I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Thursday, September 27, 2012

To Win or to Play? The Purpose of Youth Football

One of the most difficult issues I'm asked about comes from parents of very young athletes who are frustrated that their kids are getting minimal playing time compared to other athletes on their football team. It is usually a situation where parents feel their kids have been labeled as "third string" and the coach plays the "first string" athletes considerably more to go for the win.

Parents enroll their kids in youth football because they want a fun, positive, educational experience, and the damage that is done when a 3rd or 4th grade child perceives he is "third string" can make the situation miserable and drive people away from the sport altogether. That situation is all too common, and it completely defeats the purpose of youth football programs.

The goal of youth football should be to:

1.  Provide opportunity:  A youth football program should introduce kids to the basics of the game of football, give kids the opportunity to learn fundamentals and then provide an opportunity to experience game action.

2.  Teach discipline:  Youth football instills basic discipline in kids. They are expected to learn the rules of the game and to understand and develop their role on the team. They will begin to see the importance of a work ethic and meeting expectations when they learn how to function in the practice format and the importance of being on time.

3.  Understand teamwork:  When kids buy into their team, they develop a great sense of responsibility to their teammates. Kids become very excited when they feel they have a role in a situation, and learning how to work together teaches them how to contribute to a larger goal.

I always encourage parents to reach out and communicate with their coaches in these situations. And I encourage coaches to remember to focus on a creating a positive atmosphere for all their young athletes.   Keep in mind that kids practice hard all week, and they only get one game to utilize what they have learned. If they only get one quarter of play in those games, it is very hard for them to demonstrate their developing football skills and feel like they are a meaningful part of the game experience. Getting your young players to love and understand the game so they can enjoy it for years to come is the real way to "win" in youth football.

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