Another NFL Great Recommends Kids Don’t Play Tackle Football Before Junior High School

In this piece from the Orlando Sentinel, George Diaz quotes former Miami Dolphin great Larry Csonka as saying “Kids shouldn’t play tackle football until junior high…” and cites lack of qualified coaches and proper equipment as reasons.  The link includes a video of Nick Buoniconti’s son (Buoniconti is another Dolphin legend) talking about the struggles his father is going through after playing football for so many years.  The piece also mentions Buoniconti’s other son, Mark, who was paralyzed playing college football.

I continue to recommend flag football for youth prior to high school.

Should Your Child Specialize in One Sport?

Sports specialization in youth sports is a hot topic.  I came across an article in USA Today’s High School Sports section highlighting that 30 of the 32 first round picks in the last week’s NFL draft played multiple sports in high school.  While reading the article, there were links to two others on the subject.  One that presented the data from an NCAA survey of over 21,000 Division I, II, and III athletes.  The other presented results from research that indicated that single sport athletes were twice as likely to suffer a lower-body injury than multi-sport athletes.  What does the Hustle & Attitude philosophy say about the subject.

 


 

What do Hustle & Attitude parents and coaches do with respect to sports specialization?

Recall that the Hustle & Attitude (H&A)  philosophy is a youth recreational sports philosophy.  This implies that it is not conducive to sports specialization in that the typical specialization scenario – at least in the team sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, etc. – is that the child plays for the local (often school-affiliated) team in season and then for a travel or select team in the off-season.  This often makes for a year-round commitment to the sport.  [As an aside, my friend’s son – and his family – have worked hard to play school and select soccer and school and select baseball leading up to and all through high school.  In a sense, he ‘specialized’ in two sports!]  Given the typical scenario, H&A parents and coaches wouldn’t have the choice about specialization because they would be involved in rec leagues.

In light of the benefits of playing multiple sports espoused in the “Few Surprises” article:

  • Less potential for burnout
  • Accumulating cross sport skills, and
  • Reducing overuse injuries – think pitchers in baseball, see John Smoltz’s recommendation – or injuries at all as the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study indicates)

It would seem playing in rec leagues (or finding corresponding in-season and off-season sports like my friend’s son did) would be recommended.  [Although, truth in advertising, my friend’s son did have Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow during his junior year at the age of 17.]  The core of the H&A philosophy is to provide positive youth recreational sports experiences for our children.  Although many H&A families wouldn’t be faced with the question because their child wouldn’t be playing on a travel or select team, I could see, and indeed have seen, children and families that have had positive experiences while specializing in one sport.   [To close these parenthetical asides about my friend and his son; I don’t think he or his parents regret ‘specializing’ in soccer and baseball for the last 6-7 years, even considering the Tommy John surgery.]

So long as the child is having a positive experience, perhaps specialization is OK.  However, my personal belief is that playing more sports is beneficial to the development of our kids.


I need to get on a little rant here (anyone remember Dennis Miller’s show on HBO?)…

We need to stop using college and professional football players as our examples of why kids don’t need to specialize in sports in order to succeed (where the general public definition of success is getting a scholarship).  The USA Today articles highlight the NFL draft picks and how Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly said he only recruits multi-sport athletes.  Well, duh!  It should not come as a surprise to anyone that college-level football players played multiple sports in high school.  To make it to the collegiate level in football, the young men were obviously very athletic.  Unlike the sports I mentioned above in the specialization scenarios, there is no travel or select football.  I know, I know, if you’re reading this in Texas or Alabama, you’re thinking “There ain’t no offseason for football, yankee!”  First of all, I apologize for the gross generalization of how folks from Texas or Alabama talk.  Also, I’m from Arizona and a Red Sox fan, so I’m not a Yankee.  Anyway, I agree there are spring drills, and 7-on-7 and passing leagues in the spring/summer.  However, think about it; even with the offseason football activities, there is ample time for these high-caliber athletes to play other sports competitively.  As the data in the USA Today article indicates, track and field and basketball are high on the list of sports football players also play.  And based on my high school experience and watching my boys’ classmates, I would suggest wrestling is also a natural sport that football players gravitate towards as it is very complimentary of the skills, strength, and endurance required in football.

