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Youth sports encouraging kids to grow up too early
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My first encounter I remember with football was as a 6-year-old rolling around in the mud under the bleachers at my brother’s high-school football game. And the second thing I remember about this great game is after I got in trouble for rolling around in the mud I was in the stands with my dad when he commented that a runner “really stepped into that hole.”

After the game I went down onto the field – like kids do – but I had a purpose. I wanted to find that hole the runner stepped in. When I told my dad I couldn’t find the hole, he kind of chuckled and told me I would not understand.

Well, as with most things, the old man was right. There was no way as a 6-year-old I could grasp the concept of hitting a hole. Six-year-olds should be grasping concepts of Legos and Tonka Toys, not the X’s and O’s that go with competing on the gridiron. But not everyone subscribes to that theory. Today there are youth football programs that begin as young as 5, and that could not be more wrong.

I have to wonder how many of tomorrow’s stars are sacrificed at the altar of those whose ego and desire to relive their glory days – or in some cases, finally think they have glory days to live – are robbing their children of their childhood and burning them out before they have a chance to flourish? That is a question that cannot be answered.

I like to spread the love around when I go to take pictures of youth sports. One year I covered a junior novice team at the beginning of the football season and at the end. At this level, coaches can go onto the field and this coach did, with an offensive playbook that would rival the most complicated pro teams. As he flipped through the binder the first time I saw him, there were 11 youngsters looking on in eagerness. The second time he had the same binder and the same youngsters, but they had no eagerness.

They were lost. At that age there should be a handful of plays – sweeps, dives and maybe a reverse. Not an entire binder full of diagrams. How many of those kids got discouraged and never played again?

But football does not stand alone in being way off base. My daughter’s T-ball coach was excellent. She did what a T-Ball coach should do – kept the kids between the lines, saw that they did not dog-pile on the ball and that they ran around the bases the right direction. And she did so without ever losing her patience.

I arrived one day when practice was ending and the coach snapped at me that there was a mandatory parent meeting after practice. Her attitude was way off character and I could not figure out way. It turns out she had a reason to be angry.

Somebody had turned her into the league for not practicing the kids hard enough. Yes, go back up a couple of paragraphs and confirm this was indeed T-ball and not a prep division for the major leagues.

But that is the mindset that has infiltrated youth sports and is gaining a foothold. And with that mindset comes the premise that everything is about the here and now, and that is just not the case.

From the time I was 10 until I got married, nothing was more important than football. Although at 10 I was not very good and got shellacked on a regular basis, I knew then that it was all about getting ready for the next level. Although I played three sports, everything else was just to support football and to prepare for next year.

Let’s give kids a chance to be kids. They will have the rest of their lives to compete – on and off the field. And to the parents in the stands who are more childish then their offspring on the field, grow up. Quit embarrassing yourselves and your children. And if you are incapable of policing yourselves, then the board members need to earn their spiffy jackets and run you right out of the stands.

I only hope that the game I love so much can be saved from those who could not be more unclear on the concept of how great the game can be.


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