Posts Tagged ‘youth sports

06
Jun
14

Macho Macho Man

via Nantucket-Bucket.com

So we’re wrapping up our inaugural lacrosse season here in New Jersey and while there have been some frustrations with communications, I’d say it’s gone well.

Alpha Tween has been playing excellently as a goalie—the most thankless job on the field it seems—and his coach has been very excited saying “He’s making saves on pure athleticism! Wait until he has technique!”

Which is a nice compliment, although it made me chuckle. It’s like saying “hey you’re really good with no idea what you’re doing!” It happens to be true as well, but it’s funny.

The Professor has been enjoying himself as well, and I’ve really seen a lot of hard work from him to improve.

Last night was the last official games for both and in the cases of both games, it got a bit physical and chippy towards the end. People likely don’t realize it, but lacrosse can be a tough, violent game at any level. And the more tired people get, the more frustrated and the more they use their sticks to hit and not control the ball.

At one point late during The Professor’s game, one of the kids got hurt—I can’t quite recall the circumstance—and was laying on the grass as coaches tended to him and made sure he was OK.

My wife—football mom that she is—yelled for the kids to “take a knee” as that’s what we do in Pop Warner when someone is hurt. You kneel down out of respect for the guy hurt and you clap when he gets up. This has been taught to Alpha since he started in football back in New York, and when my wife coached soccer last fall, she drilled it into the kids on her team as well.

It’s just good manners. I’ve never given it a second thought—all the other teams in our Pop Warner league do it and as a coach, I just figured everyone else did it.

Apparently not.

What I didn’t hear, but my wife did, was the gentleman to our left who muttered, “Why is it always a woman who shouts that?”

image via USAFootball.com

Now, maybe he was wondering “why don’t more men do that?” or maybe he was wondering “why women are so soft?”—I can’t say. When my wife relayed it later it definitely sounded as if she felt it was the latter.

I had echoed her shouts the first time, so it seems like an odd comment.

When the next kid went down a quarter or so later, she didn’t say anything.

I noticed no kid knelt down and no parent or coach said anything to motivate that.

I didn’t say anything, though I almost did—but it’s hard to be the lone voice. My wife didn’t say anything, which I found odd at the time, but now makes sense.

She didn’t want to be “that woman.”

I’m saddened for a couple of reasons. That she felt she couldn’t show compassion for a kid who was hurt (on our own team the

second time). That she felt like her consideration was marginalized because of her gender. That clearly the whole “kneeling down thing” isn’t widespread among all teams and sports in our town. That some guy (who for other reasons struck me as nobody I want to have a beer with anyway) felt the need to comment on how “it’s always a woman.”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, comforting a hurt kid is a human thing, not a woman’s thing. If you’re a dad and you think otherwise, I’m going to go ahead and suggest you rethink what being a dad means.

That doesn’t mean you coddle or throw your child in a bubble. It means you show compassion. Yeah, yeah, men aren’t supposed to do that, I get it, but you and I both know that’s crap. It’s one thing to roll your eyes when you or someone’s kid is whining for a new toy, it’s quite another when someone is hurt.

image via PrincipalsPage.com

This also gets into the whole macho aspect of sports. This is where I used to type “machismo of football” but it’s all sports, especially on boy’s/men’s sports. All athletes are taught to play through pain—it’s part of the game and there is something to be said for learning to fight through it. To fight through adversity and determine whether what you are facing (be it a sprained ankle or difficult math assignment or being overlooked at work for a promotion) and how serious it is.

And more importantly whether it should stop you, and how to keep it from doing so.

But one thing the organization I coach football for is big on is teaching the difference between being hurt and being injured—and being OK with admitting when you’re injured and can’t go on.

I hate when parents—and this goes for both genders, because I’ve seen it from men and women—tell boys to “be a man.” I mean, listen, there are times to tell your kids “oh grow up” and times to point out that what they have is a bruise not a broken leg and shouldn’t stop them from doing what they’re doing.  But when a kid is laying on the turf, not moving—and maybe I’m nuts—that’s probably not the time.