Let’s stop touting football players as our example of why children shouldn’t specialize in a single sport.  The general concern is not that football players specialize – again, they kind of can’t – it’s the travel and select baseball, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse leagues that offer our kids the opportunity (challenge?) to play one sport year round.  I appreciate the message.  I agree that children shouldn’t feel the need to specialize – certainly before high school.  However, we need examples of baseball, basketball, and/or soccer players who benefited from playing multiple sports.  Stop with the football examples.

Great Musical Tribute to Coaches

Country singer Kenny Chesney is a big football fan.  You may have seen him hanging with Peyton Manning (see the picture of Manning giving Chesney a Country Music Award last November).

Kenny and Peyton

And that’s him getting a hug from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the Patriots box during Super Bowl XLI.Kenny and Kraft He reflected his love for the game in song with ‘Boys of Fall’ (written by Casey Beathard and Dave Turnbull) off his Hemingway’s Whiskey album released in 2010 (here’s the story behind the song and the video).  His latest album Cosmic Hallelujah includes a touching song that pays tribute to coaches – one Chesney cowrote with Beathard.  Here are the lyrics:

We loved some and we fought some
We won some and we lost some
We were awful, we were awesome
Weren’t we, coach?
We worked hard, we were lazy
We were heroes, we were babies
Made you proud, and drove you crazy
Didn’t we coach?
All those mottoes, all those reasons, all those rhymes
They stay priceless, they come right back right on time
You were a teacher, a preacher, a mother, a father
A lot less taker than giver
A keeper of secrets and
constantly making believers out of quitters
For all of your time and your heart and soul
you deserve a lot more than a toast
But here’s to you and thanks again
We’ll never forget you coach
The papers loved to hate you
Wasn’t worth near what they paid you
But it never seemed to faze you
Did it, coach?
Those fans could be fair weather
But you kept us all together
Found a way to make us better
Somehow coach
Your door was always open rain or shine
All those hats you wore will always blow my mind
You were a teacher, a preacher, a mother, a father
A lot less taker than giver
A keeper of secrets and
constantly making believers out of quitters
For all of your time and your heart and soul
you deserve a lot more than a toast
But here’s to you and thanks again
We’ll never forget you coach
For all of your time and your heart and soul
you deserve a lot more than a toast
So here’s to you and thanks again
We love you and we’ll hold you in our hearts there with the things that matter most
We’ll never forget you coach
Oh God bless you coach
We’ll never forget you coach
WOW!  Although seemingly geared towards high school coaches (references to the papers and the pay…Chesney talks about the song on ESPN ), there’s a lot there for youth sports coaches, too.  My favorite line is how the coach “found a way to make us better“.  Also, the idea that coaches have the ability to have such an impact on their players that they never forget.  Before they got to high school, I would often run into former players of mine who would call me coach.

Hustle & Attitude is a philosophy dedicated to providing a positive environment for kids in youth sports.  The coach has such an important role in determining whether a season is positive or not.  Done well – following the H&A philosophy…well, you might have a song written about you.

1st Time Flag Football Coaches Found My Clinic Very Useful

FFF Coaching Spring Clinics

Last month I held six clinics for Flag Football Fanatics coaches in the Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati areas.  46 coaches participated in the clinics covering all aspects of coaching in the Flag Football Fanatics league.

I sent a survey to the coaches that participated.  78% of those responding to the survey indicated the material was Very Useful to them.  The overall average response to the question asking the coaches to rate the usefulness of the information on a scale of 1-5 (‘Not Useful’ to ‘Incredibly Useful’) was 4.02 (‘Very Useful’).

FurSpring Clinic Pic 1ther, first year Flag Football Fanatics coaches (my target audience with the Hustle & Attitude clinics) scored the clinics 4.15, taking a particular liking to the discussions concerning the Equipment and dealing with parents and referees.  Coaches who were coaching youth recreational sports for the first time found the clinics even more useful – their scores averaging 4.67!


One coach left this feedback:  “It was a really good session. You have great perspective about the purpose of rec sports and how to talk and encourage kids (get down on one knee and not coaching my kid different than others). Good humor and you helped me get my head around the big picture of coaching kids. It was time well spent – I would recommend to any new coach”.


This is the second season that I have provided coaching clinics for the Flag Football Fanatics folks.  99 coaches have been exposed to the Hustle & Attitude philosophy as it applies to their specific league.  I look forward to spreading the word about best practices in providing positive experiences for children in youth sports through more clinics and this blog (and maybe a book!).

