Monday, August 24, 2015

Football Not A Game For Kids

GOUVEIA: Football: It’s not for kids

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Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2015 10:25 pm
I am a huge sports fan. I raised my two children to be sports fanatics. My grandchildren are still too young to officially be classified as such. But I am proud to announce that despite living several states away, my 3-year-old granddaughter Avery still knows who Bill Belichick and Rob Ninkovich are.
I love baseball, basketball, hockey, and perhaps more than anything — football. I’ve been a Patriots season ticket-holder for some 44 years, formerly held Celtic season tickets, and followed the Red Sox since I was old enough to listen to the radio. I covered high school athletics for this fine newspaper in my misguided youth.
I played all sports growing up, none of them particularly well. My kids played baseball, tennis, golf, basketball, and soccer — the latter being a game I just never came to like. But I watched them and strongly supported their efforts to play all organized sports from a young age.
Except, football.
My wife and I made the decision early on in our parenting career that we would discourage our children from playing organized football until they reached high school. It was a difficult choice for me personally, but one I am glad we made. And, I truly believe our children are better for our decision.
With all due respect to the tremendous programs out there for young children today, I have a fundamental and philosophical objection to young boys and girls playing organized tackle football. I believe kids 6 to 12 years old are just too young and too vulnerable to start playing this great game at any kind of serious level.
I don’t want to get into the injury statistics and physical safety arguments in too much depth. Numbers can always be manipulated to the advantage of those compiling them, and that is certainly the case here.
But common sense and personal experience tells me football is a violent game — much more violent than any other regularly played in this country. And while I love the idea of tossing the pigskin with my young grandchildren, I shudder at the thought of them in pads at age 7 or 8, lining up to physically take down their counterparts on the other side.
And, yes — I am the guy who goes to high school games and applauds particularly effective blocks and tackles with great enthusiasm. I love seeing those student-athletes get fired up and attack the contest with a near-maniacal attitude.
Does that make me a hypocrite when it comes to youth football? Perhaps, but I can live with that. My kids did, and so will my grandchildren (I hope their parents will share my concerns).
I know thousands of young boys and girls play in Pop Warner and other leagues every year in this area. And I am equally aware most of them enjoy it. It no doubt helps build character and teaches them valuable life lessons.
But, football is one of the ultimate team sports, and the pressure it can put on young kids in both a physical and emotional way is just too much. Despite how hard coaches work to make it fun and “for the kids,” in my opinion football is just not for this age bracket.
Sure, baseball is tough on youngsters who strike out with the bases loaded in the last inning. And missing that last-second shot in basketball can be devastating. But that is different from being physically overwhelmed at the point of attack in a football game. It is far different from having your head thumped on the ground repeatedly if you play the game the right way.
Growing up in my neighborhood, we played tackle football every fall on our own, without pads and without our parent’s knowledge and permission. That might explain a lot to those who have read this space for many years.
If not as many younger kids playing means it is harder to field good high school or college teams, so be it. Youth sports should never be looked at as a “feeder program.”
With all due respect to the wonderful parent-run youth football organizations out there, I hope more kids find something else until they are old enough to truly deal with football.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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