greater benefit.

Let me illustrate with another anecdote about my son.

image via NY Times

My kid plays a lot of different sports because he’s a natural athlete and he just loves to play. In fact, as much as he loves football, he’s played basketball since he was six or seven.

He’s normally a very quiet guy on the court. He’s an OK player who tends to let others take the lead on the court and is rarely vocal (unless, as kids are wont to do, he’s complaining about a non-call). He’s had the same coach for three years now and that coach has been begging him to step up and be more of a leader. It didn’t happen the first two years, which is fine. We figured, it’s not his thing.

Just over a week ago, he stepped onto the court for his first game of the season and I have to tell you, he was a totally different player. He played more confidently, took more shots, played more physically, and was far more vocal than I have ever seen him playing any sport prior to football.

Confidence. That’s what it was. The first thing his basketball coach said to me after the game was, “That’s football for you.”

If your child plays, chances are you will see a huge difference in their self-esteem and confidence. The change in my son, while also a part of growing up, comes in large part to the confidence he gained playing youth football.

The environment, the intensity, the pure joy of achievement after all the practices, sweat, bruises and hard hits—at the other end of it, knowing that you took everything someone could throw at you and walk away—that’s a big deal.

image via popville.com

Your child will also learn what it’s like to be on a team—a true team where you know that the guys around you  deserve your best effort, because that’s what they give you.

Coach Serrette believes it’s an important part of a boy’s development. “The biggest benefit of youth football is the teaching of responsibility…it’s about the first true introduction into what it means to be a man in society.”

Like football, being a man, Coach Serrette says, isn’t always easy but has its rewards.

“At the end of the day the score means little, but the team, the family, trumps the needs of you as an individual. Understanding that prepares you for fatherhood.”

The coach knows he’s getting a little deep for his charges, but thinks the lessons will linger anyway. “I know an 11-year-old may not see it that way, but it’s the truth and it is a collective lesson of maturity and responsibility, that they will carry throughout the rest of their life—if they get it and what we are selling.”

There are many other benefits you get from a team sport—working towards a common goal, dealing with success and failure.

However, the rigors of youth football can prepare a child for much more. I truly believe, in the right situation, it can build a child up with such confidence, they will believe anything is possible.

And that confidence will serve them well, regardless of what they do long after football is done.

It’s clear that I think highly of the benefits of youth football. I’ve seen the positives with my own eyes and believe it is a great way to build character, confidence and conditioning.

It’s also not for every kid or every parent. More than anything else, you have to make sure that the choice is the right one for your family and your child.

Hey, are you following Dad Moon Rising on Twitter or Facebook? Why the hell not?

image via radioboston.wbur.org

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1 Response to “Questions to Consider Before Letting Your Child Play Youth Football (part 2)”


  1. 1 DR
    August 1, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    My parents would never let me play youth (or high school) football. They said I was too small and might get hurt, so they would never sign the permission slips. When I went off to college, I played rugby – never did get seriously hurt.


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