Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why I’m Fine with My Son Playing Youth Football


If I had a dime for every time I was asked the following question, I’d have enough in cash to fly our family first class to Bora Bora and stay there:

“Are you letting Scotty play football?”

When your husband has spent most of his life playing football – and nearly seven years as an offensive lineman in the National Football League, it’s the number one thing people ask, followed closely by “You must be rich…aren’t you rich?”

And while the answer to the second question is no – we are fortunate; but far from rich – my reply to the first question is a resounding yes: Am I letting our son play football?

You bet.

My decision, though, is steeped in irony: My mother-in-law did not allow my husband to play football until he was in the eighth grade, which, by most accounts, is woefully late for a boy who would go on to play at the professional level. Her reasoning was simple: She didn’t want her son to get hurt. And, now, as a mother of a son, I totally get where my mother-in-law was coming from.

Most recently, football has become the poster child of sorts for concussions, but that’s only one concern that has plagued the game for years. It’s no secret that the old gladiator-style of playing the game – which includes body-jolting moves that fans have in some way come to expect – is detrimental to grown men, let alone young children. My husband has regaled me with numerous tales of coaches from his youth who have advised him to “stick your head in there” or “bite the ball.”

Sound dangerous? It is.

Both of those terms are basically code for keep your head down, and, consequently, in the most vulnerable position.

The game-changer in all of this is a program called Heads Up Football

Supported by the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and endorsed by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the National PTA, and Pop Warner Little Scholars, Heads Up Football is a program within USA Football which aims to help make the game better and safer for youth. The program educates coaches, league administrators, and even parents on how to fit equipment, understand concussion awareness and teach tackling with players keeping their heads and eyes up. The course even advises coaches on how to get players acclimated to their climate so that athletes don’t fall prey to heat and dehydration.

Heads Up Football’s approach to achieving all of the above is simple: They’ve established standards by which a person becomes certified to coach. A total of 78 master trainers, comprised of the nation’s top high school football coaches, former NFL and college players, have been trained to create a new standard in football by preparing player safety coaches to implement the Heads Up Football program within their organizations. (Instruction includes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concussion recognition and response protocols and proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.)

The program also boasts former NFL players who serve as Heads Up Football ambassadors – my husband, Scott, is one of them – who support coaches while helping parents and players understand the importance of implementing sound fundamentals at an early age.

But to me, the most impressive aspect of Heads Up Football is its understanding that parental involvement is vital to making all this work. The program offers free courses to help parents, players and league administrators understand the principles of Heads Up Football, including Protection Tours held at NFL and college football training facilities for youth football players and parents to learn the Heads Up Football curriculum. (To learn whether the youth football leagues in your area are in compliance with the standards of Heads Up Football, click here.) USA Football expects Heads Up Football to reach 5,500 youth organizations and cover 900,000 players and 150,000 coaches in the 2014 season.

Parents: If the youth football leagues in your area are not already Heads Up-certified, request that they be – and urge other parents to do the same. This program is free, and will costs leagues absolutely nothing, save for their time and commitment.  

Here’s the thing. I know I can’t protect Scotty from everything in this world, but if I entrust his well-being to a youth football league – or any extracurricular activity, for that matter – I expect that the organization and the coach leading it will also place the utmost value on his safety.

If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that the game of football has enriched his life in more ways than he can count, and I want nothing more than to give our son an opportunity to experience the same life lessons – just not at the expense of his health.

The presence of Heads Up Football assures my husband and me that Scotty will indeed get that chance.


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27 comments:

  1. Courtney, my hubby would support Scotts opinion on football enriching his life in many ways. He learned some valuable lessons from the game as well as the coaches. Steve has a stellar work ethic and is very goal oriented and disciplined.

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    1. Yes, Susie! You are so right about the the inherent (and highly valuable, I might add) valuable lessons playing football instills -- particularly a strong work ethic and goal-setting. Don't get me wrong, Scott and I have other methods of driving these points home to Scotty, but football is great for this:

      Our hubs are living, breathing examples of this!

      Thank you fo commenting, Susie! SO look forward to your shares...

      xo

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  2. Thank you for this!! My husband and I work with a board to run a tackle football league in South Florida and the eye rolls I get from baseball moms and soccer moms on supporting such a dangerous sport such as tackle football are absolutely unreal. My son plays football and has since he was 6 and he loves it - my husband coaches it and they have some of the best memories ever together because of the time they have together with football. I love watching him play and I LOVE watching him grow into a man BECAUSE of the lessons he is learning on that field. Is the sport dangerous - I always ask what sport doesn't have risks? The lessons and the hard work taught on those fields outweighs ANY risk I have seen in my 5 years running the sport. Our league teaches heads up football and I believe that properly educating our coaches tackle football can be so rewarding to all involved.