It irks me when parents comment like this dad did. It irks me that he saw good sportsmanship as a “woman’s thing” instead of good sportsmanship. It angers me that my wife felt like she couldn’t encourage that sportsmanship because she was being judged. And it frustrates me that I didn’t pick up on it and I was just as silent.

The idea that we shouldn’t be compassionate on the field or concerned when a player on any team gets hurt and is down on the field is garbage and I don’t care what gender you are. We’re supposed to be teaching sportsmanship as much as anything else and clearly, that’s not on everyone’s agenda.

image via PackersHistory.net

And here’s the thing—compassion for an injured player isn’t a woman’s thing. It’s a human thing. You want your son to “be a man?” You teach him that even when it’s your opponent on the ground, you treat it as if he’s on your team, you treat him with respect and you hope he gets up. You kneel, or stand silent or whatever it is your team does and you clap when he gets up. You play with passion and aggression, but fairness as well.

These things are not mutually exclusive. I cover the NFL and while some of these guys truly don’t like each other, the majority of the players in the NFL are friendly with each other even right after a game. And what do you see them do when someone is badly hurt?

They kneel. They pray. They worry about someone on the other team as well as on their own.

That’s being a man in my book.

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06
May
14

The Epitome of Team

image via wikipedia

This Spring the boys have begun to play lacrosse. When we lived in California, this wasn’t a sport anyone knew much about and when we lived in Astoria, NY, we never came across anyone playing—though had we wanted to look perhaps we might have found a team.

For those of you unfamiliar with lacrosse, it’s a sport whose growth is on the rise—one of few in youth sports according to the Wall Street Journal.

It’s been an interesting process. The Professor and Alpha Tween are both first timers, and both have enjoyed it, though AT has had a rougher time adjusting. While he’s a solid athlete, he’s not the type of kid who instantly grabs all the nuances of a new sport and given he’s going through regular growth spurts, his hand-eye coordination is sometimes not so coordinated.

Still he’s doing well. His team is split into two squads—“A” and “B”—depending on overall ability. Most of the first time players (and there are a bunch) are on the “B” team though there is some cross-pollination between the two squads. I find that brilliant because the newer kids get a much more thorough and hands on learning experience. If it was all one mass of kids, the better kids would get more of the practice time and coach’s attention. This way, the kids who need basic instruction get it, while the kids learning the finer points and nuances get that.

Recently, the coaches asked if any of the kids wanted to move to goalie. The team, as a whole, only has one goaltender but as incredible as he is—and he’s phenomenal—it’s a rough gig to do for two squads, especially when one isn’t very good defensively yet because they’re just learning to play.

So they needed a second goalie, partly because the “B” team should have their own guy, partly because our main goalie needs some breaks and partly because we need a backup in case—God forbid—our main goalie got hurt.

Enter Alpha Tween. He had been playing “attack” which is a forward position but since the team wasn’t very good, much of his time was spent standing around. He’s played goaltender in soccer, so he has the basics down. And since he wasn’t doing anything on offense, he figured—not wrongly—that he was guaranteed action while in goal.

Goaltending in lacrosse can be a thankless, tough job. Shots can come from anywhere, you wear less equipment than other players, so you have more exposed skin for bruising and it’s a very small ball.

Alpha Tween got thrown into a game a couple of weeks ago and did very well. His teammates all congratulated him and jumped on him in celebration, as you’d expect.

It was a nice moment—but not as nice as last night’s.

Last night, AT was merely a backup. He wasn’t expected to see any time in the game, even though there was a mix-up and the other team didn’t bring all their “A” guys.

However in the fourth quarter, he replaced the main goalie. Unfortunately for him, the “A” team defense was pulled as well. So the other team—which had seen very few scoring opportunities before the fourth—got to take some great shots on my boy.

He let in three goals and was clearly frustrated by the end.

And then something happened which just reinforced my perception that we made the right decision in moving the family here. We’ve been terribly lucky (for the most part) since coming to the East coast, in that pretty much all the sports teams we’ve been involved in have been filled with awesome people.

Gymnastics aside, we’ve been super-happy with it.

So after AT got shelled, letting in three goals and allowing the opposition to close the gap, I wasn’t sure what the reaction from

via Boston.com

his team would be. They’ve loved him, but the reaction to a poor performance versus a good one can be very different.

