Disclosure: This post was written as an advertorial for
Site Removed with the intent to raise awareness and question our own thoughts on little league sports. Both my children are active in little league athletics and the program Friday Night Tykes represents a small fraction of athletic programming in America.
If you’re a parent, there’s no denying you’ve already got plenty to worry about when it comes to your kids. There’s school, providing healthy meals, balancing chores and teaching discipline… the list seems never-ending. There are many programs we have been able to count on to encourage our kids’ healthy lifestyles and time away from television or video games, including recreational sports. Sports teams are great for exercise, social needs, and teaching leadership and team-building skills. In fact, youth leagues can truly be seen as nothing but beneficial — until, like many good things, someone takes it too far.
Friday Night Tykes, a show which will begin airing tomorrow on Esquire Network is showing the darker side of youth sports. What makes it so shocking, perhaps, isn’t just that these kids are encouraged to “rip their freakin’ head off, and let them bleed,” but that quotes like that are frequently given as advice from the coaches and parents. The idea of being yelled at, pushed past physical breaking points, and told to ignore pain and possible injury may sound reminiscent of films like Remember the Titans, or even the sports reality show, Hard Knocks. The difference here is that these coaching techniques aren’t being applied to professional players, or even high school hopefuls looking to make an impression for college recruiters. Friday Night Tykes follows five teams of 8 to 9-year-old, very tiny rookies in the Texas Youth Football Association.
The Texas Youth Football Association’s homepage is decorated proudly with an advertisement for the show, but it seems Esquire Network might have a different opinion on what the show will reveal regarding the league. Friday Night Tykes is Esquire’s attempt to raise difficult questions. The Esquire websites claims that the show will have, “coaches and parents offer insight into why they believe they’re teaching valuable lessons about discipline and dedications, but also grapple with serious questions about parenting, safety and at what price we’re pushing our kids to win.” Competitive parent’s aside, the show’s preview alone reveals some frightening displays of safety hazards. Sure, football is expected to be a high contact sport, but watching two 9-year-olds’ helmets crash together before both boys fall to the ground is anything but funny.
Some might call it an overreaction, but in light of the NFL’s $765 million concussion settlement, it’s becoming more and more obvious that head injuries and the possibility of concussions, especially at a young age, are no joke. Recent headlines have followed retired players who suffer from long-term impairment due to repeated blows, as well as depression and learning disabilities. In fact, concussions are believed to be the trigger for several professional football players’ suicides, including Junior Seau and Ray Easterling. If NFL players (who are obviously stronger and more developed than the TYFA’s “tykes”) are standing up against what they believe is a purposeful lack of education and research into the effects of concussions, there’s no reason parents should hold back either. Especially since, according to the Institute of Medicine, young players are nearly twice as likely to get concussions.
Of course, not every youth football program is as intense as the Texas Youth Football Association. It’s likely that few are so competitive as to ignore obvious signs of injury. Still, recent fears of concussion side effects and injury have led to a participation drop of 9.5 percent in Pop Warner football, the nation’s largest youth program. It’s expected that this drop is due to parents’ rising fear of health risks, as well as their concern with the “culture of resistance” young athlete’s face. Young players often receive the impression from older athletes (whether or not adult role models mean to give the impression) that being a “baby” or admitting to pain when there might be a problem is looked down upon, leading to further injury and continued play when an athlete should sit out and recover.
There’s no doubt that learning how to behave in competitive situations is integral when it comes to future life skills. Understanding how to handle wins and, perhaps more importantly, losses, are lessons every child should learn. But when professionals like Brett Favre admit they would be “leery” if their children wanted to play football, it’s time for a change. On the medical side, scientists are working diligently on advancements such as on-field blood tests, which would accurately judge if a player has suffered a concussion, but for now, it’s up to parents, coaches, and other team leaders to encourage players to sit out when necessary, and work toward putting safety measures above the drive to win.
What are your thoughts? Do your children participate in little league athletics? Is your recreational league similar to Friday Night Tykes?