I am a mother.
My oldest son, Michael, is an energetic and compassionate young man. Michael is 8 years old and has played youth football since the age of 5. When his father and I elected to sign him up for the local youth program, we were trying to expose him to different sports to see what he would enjoy. Last year, it became clear that he would need to begin to make a choice and stay with one sport for a season. He has chosen football, and to be honest we support his choice.
I choose to support him and his choice based on what I see during the practices and games. I see a group of coaches who try to educate and encourage these young people in all aspects of the game. During practice, the kids do a lot of physical fitness, including running, strength-building and flexibility. They have grade requirements to meet in order to play. They also have behavioral requirements, meaning that if the players are getting in trouble at school it will affect their play time. They are expected to conduct themselves in a respectful manner, as representatives of the organization. He has thrived on this discipline and schedule, developing a routine to make sure that he is able to finish homework and make practice with a reasonable bedtime. Of course, he needs encouragement. However, for an 8 year old, I find his determination and discipline to be impressive.
When I went to the pre-season parent meeting this year, Michael's head coach stated that they "are trying to build great young people, and if they happen to love the game of football then...great.". This statement has stayed with me, as I witness the amazing team-building that happens. Sportsmanship is a key element for this organization, and they do not tolerate negative talk towards their opponents. They also guide parents on their behaviors, with zero tolerance for negative behavior in the stands.
I realize that this standard may not be held in all places, but it is one that is met in our community. I see the youth football program helping to lay a foundation for these kids. Sports teach lessons outside of the home and classroom that I find as a parent to be invaluable for my son. Youth football has a lot of negative press about safety and risks. By teaching proper technique and making smart decisions, it is our feeling that these risks, which are present in many sports, can be minimized. To imply that a parent would knowingly place their child in a sport that is risking their health is shameful. Youth football may not be a good choice for all kids, but neither is hockey, soccer, lacrosse, or competitive cheerleading. I do not have a delusion that my son is going to be an NFL athlete, nor do I necessarily want that for him. However, sports have benefit in their own right. I am proud of Michael and his team, and I am excited to see him continue to grow both on and off of the field.