The first team offense ran onto the field and jumped on AT in celebration.

I was so pleased to see that. I know that, at his age, Alpha needs confidence boosts. I know he was frustrated—maybe even angry—with his performance. And I know he was still annoyed, but instead of being sullen (which we’re used to these days), he was happy.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like he was all “HEY I LET IN THREE GOALS WHEEEEE” or anything.

But instead of dragging his feet and being pissed off, he was smiling, talking about what he needed to do better and being confident that he could.

Being a team means a lot of things, but what gets lost more often than not is the reality that being a true team is about more than just being in the same space with people, wearing the same jersey colors or playing next to each other.

It’s about supporting each other even when things aren’t great. It’s about picking up someone when they are a little down because they didn’t do as well as they wanted to.

And yeah the team won, so it’s easier to be supportive. Still, it wouldn’t have been a shock if nobody did anything. If they just celebrated the win and didn’t reach out to AT. It’s not like you’d think twice about it.

But they went out of their way to celebrate his efforts.

That’s the sort of thing which really is what being on a team about.

02
Jan
14

Pee Wee Football Coaches Gone Wild!

I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed I was when I saw this ad this weekend.

First of all because:

The Esquire Network is a thing? Good Lord there are officially too many channels (sorry ESPN 18).

More importantly because this show highlights everything wrong with youth football.

Screaming coaches with no rational thoughts in their addled heads, parents telling their kids to play tougher, encouraging kids to hurt other kids, consequences be damned—every nightmare about youth football in one show.

And of course it takes place in Texas, home of the incredibly and frighteningly intense football culture (see the book Friday Night Lights if you don’t believe me). There’s even terribly dangerous, helmet-leading tackling.

I’m sure there’s some positive stuff in there….probably right after commercial break when you’re up grabbing a beer or something.

I’m sure this is an entertaining show, in a cringe-inducing, stomach-churning way.

I know leagues are like this in many sports. I know it because I’ve seen parents get into fights, scream expletives at their kids and take a game the child loved and make it into a way for the adults to relive their own playing days. I get that. And I get that the over-the-top insanity is compelling television. Would you feel like watching if it was all positive? Probably, but when it comes to “reality TV” yelling is selling ads.

But this is profoundly disturbing to me. Encouraging kids to hurt other kids? There’s a disconnect there.

I tell my kids to hit hard and I talk about making the other team want to give up but to physically tell someone to hit the other team so hard they don’t get up? That’s a really scary thing to be telling children.

And a scary thing for parents to see if their kids want to play.

There’s encouraging kids to play hard, to play through aches and pains, to attack the other team—and then there’s screaming at kids, making them cry and telling them they should be injuring other players.

This is going to make youth leagues wince because selling parents on the sport will get harder if anyone sees this garbage (assuming the preview is really indicative of the show). You already have to deal with worries about concussions and other injuries—now you have these coaches as examples of what youth football is about.

All I can say is, as hard as we are on the kids where I coach, we don’t do this. We go out of our way to provide a safe environment for our kids.

None of us are auditioning for the NFL like these coaches seem to be,

I mean, holy shit.

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

07
Aug
13

Attack of the Helicopter Parents: When Gymnast Mom Strikes

image via ABCGNews.com

I’ve been threatening this column for a while and I figured that with football season starting it was about time.

However, I’ve had some subjects for posts I really like show up in my brain, so I kept pushing this one back.

Then my wife came home with a peach of a story and I figured “That’s a sign.”

First, you may not know what a helicopter parent is.

Well, helicopter parents (known in entertainment circles as stage parents) are parents who hover over their kids when they do whatever it is they do. Most commonly found around kids who play or do something that could end up making them famous or money, it’s a parent who sees that Johnny can shoot a basketball or Sue can dribble a soccer ball better than any of the other kids and decides they’re going to “help them” make the most out of their skill.

image via PrincipalsPage.com – and it’s a brilliant shirt

Often it’s the parents living vicariously through their kids—they were never talented enough to make the high school wrestling team and get a full ride to college, but Harry can—but sometimes they’re just way too enthusiastic in general.