The Future of Youth Football

I came across an article in the New York Times about USA Football experimenting with what they are calling ‘Modified Tackle’ football for youth.  Then again this morning, Nancy Armour wrote about it in the USA Today.  I think this is a great idea.  I have written extensively about youth football – Hustle & Attitude is about providing positive  youth sports experiences for kids; and this includes safety as the minimum requirement.  Where football is concerned, the question of safety has been paramount over the last 18-24 months.   What USA Football is proposing is a step towards making youth football safer – which will make for a more positive experience for children.


Here are my thoughts concerning the NYT article:

  • Is this a crisis situation for football?  Participation among 9-12 yr olds is down 20% since 2009…that’s 20% fewer future high school players.  Where do 99+% of NFL players come from?  College football.  Where do 99+% of college players come from?  High school football.  Make no mistake, if kids stop playing high school football, the NFL pipeline will dry up.  Particularly in light of safer (at least statistically) alternatives like lacrosse and soccer (especially with the new rule eliminating heading below the age of 10).
  • To me, the only criticism detractors can offer is something along the lines of ‘it’s not real football‘…OK, and?  My reaction is similar to my disbelief with baseball coaches who balk at the institution of pitch counts for high schoolers…seriously?!? With all the data we have; doesn’t it just make too much sense to err on the side of caution?
  • What an interesting dichotomy in the responses from the heads of USA Football and Pop Warner football.  I  agree with the director of USA Football that “this is the future of the game”.  And on the flip side…what a very short-sighted view on the part of the Executive Director of Pop Warner.  Seems to me; one of them gets it and one doesn’t.
  • The comparison to youth baseball is a solid one.  Armour emphasizes this point in her USA Today article.  Currently, youth football doesn’t have a similar progression from t-ball to coach pitch to regular baseball with the pitching mound and base path distance differences…yet.  Flag football and this ‘modified tackle’ format might be the beginnings of this.  Something like going from flag football to this new modified tackle to real tackle at high school sounds reasonable.  See my previous post about the idea of ‘hit counts’ for another corollary to youth baseball that could apply to youth football.
  • I really appreciate seeing a recommendation for the children to play multiple positions.  This is a cornerstone of the Hustle & Attitude philosophy.
  • I’m not sure what to make of Jon Gruden’s comments.  There are a lot of smart people out there suggesting kids shouldn’t play tackle football (at least until high school) – I like to think I am one of them.  I agree with Terry O’Neil that youth shouldn’t play tackle until high school.  However, I don’t think Gruden is using the term ‘genius’ in a complementary way.  I’ve heard him hype football as a great game and enthusiastically support the game on Monday Night Football, but his comments here feel like at worst, those of a corporate shill mouthing the words of the bosses who have a game to protect and sell or, at best unenlightened, ignorant, and/or generally dismissive of the current realities.

Finally, a note of concern from the article:  the national rollout is several years away?!?  What are we waiting for; another 20% of children to lose interest in football?  This is a necessary move in the right direction that should be implemented immediately.

Youth Sports as a Means to Teach Life Lessons

This morning my wife shared a Facebook post from a friend about a high school football coach that suspended his entire team because of rampant bullying (here’s the link to the story on Huffington Post).  I thought:  wow, what a courageous stand by the coach.  Suspend the entire team?!  I would think this kind of action would teach his players a lesson about responsibility and proper behavior for mature young men.

Later, I was watching ESPN as they showed an interview with LSU’s Heisman Trophy candidate running back, Leonard Fournette.  He talked about how playing football in high school positively influenced his life.  Fournette said he knew that if he didn’t make the grades in class, he couldn’t go to practice.

So often we hear stories about how athletes are given a pass with respect to being held accountable because of their athletic ability.  The Utah high school football coach taught his players that their behavior off the field mattered. Leonard Fournette was held accountable to make the grades in the classroom in order to play football.  Now football has him at a Division I university with a chance for a professional football career (not to mention a degree).

I find stories like these encouraging.  It has been my experience that sports has such an opportunity to teach positive lessons to our kids.  Lessons that they can carry with them throughout their lives.  My intent with the Hustle & Attitude philosophy is to provide children the chance to play sports and experience the positive benefits of giving it all they have (hustle) and maintaining the right attitude.

Youth Football Participation Goes Up?!?!

Will Smith Say What

Minus the sweet shirt and the high fade, this is how I looked when I read the article from the New York Times citing a survey showing that participation in youth football grew – and grew more than any other U.S. sport!


