In my community, seven year old children conditioned by their parents to be polite, share their Matchbox cars, and not to hit anybody under any circumstances are eligible to begin playing the violent sport of football. Most of the so-called “anklebiters” don’t have sufficient aggression or bad intentions to charge ahead and flatten the other guy, no matter how loud the coach yells at them to do it. Therefore, the most urgent task of the anklebiter coach– if they are to have any hope of success on the field come the start of the regular season September—is to transform his recent graduates of the first grade into a team of little assassins who can take and deliver The Big Hit. The first drill every anklebiter coach runs involves placing two players about three feet apart and forcing them to run at each other, causing a collision. The coach and the assistant coach stand at the anticipated point of impact to ensure that scared kids can’t avoid the hit by running out of bounds.
As a parent who fondly remembers his 11-year-old son running that basic drill three years ago and this year is watching his second son go through his initiation, I see the initial reluctance and fear of 80 percent of kids to hit each other as gratifying evidence of the innocence of youth. I know that someday in the not-too-distant future, my children will learn about teenage street gangs, watch kids pick on each other mercilessly, witness schoolyard fights, and learn that the world can be a violent place.
That is why watching an exasperated football coach shake his head and look down at the ground because his scared, little players won’t hit each other is a touching moment that will pass all too soon.