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    1. You are most welcome!

      "The lessons and the hard work taught on those fields outweighs ANY risk ."

      This.

      We haven't put Scotty in a league yet, as he's only 2.5 right now. But we will. I already get the side-eye from people who think I'm insane...

      Thank you for taking the time to not only visit, but share your comments.

      Delete
  3. Sounds like a great program. I'm such a scary mom though. I hope my son never wants to play football. He played soccer for one season and even that scared me. He is six now and he has decided that he only wants to play sports in the backyard for now. This is good news to a scary mom like me.

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    1. I hear you, Sonya. But should your son decide that he wants to play, I hope that you will reconsider -- particularly when an organization like USA Football puts safety first -- just like we would do with our own sons.

      Let me put it this way: I'm scared as hell of Scotty or Kennedy wanting to, say, study abroad. But what am I going to do? Deny them the possibility of an invaluable experience because I'm scared? Heck, things can happen anywhere at anytime. That's the world we live in now -- but you don't need me to tell you that: Nowadays going to school, post office, or the store can present an opportunity for violence of epic proportions.

      At least with football, there are proven lessons your child will learn and carry with them through life. My husband is living, breathing proof of this...

      Thank you for commenting! Looking forward to Friday!! Woot-woot!

      xo

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  4. This is awesome! I really agree with one of your last points... that you want your kid have that experience and grow, but without being hurt.

    On the flip side of that... if he's going to try and play anyway - whether it's flag football with friends, or wrestling around in play... I'd bet that the Heads Up program tries to teach body awareness and safety when doing these activities, right? So you could actually argue that your kid is safer because you're letting him play football, as opposed to whatever he might get up to without that safety training.

    That's the whole principle behind why Munchkin is in gymnastics. He's a monkey, always has been, and he jumps off of high things and hangs off of things and generally makes my hair go grey... but gymnastics teaches him how to land safely. How to protect his neck. How to judge how high is a safe height to jump from. And ultimately, he's safer.

    I'd banking on the Heads Up program being similar, and many of those safety lessons being transferable to other sports/life arenas. And I tell you what, if either of my boys want to play football, I feel a heck of a lot better knowing this program is around!

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    1. You get it, Dakota. Yes. YES! I was nodding my head all the way through your comment so much, I know I looked like a bobble head. Yes...YES!!!!

      *Virtual high five here*

      Thank you for commenting, Dakota!

      xo

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  5. Hi Courtney - I played many, many years of field hockey and tell me that getting hit by that hard ball doesn't hurt. There is inherent danger with kids playing any sport, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Stepson has done gymnastics and TKD, played lacrosse, and is now focusing on soccer and baseball. Being involved in sports teaches kids lessons that they will not learn elsewhere. Kudos for these organizations to be so focused on safety! Hugs, Holly

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    1. "Being involved in sports teaches kids lessons that they will not learn elsewhere."

      THIS, Holly. Times a million...

      I began running track and field at the ripe old age of 11, and let me tell you, some of the best darn lessons I've learned in life -- bar none -- came from spending my days and man, many evening running on that hot, hard asphalt.

      I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything, I tell you.

      There will be no pressure to win from Scott and my end, but we do want Scotty and Kennedy to experience athletics for all that it offers...

      Thank you so much for sharing your comments here.

      xo

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  6. "Heads Up" football - what a great idea! Yay for the NFL for coming up with it! I hope Scotty enjoys it. :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Lexa! I know Scott and I will feel much better about him playing with an organization like this one. If it's not a #HeadsUpFB league, then he's not playing. Plain and simple...

      Thank you,as always, for supporting us with your thoughtful comments.

      xo

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  7. Great post. I have vowed to never allow my sons to play because I feel it is dangerous. But, after reading your post you have shed some light on the situation. #turnupTuesday

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    1. Thanks, Victoria! Yes, virtually all sports come with inherent risks, but the existence of a program such as Heads Up Football surely gives reassurance that our children's safety will be highly considered while they play.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      xo

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  8. I really enjoyed reading your perspective on this - especially since I'm sure your husband sustained injuries playing ball. With all the recent headlines around concussions I often wondered how parents feel letting their babies play sports...we haven't hit this stage yet!

    And I am asked questions too - wait, you like sports? Can you get me free tickets? Can you get me Lebron's autograph? LOL!

    Hope you are doing well! We are back from vacay and finally back in the swing of life.

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    1. Hi, Kristen! Sports with your oldest may be coming around the bend quickly. I know a lot of sports leagues here in Michigan -- in various arenas of sports -- that start signing them up as young as three..

      And as for your questions...smh...do these people know your profession? lol Duh! Of course you like sports!