There are different flavors—from the mom who won’t let her son drop violin because “he’d be wasting his talent” to the dad who micromanages his son’s life so he can become the ultimate quarterback.

Anyone who is my age and follows football thinks of Todd Marinovich, the former USC and Oakland Raiders quarterback whose dad was working to make him a quarterback when he was a toddler.

That’s not even all that uncommon really, though the extreme side of things.

We’ll see some nuttiness in these columns but let’s start with what my wife witnessed at gymnastics last night.

The Professor is starting to play team sports, but he really likes the individual ones as well and as nimble as the monkey is, gymnastics has always been a great fit.

Tuesday night was a makeup class for him in place of one he missed when he was visiting his grandparents a few weeks back. It was a slightly lower level then he normally does (he’s intermediate level #humblebrag), but as always, he had a good time.

image via Huffingpost.com

While he was doing his thing, my wife waited in the lobby. You can watch the kids, but there isn’t much space to do it so she was sitting and hanging out while he had his class.

At some point a woman came in trailing two little girls and the three of them went to one of the glass doors to watch.

The woman began criticizing (in a loud Jersey accent which my wife described as “Snookie”) one of the girls in the class for not holding onto the balance beam.

“Oh she’s not going to do it. She has to hold on when she does that. She’s just being lazy.”

She then shooed the other two girls away, blaming them for the gymnast’s struggles because “they were distracting her.”

Then, obviously the gymnast caught her mom watching her as the women started directly talking—through the glass door and very loudly—to the girl.

“You have to hold onto the bar. You’re not holding onto the bar. You have to do it or you won’t be able to do the stunt.”

Eventually she let it go, exasperated, and sat down. My wife said she then started a loud conversation across the room with another parent discussing at length how her daughter was lazy, complained too much, wanted to do the gymnastics but won’t practice, wasn’t going to put in the effort she had to and oh no, now she’s going to complain because cheerleading is starting and she won’t want to do that either.

And then she started having a loud conversation about her daughter’s body and how she would be getting breasts soon (apparently she was about 12, though my wife said the girl was very short so she didn’t know).

You know, because that’s a conversation for public consumption.

Sidenote: I have noticed the last few years that people will say the most private, not-for-public things in public places now. I don’t need to know your daughter is hitting puberty, I don’t give a damn if you think so-and-so drinks too much or how much money you make. Keep it to yourself.

image via Huffington Post

The daughter then came out for a water break and the woman began berating her. Just telling her all the same crap she did through the glass, but now in front of everyone in the lobby.

The girl snapped back at her—”I’m trryyyiiiinnnnngg”—in a tone which my wife said she’d have never tolerated. Until she considered that the mom was dressing down her kid’s skills, attitude and desire in front of a group of strangers at a very loud volume.

They ended up in a super loud argument (something which is always embarrassing to witness) that resulted in the girl huddled up on her mom’s lap sucking down a Gatorade and in tears.

Now, I don’t know what the mom’s issue was. Maybe she’d had a bad day and this was unusual. I will say that the story has the feel of something frequent, but I don’t know.

I don’t know if she thought her daughter could be a gymnastic star or was lazy or any number of things.

But good lord lady, it’s your daughter.

If you have an issue with her effort, you talk TO her about it not rant AT her about it. And here’s a pro-tip: do it away from other people and listen to your kid. Maybe her arm hurts. Maybe she’s feeling ill. Or maybe, even though she loves it, two hours straight of gymnastics is too much for her. Perhaps a shorter class or lesson?

image via CambridgeNannyGroup.com

If your kid wants to do something, you have to be the one to see how much effort they—and you—can put into it and adjust the activity accordingly. It’s one thing to make a kid practice—we make Alpha practice his guitar—it’s another to make them practice to the point where they are exhausted and stop liking what they are doing.

It’s insane. I’m proud of my wife for not saying anything because that sort of thing is hard to witness silently.

Your kids are just that—kids. They need your help managing their time and they are not small adults. They don’t cope with things the way you might.

Just try and remember that the next time the kids aren’t quite putting as much effort into something as you think they should.

Your biggest concern should be that they are having a good time and smiling a lot.

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

02
Aug
13

The Coaching Expirement Begins

So today has been another high-stress, nothing-going-according-to-plan kind of day.

