There is little doubt football is a popular game, but the risks are becoming more exposed and parents across the country are starting to ask questions about the safety of youth football. Any parent who shirks off concerns about the safely of football should lose their Parent Card.
I’m not saying parents should pull their children out of youth football leagues and keep them from playing on the gridiron, but if they’re not asking questions about player safety and making sure their children’s safety is a top priority to coaches and youth leagues, then they’re not doing a very good job of parenting.
By no means am I calling for an end to organized competitive football. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t watch my Oregon Ducks on fall Saturdays or was forced to miss out on NFL Sundays.
I will admit that I think some local youth football organizations are over the top. I have seen Sierra Youth Football League (SYFL) teams starting practices in late July. Some even practice into November. That’s longer than the high school season. Additionally, many youth football teams practice four to six times a week, with kids as young as 5 and 6
That’s ludicrous. If you show me a 6-year-old that has a good enough attention span to practice for nearly two hours a night, four or more times a week, for three and a half months, I’ll show you a seven-foot sports writer that can leap tall buildings in a single bound and turn water into wine.
It’s hard to keep the focus of a high school athlete for that long, let alone an adolescent. Also, I know little kids may not hit that hard, but I don’t want first graders banging bodies and helmets with other kids no matter how big and fast they may not be.
My point is, there is a time and place that’s appropriate for youths to start playing football and in my humble opinion, it’s not until they’re at least 10. And I’m not some over-protective parent that holds his kid back from doing anything where there’s even the smallest chance to get hurt.
I’m not alone in this opinion. Some of the most respected and successful high school coaches in northern Nevada agree.
Sports are valuable to kids of all ages. Athletics teach kids the values of facing adversity, learning things don’t always go your way and how to be a respectful loser. Certainly things don’t always go our way in life and the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be. Football can help youths learn those lessons.
The Sparks Parks and Recreation Department does an amazing job each fall of administering the NFL’s youth flag football program. The program is a great way to introduce kids to the sport of football. Kids get to wear jerseys of NFL teams. They can run or pass. They learn offensive and defensive plays.
Tanja Ramiciotti and her staff at Sparks Parks and Rec. did a phenomenal job this past fall fostering a fun environment for the participating youths, boys and girls.
The program runs for two months and teams play or practice three times a week. It is much more conducive to learning the pigskin game for the 6- to 9-year-old athlete.
I talked to many a parent who reiterated that game days were an event, something looked forward to and enjoyed. I can’t rave enough about the program.
Let me stress, I’m not telling parents to avoid organized contact football. I’m asking them to please learn about the safety issues and evaluate what’s best for their children. And, if you do have concerns about contact football and the time commitment, there are other fun football options for kids.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s managing editor. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org