The flier for next season came home last week, and the whirlwind debate began ... again. America's biggest obsession has become a frequent topic of arguments in a lot of our families: will you let your son play tackle football? This is a debate my wife, Boy #1 and I've had for a while. He is dying to play -- and asks us on average of twice a day. I know we're not the only family going through this. I've met a ton of guys who've told me this conversation has been going on for years. It's for two reasons: becauseand it can be brutal.
I played football through high school, so I know how tough it is. I had the enviable combination of being short and slow, so I was no star, but stuck it out. I took my lumps, and I'm probably a better person for it. But I didn't play until 7th grade because my mom wouldn't let me. My neighbor played little league football, and I envied the hell out of him. (Side note: she also wouldn't let me play the drums, and I still have deep seeded issues from that.)
In my career, I've been lucky enough to work with a few NFL coaches, and I've had some tell me that they think flag football is a better way to teach young kids the necessary skills for football. I've followed that advice and for three seasons now. The coaches were right: his skills have gotten much better without having to worry about all the equipment, getting smashed and having such a (I'd do a smiley face here if I didn't loathe them). My original plan was to go with the 7th-grade rule, but now I'm having second thoughts.
There are reasons for my second thoughts. The first being that when your kid wants something so bad, it's tough not to try to give it to him/her if you can. You want them to be happy. The second is that our local youth football program has such a great partnership with the high school and the community. The third reason is: most kids growing up today are soft. The discipline, concentration, and determination it takes to play football pays off in other parts of their life as well.
Boy #1's mom is terrified for either of our boys to play football. I have tried to put her at ease by telling her that tackle football is not for most normal people. You have to be a little crazy to actually excel. Smashing into people (and getting smashed) is not an activity that comes naturally to most of us and a large percentage quit soon after boiling their first mouthpiece. When I started playing in 7th grade, we had something like 75 kids try out, and by 8th grade that number was cut in half. Let me tell you, getting the wind knocked out of you by some crazy bastard over and over again makes a guy rethink marching band.
We all start out the same way: we have these preconceived notions of what our kids will or will not do before they're even born. You still hear them from people who don't have kids or are expecting: my child will never: throw tantrums, play a violent sport, watch TV, eat sugar, play with his wee-wee ... Then we have kids and everything changes.
You may love basketball, but your child might be short, can't dribble and hates wearing shorts because they chafe the inside of his thighs. He might love to swim, dance or design dresses. You just don't know. But one thing I do know: keep him/her from doing what they love, and you will regret it. A buddy of mine is still pissed that his mom never let him play football, and he still brings it up (with fire in his eyes) 30 years later. Not to mention, having to tell your 6th-grade buddies you can't do something because, and I quote, "my mom won't let me" is a recipe for disaster. I've lived that nightmare.
What about you? Will you or do you let your kids play tackle football? Or is it just too dangerous?
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