The reward for not losing my mind is to make kids run laps at Youth Football practice today.

Yes, today I become a coach—really more of a coach’s helper.

I can’t be at games on Sunday because that’s when I do my NFL video gig. But as it stands I can help coach for practices.

The aim is to help Alpha Tween’s team as much as I can, once he’s officially on a team (that will depend on his weight in a few weeks).

I have mixed feelings about this for a number of reasons.

First, it is incredibly hard to coach your own kid. Many parents are either too easy or (more often) too hard on their children. Some parents will favor their kids because they’re in a position to do it and think their kid is special. Some parents will be super hard on their kids to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

Then I’m also nervous because while I write about football, putting it into practice with kids is a whole different thing. My responsibilities will probably be minimal, but still I don’t want to screw up.

Finally, I just found out we have coaches meetings tomorrow and Sunday at 8:30am.

So, there goes that sleep.

Anyway, I am excited and this should be a lot of fun.

Hope you enjoy the experience through our eyes as well.

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.

——————————————————-

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

01
Aug
13

Questions to Consider Before Letting Your Child Play Youth Football (part 1)

image via How Stuff Works

So it’s that time of year, the time when many families are putting together their schedules for the fall and deciding what activities their children will take part in.

As a football writer and a huge fan of the game with two boys, I am often asked how comfortable I am having Alpha Tween play tackle football with all the concussion concerns at the collegiate and pro levels.

So a year and a half ago I was asked by a site called Bleacher Report to pen the article you are about to read. I’m reprinting the whole thing here, but you can always head over there to see it as well as all the other stuff I do.

And I am more than happy to tackle any concerns or comments you have as well.  (sidenote: I’ll be helping assist the coaches on Alpha Tween’s team this season.)

It’s a long article so I split it into two parts. I’ll post the other one later this afternoon.

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It’s a struggle more and more parents are dealing with every year: Should I let my child play football?

I know it may seem a bit soon, but early sign-ups are just around the corner, and many teams (my son’s included) are running winter team workouts as we speak.

Once upon a time the answer was simple. If your son (or in some cases these days, daughter) wanted to play football, then gear up, pop in a mouthpiece and off they go.

No more.

We’re busier now than ever before and time is hard to come by. Children have a ton of schoolwork to keep up with and we are all worried about over-scheduling them at a young age.

Of course, there is the question of the physical toll football can take, something we’re more aware of now than ever before.

Image via Harvard Medical School

As the NFL and NFLPA learn about and discuss the long-term effects of concussions, and doctors and trainers publish articles on the dangers of focusing on one sport alone, all parents will need to do their due diligence before giving their child the green light.

There are questions you have to ask when your kid decides they want to play youth football. Today, I’m going to tackle some of the most important ones and help my fellow parents do the one thing they must do before making any decision: get informed.

First, a little background about me beyond what you see in my B/R profile. I have two kids, one of which began playing tackle football this past fall. He wasn’t going to do it—which was fine by me and my wife—but changed his mind mid-summer. So we did our research and dove in.

It was an eye-opening experience in many ways, despite the fact that I, more than many parents, know what is involved in a football season.

I’ll get into this more later, but for all the hard work and time-consuming aspects of this past season, it was an incredibly fulfilling experience for both my son and I. I’m not saying it will be for everyone, but it can be.

Hopefully I, along with some experts, can help you navigate your way to the right decision for you, your family and, most importantly, your child.

Here are the questions I think parents most need to consider before they gear their child up for a season of youth football.

 

Is there a Right Age for My Child to Become Involved in Tackle Football?

I make a distinction between tackle and flag (or two-hand touch) leagues, as the games are very different. I know, you’re thinking, “Well, yeah,” but if you haven’t played or know someone who has played, figure that even then you are underestimating how different.

Image via bayouthfootball.com

I do recommend having a child learn the basics in a flag league first, so they get a taste of it. I did that with my son and I believe it helped him get the basics—different defenses, offensive theories and plays—down so he was a step up transitioning to full-on contact.

There are two aspects of this question that I believe you must consider: physical and mental/emotional.

