The hard questions to ask before you sign your son up for football. Tips and thoughts from a football mom.

I tried to sit down and count up the number of football games, practices and meetings that I’ve sat through, cheered at and/or helped organize. With three boys, each playing football which so far has spanned a ten year period of time, that’s a lot of football watching.

As you can imagine, I field a lot of questions from other moms about the sport, and this is that time of the year when parents are deciding if they should sign their precious son up for this most demanding sport.

Did I mention that my husband played college football on a full scholarship, as well as a father who did too?

I know the game. I know the culture of the sport.  I know the risks.

I’m going to be blunt.

If  a mom calls me with football concerns,especially questioning if her son should play because the sport is too dangerous or worried that the coaches will be too mean or rough, she’s already answered her own question.

When I hear that kind of concern and hesitation before her child has ever stepped out onto the field, football is probably not the right sport for her. Now, it may be fine for the son, but honestly, football takes 100% cooperation from the parents and if the mom is already fearful, don’t start. It will be an uphill battle emotionally and there’s no reason to set yourself up for that when there are many other sport options out there.

Football is not right for everyone. In fact, I would say that it is not right for most. Many kids that are playing football right now, should not be, but the parent is living the dream vicariously through their child.

This is not going to be a debate over whether football is dangerous either, but I am going to address it head on.

I am an educated woman. I understand serious injuries happen. We can turn on the TV to know that is the case,  but personally as a family, our first serious sports injury occurred from our son’s Varsity soccer game when a metal cleat (that should not have been used) went through the lip of our third son’s mouth as he played goalie. Not a pretty sight and we are grateful for skilled surgeons.

It’s also been interesting to hear politicians stirring the pot of safety and bringing opinions of football legislation to the forefront. While I appreciate everyone’s prerogative, I do not think it’s any politician’s right to begin asserting their opinion over who can and can not play football.

We need to take safety and research very personally. The more research and testing of helmets that occur, the fewer injuries. It’s no different than car safety. As we increased safety tests in that field, manufacturers began making safer cars.

We need to make sure that if we choose to let our sons play, the kids have top of the line equipment. Many teams, due to budgetary constraints, do not provide adequate equipment and this is a problem. Obviously, with the young boys, the hits aren’t that hard, but as our sons began playing at a higher level, specifically noting our one son who has now received a full ride Division 1 football scholarship, we purchased leg braces out of our own pocket and had them use helmets that passed a higher safety rating than those originally given.

I appreciate how the game is changing to make plays safer. While equipment is continually being improved, additional penalties and rules are being put into place  to reduce the number of injuries and I whole heartedly agree with that.

Everyone loves a super hard hit, but not at the risk of a concussion.  There’s always been a danger of leading with your head and that is being curbed. This past season, one son was involved with one of those hits that you hear from the stands. After being dazed for a bit, he was immediately seen by a physician on the side line. When our son didn’t pass all the questions asked of him (which honestly, there were a few that I think I might not have passed on my best day), he was immediately benched. A new state law requires players to sit out for seven days from the last day of symptoms and then he must be cleared by a doctor before returning to play.

So have I scared you yet? I mentioned this wasn’t going to be about safety, but here I am spouting off the fact that there are risks and yet we still decided to let our boys play.

Here’s the kicker. You would think that with 3 boys in 3 years, we sat around dreaming about that first day they could step out on the football field, but actually my husband would have been fine if they focused on other sports.

All of them are three sport athletes (fortunately, all in the same spot, so we weren’t in three different directions at one time), but they loved football. It probably has something to do with the fact my hubby was born and raised in Green Bay (Go PACKERS) and they bleed green and gold there.  Our sons played for years with the Pop Warner organization (before high school). They had the privilege of going all the way to the Pop Warner National Championship game two different seasons and playing on ESPN.

While I know that every sport starts kids earlier and earlier, take your time.

Let their muscles develop. Football isn’t something they need to start at four years old, even though you’ll be told your children will be behind. That is just not true. If your child has natural ability, understands the game, and is willing to demonstrate a hard, work ethic, he could go out for the first time in middle school or even ninth grade year and be just fine. Now, I say that, but we “waited” until they were eight. Unless our sons were begging us to play, I would not even plant a seed in their mind until at least 10-12. I would love to show you a picture of all three of them playing during their younger years, but I didn’t have own a digital camera back then. 😉

Key questions to ask yourself before you make this football decision:

What is your son’s frame? How is he built?

Last year, our #2 and #3 sons played on the same Varsity football team. It was a blast, but #2  son is 285 pounds and #3 is 155. (Yes, same parents. It’s hard to believe.) While #3’s strengths are primarily as a punter and a kicker, the coaches needed him to play corner back. He is SO tough. In fact, rumbles from the stands always centered about how great of a hitter he was even though he is so skinny. Honestly, if he doesn’t gain weight, he needs to stick to only kicking and golf. That’s a football momma speaking and just the reality. His safety is first.

