15
Jan
14

TV Review—Friday Night Tykes Episode 1: “Weakness Leaving the Body”

via Hollywood Reporter

“You have the opportunity today to rip their freakin’ head off and let them bleed. If I cut ’em with a knife, they’re gonna bleed, red, just like you.”

“If you believe in yourself, you can do whatever it is you want to do in life.”
— Charles Chavarria, Head Coach, Jr. Broncos

There are a ton of quotable moments in Esquire TV’s new documentary series “Friday Night Tykes,” but those two—said by the same coach at almost the same time—perfect encapsulate the thorny and complicated series.

Which, in turn, perfectly encapsulates the complicated nature of youth sports in America in general, and football in particular.

Before we get too much further here, a few things you should know about the show and the world surrounding it.

In Texas, football is king. Roll your eyes if you want, but it’s true—you need only read Buzz Bissinger’s excellent book Friday Night Lights (which you can bet the title of this series meant to evoke) to know that it’s not hyperbole to say it.

Even before I started coaching youth football last season, I’d heard stories about the intensity with which the game is played at a young age in Texas. To be fair, I have heard stories from throughout the south which echo the same fanatical intensity you hear about in Texas.

So when you watch this show, you have to know going in that this is going to be ratcheted up a few notches beyond what 90 percent of anyone attached to youth football—player, coach or parent—has experienced.

Beyond that, remember that this is a “reality series” more than a documentary. Which is to say, editing for drama is a must.

Which also means we are not seeing well-rounded people—actual people—so much as characters. Because a multifaceted person doesn’t always make for compelling television.

Finally, this organization—the Texas Youth Football Association—does not appear to be a Pop Warner football league, though it may be associated with USA Football, which is the governing body of youth football in America.

They are not associated with the NFL’s youth football safety program, Heads Up Football, according to the website For the Win.

You can tell it’s not a Pop Warner team because not everyone plays—in Pop Warner, everyone has a set amount of plays they are required to participate in, based on the size of your roster.

My son has played youth football both on Pop Warner and non-Pop Warner teams, and both were good experiences, though it is hard to watch from the sidelines when your team is losing and you know you aren’t getting in.

The problem this show—and because of the show, youth football—faces is that most people won’t know any of the above. So this show—for good and ill—is now the face of youth football in America.

And yet, the uncomfortable reality is the picture isn’t all that far off.

In every league, in every city, you have the super-intense coach, the more “positive” coach, and the “lifer” coach. You have the parents who have their son playing because they miss it as much as because their kids want to play, the parents who are clearly uncomfortable but not wanting to make waves and the parents who don’t know enough to know when their kid needs to step away.

Watching the initial trailer, I was put off for a myriad of reasons—not the least of which is that making a documentary or reality show about 8 and 9 year old kids makes me uncomfortable—but as the first episode progressed I recognized that there was far more nuance than I expected.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to shake your head at.

image via Awful Announcing.com and Esquire TV

Jr. Broncos coach Chavarria may love to try and give a rousing speech like Vince Lombardi, but he’s far from able to do it.

While he comes off as a blowhard, as you watch the show you can see what he’s trying to do—he just doesn’t have the words or technique to pull it off. Nor does he seem to have the understanding that the way you might fire up or drive a high school kid isn’t likely to work well with grade schoolers.

The most over-the-top coach we see in the initial episode, Chavarria is the one who has a kid puking mid-practice and then praising him for “playing through it.” He’s the one telling his defensive player to jump a whistle and hit the center early to “set the tone” and the coach who is saying he doesn’t care if the other team gets hurt or injured.

Every series needs its villain and Chavarria serves as Tykes’ bad guy.

It’s hard to blame it all on editing either. You can’t listen to him for five minutes and not come away feeling at least a bit off about him and some of his techniques.

But—and here is a hard truth—if you hang around August football practices, you’ll see a slightly less intense version of some of what Chavarria does. Kids run in the heat, kids get banged around and kids sometimes get yelled at. Chavarria may take it to an extreme, but the work is hard and the expectations often high (though it can be said that for 8 and 9 year olds, these expectations are too high).

image via USA Today

The most disturbing moment of the episode is that aforementioned vomiting.

Colby Connell, a 9 year old returning player, gets sick running laps and ends up throwing up pretty violently. Chavarria praises Connell in a voice-over that ‘the kid didn’t quit’ but you’re left with the feeling that maybe the parents and coaches should have made his take a seat for the day.

