This is the headline no local newspaper would want to print nor would any parent want to read.
I was in the bleachers this past Saturday morning watching a youth football game. The crowd was nice and the weather was perfect; almost everyone was wearing shorts. On one team was a little fella about half the size of a mite. He was smaller than everyone on both teams and not many kids in the stands were much smaller than him. He reminded me why in my day they called it Pee-Wee football. Anyway, this little guy, who one would think would naturally grow up to be a jockey, scored four touchdowns on 30, 35, 40, and 50 yard runs. Two on rounding sweeps and two on jig-jaggy, popcorn-like runs where no other player could tackle him much less lay a slapping hand or air-grabbing hold. Unfortunately for him (fortunately for our team) two of the touchdowns were called back on penalties.
The folks sitting around commented on how the little guy's obviously God-gifted talent in speed and agility made it difficult to tackle him. One Dad commented, "Tackle him? Heck, I don't think half the team even saw him!" Anyway, the conversation morphed, mainly among Dads and Grandpas, from opinions on defense strategy, defensive positions, size differences in players, and then to tackling -- which led to a couple of brief and casual comments on practice drills.
The aunt of one of the players commented on a practice drill two coaches run in which two players begin about 15 yards apart and run full speed head-on, one with the ball and the other whose aim it is to aggressively tackle his teammate. The coaches urge each player to "run him over!" and "don't let him run you over!" The apparent obvious mission of the coaches, well intended I'm sure, is to "toughen up" the players. But as good as their intentions may be, they may be subjecting players to serious injury and ruining his chance to enjoy playing football for years to come.
I'm a big fan of parents and adults who give of their time and talents to teach our youth how to play any sport. Including these two coaches, who by the way were complimented on their overall interests in the kids as well as their coaching skills. I once coached my sons when they came through youth baseball and I can testify to the sacrifices a parent makes in their time and diversion away from other, sometimes
more pressing things. I tip my hat to these coaches and others who volunteer.
But the Auntie's concern about this one particular tackling drill was shared by two others.
Youth sports leagues and coaches are overwhelmingly safety minded when it comes to teaching and playing the sport. But if you've been around youth sports for any length of time you know that some parents, whether intentionally or not, can get over-exuberant about their methods.
With respect to the tackling drill, recent news about concussions in professional sports has drawn attention and concern about preventing concussions in younger kids.
The National Athletic Trainers' Association reports that in children aged 8-13 sports-related concussions account for more than half of all emergency room visits. That's no small number. Which speaks to the susceptibility of the young brain to concussion. This has not gone unnoticed by many parents around the country as enrollment in youth football programs, especially Pop Warner leagues, has declined specifically because of parental concerns about the rising concussions. In 2012 Pop Warner cut back considerably on the amount of tackling done in practice sessions. You can read about it HERE.
Teaching a young kid how to tackle effectively also involves teaching more the technique than raw power, which I'm sure the coaches teach. The smarter coach knows this. How to use your body, arms, hands, head and neck. Besides, most tackles, and I may be wrong here, are usually engaged on at angles or slightly off center. Certainly there are those head-on collisions in games that are unavoidable.
I'm no football coach but why not focus more on teaching the finesse and technique of good tackling. The aggressiveness, at least in most players, seems to naturally come out during the real game anyway. At least that's my humble opinion. Because in the same way the Pop Warner leagues are doing, lessening the opportunity during practice that a kid might get a concussion may very well allow him to continue playing the game and eventually become a MVP linebacker or running back for Mississippi State -- or Southern Miss -- or even Ole Miss. Not to mention the Saints. And how proud would that make a coach feel?