Does your son think, dream and breathe football?

He needs too – Not just you!

Your child needs to really, really want to play because once they start training, it separate those who have a true love of the sport from those who just want their face on a screen.The coaches will work your son very hard.

A few years ago, I remember having a chat with a friend whose son decided to play for his first year. As we watched on the side lines, she was very concerned that he was being worked too hard (i.e coaches were making them run in warm weather since they had been sitting around on the sofa playing video games all summer). Throughout the week, she just kept complaining.

Honestly, as a coach’s wife, those are the worst kind of parents. Coaches have a difficult time just trying to instill fundamentals and a hard work ethic in young players. They definitely don’t need immediate opposition from parents for no reason.

As a friend, wanting what’s best for the team and their family, I gently confronted her and began with the question, “This week has been hard for you to watch. Does your son love this game of football?”

“He thinks it would be cool, but his dad really wants him to play.”

When we first started football, I honestly had a bad attitude about the time commitment. I realized that I needed to get on board and support the coaches 100%. We made the choice to play and no one forced us to sign up. Rather than grumbling and complaining, I ended up making it a family event and we have the best memories of years and years of practice. I’d bring snacks, picnic dinners, games for the girls and we made it a community involvement.

What is your son’s temperament?

Football coaches are a whole different breed and you can have some tough coaches. Know this up front. While I would not allow our sons to be bullied, it can occur, as with any sport or activity. We’ve witnessed it in other venues as well, so be on the look out. Football coaches scream. We have had hundreds of coaches over the years, 98% of them yell, but mainly just a raising of their voice. Now, that yelling is not always in anger, but If your child has a softer or more sensitive temperament to raised voices, this is not for them.  Many of my sons’ coaches had teddy bear hearts with a huge bear growl, but this is not a sport to put your child in to “toughen him up.” There is no place for that, just like there is no place at all for coaches who do have any anger issues. We’ve only had to confront two situations where coaches were out of line. In all of our years of sports, that’s a great ratio.

Is this a recommended program?

Ask around. Get past participant’s opinions on how the program is run, the caliber of the coaches, the goals for the teams, and especially, the temperament of the coaches.

Not all programs are created equal and I’ve seen it all, so doing your homework is important!

Make sure your coach knows what he is doing. Granted, these are volunteers, but they still need to understand how to actually teach the game, not just “know” the game. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to learn about hitting and blocking correctly. Learning the key fundamentals at an early age by coaches who truly understand them is very important and will also help in overall safety.

Has your child had enough?

Cultivate a true understanding of the game, which includes the wisdom to understand when your child has had enough.

I am never an advocate of allowing kids to quit anything mid season unless an injury or extenuating circumstance is involved, so I recommend going to shorter football camps first to give your child a feel for the game. Many organizations offer them in the summer and they can see how they like it. Once the season starts and you commit to the team, make your child see it through to the end even if they don’t like it. Obviously, there are always one or two exceptions, but letting them quit because they are just too tired or it’s too hard plays into the very entitlement mentality that I’m sure you want to avoid. Teach them responsibility and a stick to it mentality. Allow it to aid in their character building, not the other way around.

There’s just something about the game of football that mimics life.

The lessons learned through team work and camaraderie are unparalleled to many other sports.

There is never anything easy about football. In fact, I wrote a post five years ago, “Is Youth Sports Worth it? It was in the midst of the craziest experience ever with youth sports and what I witnessed reads like a bad Late Night Movie. I revisited it for the first time in years and I still can’t get over it, but it also shares my heart about adversity.

The discipline, mental toughness and sacrifice that these guys put out daily teaches them life lessons that are timeless. A hard work ethic, or even lack there of, shows on the field.

There are no short cuts, no easy routes and often life lessons are gleaned more through the losses and failures than the wins. It’s not an easy decision and my love of the game is LARGE, even though it might not read that way.

My desire is to allow you to make the best, informed decision before you enter into the commitment.  We have never regretted our choice to allow the boys to play and are still overwhelmed with how much it has changed our lives, but it’s not right for everyone. I even end on the point that it’s not right for most.

I’d love to help you sort through the decision making process without any personal agenda. 🙂

I’ll save the football scholarship questions for another post because that is an entirely different world that we just had no idea existed.

Considering that our son was home schooled until he was 17 also creates a THIRD post –  how did a home schooled kid get a scholarship for football, especially since NC does not allow home,schoolers to play on school teams?

So many happy tears have been shed over this amazing blessing.

So, before I start on that tangent, do you have any questions for me?

Football Signing Day

National Signing Day

That signature is worth around $250,000. I know. I know. I’m still pinching myself.