Several of my previous posts have highlighted that player safety concerns might result in fewer families deciding that their sons should play youth tackle football.  Well, the survey of 30,000 children and teens (part of the annual Physical Activity Council Participation Report) found that participation in flag and tackle football increased in 2015 while most other sports, except baseball, saw a decline in participation.  What’s surprising to me is that participation in youth tackle football rose last year – albeit modestly.  Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program (@AspenInstSports on Twitter) cites the 2007 baby boom as a possible explanation.  Recall that my last post mentioned the same baby boom and how births every year since have gone down which might lead to a decrease in participation numbers.

I’ve said it before; I love football.  I played in high school.  My sons both played flag and tackle football.  However, knowing what we know now about the safety concerns, caution is certainly warranted in allowing our children to play tackle football.  USA Football’s Chief Executive said he believes that medically endorsed programs like the Heads Up Football program and practice guidelines “are making a positive difference”.  We’ll have to see how participation in youth football grows or shrinks over the next few years to understand the true trends and impact of these and other initiatives.

I continue to recommend flag football for youth before high school and, for youth that play tackle football before high school, their coaches should be trained properly and there should be athletic trainers present at practices and games.

Sports Illustrated Likes My Football Letter!

8 Feb SI CoverEver been driven to write a strongly worded letter?  Well, two weeks ago I reacted that way when I read the Scorecard section in Sports Illustrated.  John Wertheim asked Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke “What do you see as the biggest issue facing the NFL?”  Kroenke responded “labor stability and our television contracts”.  I reacted to Kroenke’s answer by sending SI a letter (you actually send them an e-mail…ah, technology!).  And in this week’s issue (the cover is on the left), they printed my letter (see below).

My SI Comment

The study I cite is from aBloomberg Poll Graphic December 2014 Bloomberg poll (see results in the graph to the right).  As I have said before, I believe the NFL needs to focus on player safety.  NFL owners may rightly be concerned today with nearer term issues like renegotiating TV contracts and continued labor stability with the players; but if half of the potential player pool disappears, they will have longer term issues to tackle.

 

Football Head Injury Risk Enters Public Lexicon

Late last year, the movie Concussion dramatized the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE [if you haven’t seen the movie yet; I recommend it].  The movie attempts to move the discussion from a football fan or football parent-driven one to a more general public discussion.  As a youth recreational sports advocate, this issue hits home as parents consider whether their children should play football.  Two recent magazine articles highlight the shift from a football-only audience to a wider audience:

  • In the February issue of Wired magazine (and last week’s Sports Illustrated) writer Steve Rushin imagines how the game has evolved 50 years from now with a recap of Super Bowl 100 (the NFL having abandoned Roman numerals with the unwieldy Super Bowl LXXXVIII).  In addition to other evolutions in the game (no kickoffs, female players, electronic first down and goal line markers), Rushin refers to the threat to football’s future CTE presents and how the NFL ‘dealt’ with it.  Futuristic innovations including new materials that make helmets mend themselves, EEG capabilities built into the helmets, and an antibody to treat CTE.
  • In the January/February edition of MIT Technology Review (yes, that MIT!), an article asks “Are Young Athletes Risking Brain Damage?”  Referring to a study comparing retired NFL players who started playing football before and after the age of 12 and noting the intense development that occurs in children’s brains between the ages of 8 and 12; the author recommends “youth leagues should switch to flag football and ban tackling for kids under 14”.

My Hustle & Attitude philosophy advocates for safety as a key ingredient to having positive experiences in youth recreational sports.  In previous posts, I have also advocated for flag football as an alternative to tackle football before high school.  And, in terms of long-term player safety, I believe this is the most important issue to the future of the NFL.  It’s not difficult for me to imagine Super Bowl 100 being very different from Rushin’s.  A game where there is no tackling at all – essentially a seven-on-seven skill game where the players have sensors in their gloves and uniforms and play two-hand touch.  Sound crazy?  If an entire generation of parents discourage or don’t allow their kids to play tackle football because of long-term safety concerns…

Super Bowl 100

Bleacher Report gets advance screening of Concussion

Good piece today by Mike Freeman on his reaction following an advanced screening of the movie ‘Concussion’ due out in December.
http://m.bleacherreport.com/articles/2588458-for-nfl-fans-concussion-movie-will-be-heartbreaking-enlightening-disturbing?tsm=1 via http://ble.ac/teamstream