U: The Unknown
Are you ready for some football? Yes…. and no. My 7-year-old is ready to play – mentally and physically – but is he safe? I think not. He’s playing flag football through the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation program where the only piece of protective gear for his program level is a mouth guard.
If the program were about the fundamentals, drills and strategy, I’d be less concerned. However, this group of first graders is playing football for the first time in an organized program (unless they have played through a private league), and it’s mostly about contact in a game. They spend 30 minutes on drills during their Wednesday night sessions and the remaining 30 minutes on Wednesdays plus another hour on Saturday mornings playing ball.
I have been challenging my husband for years on signing up our son, Calvin, for football. He’s an advocate, I’m into other options. The writing has been on the wall – he would play somehow, someway. We’ve signed up for some football alternatives – namely soccer. When Calvin was five, he and his sister two years older, kicked it on the soccer field. And after a freezing cold fall season when asked what they liked best about the game, the unanimously agreed that it would have to be the sideline. A tad bit infuriating to hear.
One night this season, my son complained of an injury and lobbied not to go to Wednesday night football. I sensed the injury was a ploy so insisted that we go to support the team and listen in on the coaching strategies. After all, my husband is the head coach (he signed up as assistant and was immediately promoted to head, as does oft happen in these programs) and since he was out of town, I was in charge of getting Calvin to the game. He stood on the sideline before sneaking away to the nearby park to hop on the swings with his sister. I reigned him in. Then he couldn’t resist the urge to kick around the soccer ball with a 4-year-old on the sideline who was there because his older brother was on the team. I let him kick it out. Clearly, there was no injury. Twenty-five minutes into practice, I pulled Calvin aside and noted that he looked ready to play. Finally he agreed to get in the game.
The boys have varying degrees of skill sets, physical size, interest and understanding of the game. Practice and games can be quite chaotic. Just two grades up, on the field adjacent, third-graders practice in full gear. There might be more contact, but at least they have pads and helmets. I would vote to make it mandatory for first and second-graders too. It is challenging to pull an opponent’s flag off of them without getting caught up in the speed and momentum (It can be done – see the video below where Calvin goes in for a touchdown (green team, jersey #7) and his opponent swipes and holds high Calvin’s flag). It doesn’t happen as often in practice, but a few teams our own Green Lanterns have played this season have been very physical – tackling, not de-flagging as the rules of the game instruct.
I’m not trying to be extreme, rather, encourage that programs mandate protective gear. At least then I could be more relaxed on the sidelines. But not totally calm because I foresee the escalating contact and hits to come if he continues with football. Coincidentally, the other team’s quarterback goes down screaming on the last play of the game due to a twisted or broken ankle. Game over.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoying watching my son play as much as the next mom, but in light of recent research about concussions and long-term effects of the game, you can bet I’ll keep pushing alternatives. Calvin says he’s ready to play soccer this spring and as much as I dislike the term, I could get used to being called a Soccer Mom.