For some parents, having their children participate in team sports is akin to receiving a root canal, perhaps dreading the former much more than the latter. Sports options for kids run the gamut and include nostalgic standards like baseball, basketball, and soccer, and also have evolved to include lacrosse, golf, tennis, and swimming. But very infrequently do you hear the forbidden, dirty word “football” uttered in parental circles. Good parents of the world are armed with the knowledge that concussions and lasting injuries could ruin a child’s life, so what does one do when the only sport on the entire planet that their son is interested in is, gasp, football?
In my case, I held firmly onto my “no football” stance for many years until I realized that my seven-year-old had been asking to play football since he was a four-year-old, and given he had 11 more years in my home to ask me if he could play football, I decided to cave on my decision. As it was, we discovered he would be at the older end of his age range when we let him join a team and would even be playing with kids slightly younger than him. But at a whopping 45 pounds, it was a fleeting sense of security. Week after week we watched him put on his pads and helmet and then face kids twice his size (not sure what they’re feeding these kids), and just thanked the good Lord when the coach failed to put him in the game. So, we completely understood that this was going to be the one and only season of tackle football for our son, which we also clearly communicated well to him. And, the larger lesson was that football, perhaps, attracted some of the most aggressive parents I had encountered. Forget the bossy mom at the playground or the parents whose kids could do no wrong, these were parents openly pleading with their kids to pulverize the opposing players. Yikes. Slow down here, folks, these are 2nd graders here.
Given the love affair that most people have had with football for generations, it’s not a wonder that many have turned to its distant cousin, flag football, as a safer alternative. No pads, no helmets, and some might say, no resemblance to the actual game of tackle football, yet, flag football is appealing to kids of all ages, especially those who just cannot stay away from the pigskin. In fact, a recent study conducted by USA Football indicates that flag football was the fastest-growing sport among young American children last year, exceeding baseball, basketball, and other popular youth sports. The win-win here is that flag football gets your athlete out on the field and you get to keep your parental peace knowing, besides a skinned knee or bruised ego, your kid is probably going to come out virtually unscathed. Without pads and helmets, the costs associated with flag football are nominal compared to other sports also. And might I add, though it may be coincidental, the demeanor of the sideline parents seems to be more like a quiet lamb, rather than a charging lion.
The best part of flag football, besides the lack of broken bones, that I can ascertain as a parent, is that my son gets to brag to his buddies that he “plays football.” He knows his one and only season of tackle football has come and gone and as long as he can get his hands on that ball in some capacity, he’s surprisingly okay with it. Am I sorry I let him have his time in pads and a helmet? Not really, as we did our best to minimize the risks by trying it out at an early age. And in the end, it has led us to flag football which has proven to be a safe and fun experience for the entire family.
It’s sad to think of what will happen to our best college and professional football teams, given that an entire generation of kids will grow up hardly playing the game. Conversely, countless concussions and traumatic injuries will be prevented with new evidence and credible statistics showing what can happen to these athletes over time. As parents, these reports allow us to make informed choices on what sports our children should participate in, and for now, we will gladly send our kids out on the field with a football in hand and flags flapping in the wind.
Photos: Brody courtesy of The Sarasota Post / Army-Navy flag football game courtesy of Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office on Flickr. Commercial use allowed