      Well, look on the bright side (or not so bright side?):
      No one will be hounding you about the LeBron questions anymore. :-/

      Thank you very much for stopping by, and welcome back from The Fourth!

      xo

      Delete
  9. My son loves all sports including football. He is 7 and he plays. He learns sportsmanship, teamwork and it has improved his agility skills. Now when it comes to TACKLE football - I may not be too much of a fan. He is also playing other sports like LaCrosse and he recently picked up tennis. He loves it all. #sitssharefest

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    1. Hi, how are you! (Your comment reminds me: I totally owe you a visit; I LOVE your blog!) I think that is FANTASTIC about your son, and should Scotty continue to take interest in sports -- I say continue because he is not even three yet, and even now he always has to have a ball in his hand, but I digress...

      I wish your son continued health, success, and, of course, FUN in his athletic pursuits!

      Have a great weekend.

      xo

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  10. This is a great post. I know head injuries have been spotlighted recently in football, and this is a great way to educate all lovers of the sport on how to better protect its players.

    As a former college-level equestrian, I applaud your decision to let your son play the game regardless of the risks. I have had 5 (yes, 5) concussions, been bucked and reared off, fallen in front of a running horse (who thankfully jumped at the last minute), and dusted myself off every time with a smile on my face. I think that any sport has its risks, but they are most often outweighed by the amazing rewards and things you learn.

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    1. Wow, Chihuahua Mommy. Just...wow.

      I just read your comment to my husband whose currently sitting right next to me on the couch right now.

      Kuddos to you for all that you have endured, and I, too, firmly believe that there are amazing rewards -- and life lessons -- to be had from participating in athletics.

      EXCELLENT comment, Chihuahua Mommy.

      Thank you.

      xo

      Delete
  11. Hi, visiting you via the SITS girls. Great points! Right now we are watching a worry drama play out in the family that is very close to one of my family members. Their eldest son has a tremendous talent for sports. He plays football and baseball (pitches no-hitter games) and several colleges are interested in the youth. The roughness in football is a concern for every mother. The kid is headed for baseball, though there are injuries there too. Wish you the best with all your efforts!

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    1. Hi, Clotilde/Craftybegonia, and thank you. I wish your family member(s) the best as well...

      You know, nothing is guaranteed in this world. Injuries can come from virtually anything; including simply living life...

      Am I scared of my son playing football? No more than I am of him doing a lot of things in this world. But what am I going to do shield him -- and deny him of life-altering experiences in the process? Were you able to read my response to Sonya's comment (above)? I touched on this in my reply. And here it is:

      "Let me put it this way: I'm scared as hell of Scotty or Kennedy wanting to, say, study abroad. But what am I going to do? Deny them the possibility of an invaluable experience because I'm scared? Heck, things can happen anywhere at anytime. That's the world we live in now -- but you don't need me to tell you that: Nowadays going to school, post office, or the store can present an opportunity for violence of epic proportions.

      At least with football, there are proven lessons your child will learn and carry with them through life. My husband is living, breathing proof of this..."

      Thank you, Clotilde/Craftybegonia, for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

      xo

      Delete
  12. This is a great post! I had thopportunity to listen to the NFL's presentation about the "Heads Up" program with the Chicago Bears, Commissioner Goddell, Dr. Oz, and a couple hundred local moms. I love that they are being so pro active

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  13. And I love your take on all this. As a mom of three boys I am a huge believer in putting the safety of our children above the game. More sports need to follow. Happy SITS day!

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    1. Hi, Kristen!

      "More sports need to follow."

      THIS, times a gazillion. Being proactive is the name of the game, pun wholeheartedly intended. And I'm glad that you had an opportunity to experience your local Heads Up program firsthand!

      Thank you for visiting and commenting! :-)

      Delete
  14. This sounds like an awesome program! I "let" my son play football for 2 years, but he also played lacrosse. Sadly he can't play anything anymore because of a recent knee condition, but I'm going to talk with my mom friends who still manage our little town's pop warner teams and see if they are Heads-Up certified. You just can't protect your children from everything, and while playing football is putting yourself in harm's way more than some other sports would be, kids are going to get hurt doing the darndest things. You can't make them live in a bubble.

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    1. Hi, Nikki! And welcome...

      "You can't make them live in a bubble."

      ^^^This. Times a million. I don't know if you had a chance to read my reply to Sonya above, but I couldn't agree with you more. There are A LOT of things that make me nervous as a parent. Frankly, even more than football: studying abroad is one of them. But what am I to do? Deny my children opportunities of a lifetime because "mams's nervous"?

      I hear you loud and clear.

      Thank you so much for weighing in-- and helping to spread the word about Heads Up!

      xo

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