Stepping Away

Sometimes we make decisions that are challenging. After beginning to help coach another year of junior football, a different feeling protruded. New ways of thinking brought me to deciding against coaching. There has been desire to pursue other endeavors in my life as well. The things learned in my year of coaching will help me going forward. Any important decision we make however, seems to rarely take place in a bubble. At times, we have conversations with people we trust to help form our opinions. Going into coaching last year, I really didn’t have opinions about the game of football. We probably all hear the talk about whether football should be played at any level. As the football season went by last year, many points were raised causing me to think about coaching. The kids were pretty young at just eight and nine years old. Then, as the spring came, more conversations took place causing me to reexamine my involvement. Should kids really be playing football? If kids are going to play football, what age is best for them to begin? These seem to be complicated questions to answer. My guess would be everyone has their own opinion, which leads to lively discussion. But, at the end of the day, I had to make a decision about my opinion.

For me, playing football was never truly an option. Cerebral palsy was one aspect holding me back from playing. The disability left me behind in developing the strength and stability to play football. Even attempting to play, while physically being at a different level, could have caused injury. But, there was an opportunity for me to help manage the football team while in junior high school. It was my 9thgrade year when the chance arose to look at the sport up close. The experience was fun, but I remember being around practice, thinking I would get killed out there with my peers. It seems we had a pretty good year, though the exact record eludes my memory. Nothing tells me we went undefeated or anything crazy, but neither does it seem we lost all the time. During that year, I learned how strong my peers were, and how fast the game of football was. Some of the most surprising aspects were how fast the ball was thrown, they also made contact at seemingly high speeds. Of course, my disability could have also had me looking from a different perspective.

One of the most difficult things to determine might be the best time for kids to begin football. It seems part of the thought would be athletic ability, or maturity of children. While kids grow, they mature at different rates and that process can cause athletic discrepancies. While coaching last year, we could see kids on our team that were further along in their growth process. Some of the players had more natural strength, giving them the ability to make more forceful contact. Of course, during practice the coaching staff would pair kids together of similar strength during contact drills. But, during games that control to encourage safety was taken out of our hands. The thoughts coming up in many conversations has been starting football during junior high school. At that age, kids may be closer in their athletic ability, it also gives emotional maturity more time to develop. One interesting issue brought forth for me was for kids to understand why they are forcefully hitting their friends. The question seems to be, at what age can this understanding truly be accomplished? Another reason for waiting until junior high school would be giving that understanding more time to develop. The understanding of football as just a game, as well as the knowledge that the physical aggression inside the game shouldn’t translate to life off the field.

The purpose of hitting seems one of the most interesting perspectives around kids playing football. It seems to be another risk in playing football that we might not think about. We all learn about the injury risk, with the impact of sustaining a concussion or other brain injury from playing the sport. These risks of brain injury would seem the largest risk to the developing brain of any child. Another part could be psychological impacts of teaching kids to hit one another with forceful impact. It would seem vital for them to fully understand the purpose of those collisions. The kids learning those impacts are reserved for the football field. There have been alternative to playing tackle football, or positive precursors to playing full contact football. This year was also my first exposure to flag football. A friend’s son also has cerebral palsy and played flag football for the first time. Another friend’s son was also playing flag football, who was on our tackle team last year. After watching a game of flag football, I gained an appreciation for playing football in that manner.

Flag football seemed to teach lessons that could translate to tackle football. It also takes away much of the injury risk associated with playing full contact football. Watching the kids move during the plays was exciting. They seemed unable to simply rely on physical strength at any one time. When playing with pads and a helmet, bigger kids have the ability to overpower those who are smaller. When playing football with flags, the tactic isn’t an option to someone bigger and stronger. The kids appeared required to use more agility and speed while playing. They also had to maneuver their body in space accurately to pull flags from opponents. The kids also seemed to play defense by taking responsibility for an area rather than simply guiding an opponent. This form of defense requires them to space the field accurately with their teammates. Learning all of these movement would seemingly only help if moving into the tackle football environment. Having experienced flag football would seem too help them understand the game before being concerned with being tackled. Flag football also opens the door for more kids to play football. Kids who may not be as athletic, disabled, or simply uncomfortable with the full contact version of football. It seemed a great way to learn the game of football.

Learning the fundamentals of any sport seems important. It might be even more important when talking about football. One of the most surprising things about coaching the sport was its complicated nature. The number of new things to learn, even after spending most of my life watching football, made my head spin. Watching these kids begin understanding the game was impressive. Their effort was even more admirable when taking into consideration the other factors happening during practice. For some of these kids it was the first experience with being hit or tackled. So, the apprehension involved with placing themselves at risk would seem to slow the process of understanding the details of football. Playing flag football can help with multiple things, it gives kids understanding of the game, keeps them away from risk of injury at young ages, and understanding the game would seemingly give them a head start when contact does begin. When a friend who played football through college talked about playing flag football until junior high, it got me thinking. He felt it was a good idea to wait and it wasn’t the first personal opinion I’d heard of that nature. The conversations slowly began opening my eyes to my own thoughts.

Coaching my first year of football left me with many positive memories. It was an experience that altered the way I think about life. The way our team came together and relied on each other became inspirational. They came out to practice each day, working for one another, in an attempt to improve. The year showed me a lot about the value of not making excuses and getting back up when you fall. Football proved itself to be a game of value that seems worth being played. As coaches, we did everything possible to keep kids safe while playing, by teaching proper technique, and matching them up with players of similar size. But, there were still times of discomfort watching them collide with each other. It left me reconsidering my involvement in football at this age. So, I decided to simply step away from coaching football at this level. It isn’t to say going back into coaching doesn’t appeal to me, but there seems value in waiting until kids get a little older.







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