Like flag and tackle, these are two different entities and your child might be more prepared in one way than the other. In both cases, the answer varies from kid to kid, but there are some general guidelines.

“There are reasons for parents to be concerned about collision sports at any age,” I was told by Jene Bramel, a fellow Footballguys.com staffer and a doctor who has worked on the sidelines as a team physician for a local high school football team since 2006.

“Younger kids aren’t as likely to generate enough torque and force to tear ligaments or severely strain muscles, but broken bones and concussions are possibilities at any age.”

Dr. Bramel suggests that parents consider their child’s development as they decide. Do they know how to protect themselves well when hitting or being hit? Do they know how to fall? Can they focus during practice to learn these techniques from their coaches?

“After that,” Bramel says,”every parent has a different comfort level with injury. Some parents are comfortable allowing their child to play football at the peewee level, others prefer to wait until closer to middle school age.”

Dr. Bramel says to remember that every sport—soccer, basketball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, etc.—carries a risk of injury. Football may carry some more risk, but your child can be injured playing just about anything.

image via randyjarosz.blogspot.com

For myself, I was worried about how my son’s body would hold up to the practices and drilling as much as the hitting. I knew it could be a grueling season for him and was determined to monitor him closely.

It was actually far more intense than I expected (more on that in a minute) but he rose to the occasion and was a lot less of an issue than expected.

Emotionally, I was also concerned for my son. He was a physical kid, prone to rough-horsing around, but aside from a few scuffles in the schoolyard, had never been hit. Certainly not like he would here.

A lot of parents forget that aspect of football. “Tackle football is a mental game more than physical,” Queens Falcons coach John Serrette told me.

Coach Serrette has been coaching in the Queens and New York City area since he was 16, becoming the President of the Rosedale Jets at 21 and coaching the Bayside Raiders to a Pee Wee championship in 1999.

He runs his own website, 3ointstance.com, on which he loads instructional videos and other footage to support his players and parents. In the interest of full disclosure, he’s also my son’s coach.

“It is a game where you have to conquer your fears at the door and believe that as one unit you will be trying to attain a goal and that goal is not winning,” he stated. “It is perfect execution of what you are taught. If you execute what you are taught on offense and on defense, the result will be what it needs to be. It is scary for the child at first but again, they get used to it and have to overcome their fears.”

This was my experience with my son.

I talked to him a few times about the rigors of a game and practice. How you can become exhausted mentally as well as physically and how it can be difficult to stay focused for an entire practice, much less a game.

I also wanted him to know that if it was too much, he could let me and the coaches know. While I’d prefer him to finish the season—he’d made a commitment to his team, after all—I’d never force him to do something he didn’t like.

In my opinion, this is critical and both Coach Serrette and Dr. Bramel agree.

Your child has to know they can tell you “enough.” They (and you) have no idea how they’ll respond to that first hit. Or the second. Or the 50th.

You may think your child is a tough little guy, and he or she may break on that first hit. You might think your child isn’t

image via Examiner.com

going to last a snap and they may fall in love with colliding with a ball carrier.

Either way, you have to give them an out. How do you know if your child is emotionally and mentally ready? Can he take instruction? Can he take criticism? Can he hold together when the going gets tough?

All those questions are ones you can answer. Still, you have to be prepared for those answers to be wrong the moment that first hit happens.

 

How Worried Should I be About Concussions?

It’s the hot-button topic of the decade in football, and it should be a concern for every parent. I don’t mean to scare you at all, but it has to be on your mind.

Dr. Bramel agrees. “There’s still much development that happens in the grade school and teen years. Head trauma, even when mild, can affect that development, especially when there are multiple injuries.”

Proper technique and equipment are vital. The technique is ultimately in the hands of the coaches, as will the equipment be at times. However, there are certainly some things you can do to help your child avoid concussions, including making sure they have a properly fitted helmet and chin strap, as well as wearing a mouthpiece on every play.

image via cdn4.sportngin.com

I’ll go a bit further. My son’s league requires a mouthpiece for every player, on every play. I would hesitate to play in a league or team that didn’t.

As we know, players will get their “bell rung” on occasion, and Dr. Bramel says that a child who experiences that—even if they just have a mild headache—must be carefully watched and screened before returning to action.

