JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally: As the college football season comes to an end, Keith Strudler, director of Marist College’s Center for Sports Communication, shares his ideas about children on the field.
It’s another in our regular Friday series, IMHO: In My Humble Opinion.
KEITH STRUDLER, Director, Marist College Center for Sports Communication: I think it’s time we end youth football altogether.
I’m not talking about the NFL or college football, or even high school and middle school. I’m talking about 5-through-10-year-olds, grade school kids, the kids that, when they put on shoulder pads, they’re wider than they are tall.
Let me be clear. I like youth sports, and I watch a lot of football. I embrace the positive virtues kids can get from organized athletics.
So, why get rid of kids football? I have got three reasons, and none of them have anything to do with concussions, although that’s a fine reason as well.
For starters, young kids playing football is about as natural as pigs playing piano. They can do it, but it’s forced. Kids that age barely understand simple concepts, like how mom is related to cousin Jacob or why you can’t have cotton candy for dinner. But we’re trying to teach them how the left tackle covers the blind side in an I-formation. For young kids with developing minds and bodies, moving and exploring should come before memorizing playbooks.
Next, when most kids sign up for sports, they want to do two things: touch the ball and score.
In youth football, the first thing coach tells most of the team is that you will never do either of those things, and, if you try, someone’s going to throw a yellow flag, which gets the whole team in trouble.
It’s like making the whole office work late because Frank from accounting faked a sick day.
Finally, what kinds of lessons do young kids learn from playing football? That boys compete and girls cheer? That success comes through brute force? Or that life’s work is to take someone’s property, known here as field possession?
I hope that these are fading constructs in a collaborative, idea-based society. You could argue these are problems for older kids in football as well. But with age comes cognitive development and a more nuanced understanding of the differences between sports and reality. A 6-year-old may not realize that football is not a metaphor for life.
Now, this doesn’t mean I could never get behind youth football. Imagine football if everyone touched the ball, and most people had a shot at scoring, where kids move all game, and boys and girls play together. That’s a football I could put my kids in.
Funny thing, that football already exists. Only, in America, we call it soccer.