And here is the difficulty the series will face—while we see a coach pull Connell aside, we don’t see any examination or steps being taken to make sure he is fit to continue playing. And yet, as a youth coach, I find it hard to believe that there weren’t precautions taken. There must have been some time taken to make sure that he wasn’t about to collapse with heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

You don’t see it though, so you’re left wondering whether the Jr. Broncos coaching staff didn’t care or if the editors and producers felt that spending time showing the staff making sure Connell was OK robbed the moment of drama.

And that, more than anything else, was my issue with the show. All too often I was left wondering how much was left on the cutting room floor. I’m pretty sure, for example, that the coaches spent time on proper tackling technique—if just so their own players aren’t hurt. You’d never know it though, as barely a minute is spent total on any sort of coaching beyond admonishing the kids to hit harder, faster and more brutally.

Having been on the practice field, I can tell you that any practice has moments during which a team or coach looks bad or harsh. The team I coached, we spent countless hours drilling the kids on proper technique but if you just filmed our tackling drills, I would imagine we’d look a lot like these coaches. If you filmed only portions of our practices, you might see us yelling at some of the kids (that we were dealing with 12 year olds is besides the point) but not see the positive reinforcement we constantly gave them.

You might see the kids who came early trying to lose weight so they could play sweating and moaning and stumbling, but you wouldn’t see the extra time, effort, support and praise we gave them.

I know all these things and even I had a very hard time trying to keep perspective on what was happening during this show. I can imagine that parents or people who are not or never have been involved in football will look at it and be horrified. And while some of that is certainly justified, some of it is also unfair as we know we aren’t getting a balanced view of anyone.

You’re left with the impression that most of these coaches are insane but the feeling that something is missing.

The show does have a counter-balance to Chavarria and the other coaches in Brian Brashears, the head coach of the Predators.

image via EsquireTV

image via EsquireTV

Brashears, while certainly tough and demanding in his own way, is far more of what people might feel is the “ideal coach” for youth football. While winning is important, he clearly wants his kids to have fun (he even says so—a rarity by any adult during this show) and seems to come across as there for the kids, not because he wants to be Bill Parcells.

During the final ten minutes or so of the show, the Jr. Broncos and the Predators square off and there is definitely a bit of a “good vs. evil” vibe to the setup. Chavarria is angry, grouchy and has a player take a penalty early to “set the tone” (which may seem like poor sportsmanship but is not an uncommon tactic). Brashears encourages his kids, tells them to have fun and comes across as supportive, relatively calm and cool.

In true Hollywood fashion, the white hats beat the black hats but even that feels a bit empty and staged.

Overall, the show is far more intriguing and nuanced than I expected it to be. I came into it assuming I would be disgusted and horrified for 43 minutes—and to an extent that was the case. However, while there are moments that make you cringe, there are also moments which were good food for thought and debate. There are concerned parents, struggling with how far to let their kids get pushed. There are kids who make you wonder how long they’ll be able to—or want to—put forth the massive effort required. There are coaches who go too far and some who seem even keeled.

While I mistrust a lot of what I see and feel that a lot of the events will be made out to be far worse than they are, I am interested to see if the show can strike a balance between the inherent drama of yelling adults and colliding kids with the positive aspects I have seen in my son’s three years playing. How kids can learn leadership, how they can learn to work as a team, how they can overcome adversity.

While Chavarria might seem nuts—and he does—he isn’t wrong when he says that you can learn how to overcome anything if you believe in yourself. You can learn that on a football field and I have seen many kids do so.

Whether we see that in this show is something I am interested in finding out.

My recommendation is to watch, but to take it all with a grain of salt. As I have said before, football isn’t for everybody and every team is very different. Don’t paint every one of them with the same brush as these teams.

Even watching this show, we really don’t know what’s real and what is manufactured.

You can catch the first episode at Esquire.com.

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

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1 Response to “TV Review—Friday Night Tykes Episode 1: “Weakness Leaving the Body””


  1. March 8, 2014 at 3:28 am

    Dad Moon Rising, I agree with most of your assessments and I want to commend you and the other coaches for what you are attempting to do and I dont see that as teaching 8-9 years olds football. I see what you are doing is being or attempting to be a possitive role model and teach these youg kids more about life than football. Sure there are one or two coaches that probably ned to be benched but I still hold my habd out to them for their attempt but I think some of them just need a little coaching on dealing with people and not just kids. Regardless what people may think of you or the program you can always hold your head up high and praise the lord for giving you and others like you the strength to be there and at least attempt to be that positive role model that most kids do not have. My hat is off to you and I just wished there were more people like you. If you dont mind I would like to add you to my prayers and for God to assist you when needed. You seemed to be a good man and I wish you all the best.

    Congratulations.,

    Robert Barnes


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