“It’s just as important to have a healthy respect for head injuries and to keep a watchful eye for even mild occurrences,” says Bramel.

Of course, concussions aren’t the only way your child can get hurt. So I asked Dr. Bramel if there was any way parents can limit injuries, especially through other pieces of equipment like flack vests or rib protectors.

“Parents shouldn’t feel the need to wrap their kids in Kevlar before allowing them to play football,” he says. “If the concern is that high, football may not be the right sport for their child.”

Dr. Bramel did follow that up by saying that thigh and hip pads can help prevent bruising that can lead to other injuries, and “forearm pads, neck rolls and other pads can be helpful depending on the position the child plays.”

So while it is impossible to prevent every injury, we can mitigate some of them with a little extra precaution.

Still, one things must be abundantly clear: this is a collision sport. Players intentionally run into each other as hard as they can. People get hurt. Your child will get banged up and bruised, ankles tweaked and fingers crushed.

If that makes you cringe, I echo what Dr. Bramel said—this may not be the sport for you.

 

What Kind of Time Commitment Should I Expect?

Every league is different, but across the board I can say you will be looking at a significant amount of your child’s time taken up with practices. That’s your time too; you or your husband/wife will be shuttling your kid back and forth to practices as well as games, some of which are on the road.

If that makes you cringe more than the thought of your kid having a 125-pound tackle fall on them, again, this may not be for you.

I will be totally honest here. I knew it was a big time commitment and I was still under-prepared.

My son’s team practiced three times a week—twice on weeknights and once on Saturday morning. Then there were games on Sunday. The practices generally ran about 90 minutes and Saturday were normally two hours.

That’s a huge chunk of time. Consider that this is on top of school and schoolwork (which, for his organization, was a big deal. You don’t do well in school, you don’t play) as well as all other activities.

image via BostonGlobe.com

Twice a week I scrambled to get out of work, drive to pick my son up from his after-school program, get my other son from his after-school program, then drive to practice, which was about 30 minutes away with traffic.

That’s a lot. Now factor in weather, feeding both kids, entertaining the one not playing, and the occasional team-building

bowling trip and suddenly you’re wondering when you signed up for football instead of your kid.

The truth is, you signed up the moment he did. This can be a serious time commitment, even for the littlest guys. You can help alleviate some of the duties by doing things like finding carpool partners, but it’s still a lot of time.

So the two things to consider here are the following.

First, can your child handle the time commitment? I mentioned what can be required of them—multiple practices on top of homework, school and other activities. Remember also that your child will be learning plays and schemes which will be mentally taxing in their own right.

Second, are you willing to sacrifice your time—your evenings, your weekends, your free time—to make this happen for your kid?

Can you find leagues that require less than ours does? Probably. That’s certainly another option. But I will say that the older your kid gets, the more frequent the practices get. So at some point, the question still stands.

Good coaches will give you the tools to help both your child and yourself.

image via youthmuse.com

Last season, my son’s coach made sure the kids were doing what they needed to in school and was in contact with the parents via the team mom to make sure we knew what was going on at all times. He didn’t need us out there at practice, but liked us there because it gave our kids a visual reminder that, hey, we’re here for you.

Coach Serrette told me that, really, that’s much of what a coach wants.

“For a parent, I expect more of the mental support of reinforcing what we teach your child during the week. It is not easy and we will throw a lot of terms at them and we just hope that you help support the staff that way,” he said.

As I mentioned earlier, Coach Serrette utilizes a website to keep his players and parents informed of the goings on. There’s so much, and he doesn’t want anyone lost.

“I always try to keep my parents informed on the ‘why’ I do things. What to look for in the videos on 3pointstance.com—where I load all the game videos as well as instructional videos to help the players to understand our concepts—and how they can improve their child’s performance.”

Every coach supports their team and parents in different ways, just as every parent supports their child in different ways.

Together, parents and coaching staff have to have the child’s back when it comes to making sure they have the emotional, mental, as well as physical support they need.

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So that’s the end of part one. Part two will post later and deal largely with helping your kids get mentally and physically ready, choosing what league is right for your family and what to expect you and your child to get out of youth sports.

 




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