I get it, football has become our national obsession, and an integral part of the lives of many families. For families that intend for their kids to play tackle football and possibly stay in the sport, I suggest looking toward the future, and considering the big picture. A primary objective should be to, down the road, have the player to show up for the first day of high school football; well grounded in the fundamentals, with the confidence that those fundamentals can be executed in game situations, with minimal wear and tear physically and mentally, and prepared to compete to get on the field in a meaningful way for that high school. In addition, also with the academic work ethic that will allow the player to realize his/her academic potential, and that can result in a variety of opportunities that typically are available to accomplished student/athletes.
Without recognizing this, it is easy for parents and the players in youth tackle football to get caught up in lusting after the immediate gratification that comes with the player having what they consider to be a featured role on each football team the child plays on. All positions on the football field are important, but many focus on who; has the ball during games, scores the touchdowns, and who makes tackles. A lack of the proper perspective can also result in coaches focusing on wins and losses at the expense of a focus on developing fundamentally sound football players that make plays in the game, and that are receiving some of the life lessons that can be taught by participation in football, ie; team work, good sportsmanship, unselfishness, valuing preparation, courage, ability to maximize performance, and toughness, to name some qualities that should be nurtured.
As sports parents, we love seeing our kids competing, and obviously, when they excel in some way, it should be celebrated. The focus, however; should be on improvement, and on the process that should result in improvement, ie; practicing fundamentals, keeping a good attitude, attention to details, etc... The reality show, Friday Night Tykes, features football players as young as six years old, and coaches and parents that often behave as if lives are at stake. Unfortunately, this is not rare. Football, by it's nature, can generate a lot of emotion in all involved. Add to that, immature kids, and parents and coaches with misplaced priorities, and you have the potential for chaos. Most troubling is the potential for a lasting negative impact that this can have on the young athletes.
Parents, obviously, have a very important role in helping shape the player's outlook on and off the field. The outcome is best, obviously, if the parents have their heads on straight and hearts in the right place. If the football team and/or organization is promoting a bad perspective, then parents may choose to try to address this by communicating concerns to the appropriate parties, or it may be necessary to remove the child from the organization at some point. Preferably, just not sign up for the organization the following season. With the exception of extreme circumstances, if at all possible, I suggest finishing the season. Quitting is often an easy way out, and sets a bad precedent.
A valuable lesson taught in team sports is that over the length of an entire season, different players will standout at different times. There should be a humility and an unselfishness to be willing to play a role that supports the team's success. A team with all players, parents, and coaches thinking this way can maximize their success if this is coupled with hard work. This is also a life lesson that can pay dividends when the team in question is family and co-workers.
Taking a look into the future, since a goal for many youth football players, their families, and coaches, is for the players to also play in college, consider what college coaches are looking for. These are the types of basic elements of the game of football that should be addressed in an age appropriate way at the youth level, and which are most meaningful when demonstrated on the field.
Speed is also a basic element that coaches at all levels notice and cherish, so if the player can spend some time training with a track club or speed coach in the off season, it can be very beneficial. Height and weight are obviously important factors, so paying attention to nutrition and seeing that the child gets enough sleep is important.
Unless the player enters high school at an advanced age, for the freshman year, typically it is good for the player to play on the Junior Varsity (JV), or Freshman team if the school has one. This allows the player to mature physically one more year, and to benefit from a year in the high school's weight program before trying to play for the varsity. If ready, it is great for the player to be able to get on the field for the varsity as a sophomore. Along with getting adjusted to varsity competition, the player can begin producing film that college coaches can begin taking seriously. In addition, colleges of all sizes and levels have prospect camps that high school players can attend to get noticed. Some camps have many different colleges represented.
For sophomores who are not ready for the varsity, it is best to play for the JV. A valuable lesson that football teaches many, is delayed gratification. At the high school level it may take many players two or three years before getting on the field for the varsity in a meaningful way, and in college the wait may be even longer. A player that is developed properly, however; is in position be ready to step in when called upon.