I have spent four years watching 8- and 9-year-olds put on pads and hit each other, sometimes all too gently for the coach’s liking. I also have met plenty of Dads at the practice field who have big dreams for their children. I have concluded that many a parent has misunderstood what pee wee football is primarily about.
It is not about winning or athletic achievement. It is about character.
Every parent wants to see their child run for a game-winning touchdown and taste the glory of such a moment. Me too. Yet, I find we parents learn more about our children when they’ve take a hard hit and thrown violently to the ground.
Here is a clip of my 8-year-old child (number 8 in red) getting run over by a bigger kid, hitting his head on the turf and walking back to the huddle like nothing happened. His teammates who witnessed the hit pat him on the shoulder pads for a job well done.
The truth is that what happens next is almost always a revealing and positive moment for all parties involved. For every parent who thinks their kid is the next superstar, there are many more who are nervous that their 8- or 9-year-old is a bit soft or can’t take a hit. Many parents have to restrain themselves from running on to the field if it looks like someone might be hurt. Perhaps they are worrying about concussions and broken bones like the kind they see on Sunday on the NFL field. In order to suffer such injuries, requires your child to take a big hit and the math just doesn’t add up to injury. Afterall, if ‘force’ equals ‘mass’ times ‘acceleration,’ then youth football players usually don’t have the mass or the acceleration to generate the force necessary to cause a concussion in another player dressed in full pads and wearing a helmet.
My experience bears this out. In the four years of watching my sons play youth football (the oldest is now 12), I have seen hundreds of kids get knocked hard to the ground. Ninety-nine percent of them get up uninjured. Rarely do they cry. And if they do, they try to hide it from their teammates. The vast majority of kids brush off the hit, run back to the huddle, and get ready for the next play.
That is character, and what youth football is all about. And watching your child get up after they’ve been knocked down is sometimes just as rewarding for Mom and Dad as anything else that happens on a football field.