Makeshift Football Leagues.

Today I received an e-mail from yet another makeshift youth sports league, so far I can count 4, maybe 5 in San Antonio, you’ll recognize them by phrases like “Sports participation at the basic level”, “Teams are formed by closest school or zip code”, “Practice fields not provided”, or “Equipment not included” among others.

It would seem like this leagues are making a noble effort to provide a space for our families to participate and our kids to play, no long term commitment, convenient, playing time for every kid guaranteed by rule, not so competitive, etc.

But reality is that tackle football is a tough, competitive sport that requires experienced and knowledgeable coaches and committed families. There’s no such thing as “not so competitive football”, as the old Karate Kid sensei said, walking in the middle of the road would eventually get you crushed.

These makeshift leagues are for the most part formed of inexperienced players and coaches, who may have the best intentions in the world, but may not have the knowledge and experience required for teaching proper tackling and blocking techniques. “I played through high-school/college” are not valid credentials, specially when teaching youth, the inner mechanics of the game have evolved a lot in recent years, modern techniques are very different and a lot safer and more effective than the ones taught a decade ago.

The league would probably have a parents meeting where the teams meet for the first time about two weeks before the season starts, this to maximize the registration period and the income for the league. If you are lucky, you’ll get organized and practice will start that same week, if you aren’t, practice won’t start until the week you have your first game. This is just wrong, in a normal situation, and just as a basic safety measure, kids would have to go through two weeks of strength and fitness training before wearing pads, followed by 2-3 weeks of full-contact practice, even then less experienced/strong kids would be gradually introduced in the line-up according to their current level of play.

As an added bonus, let me add that there’s also organized teams that use these leagues to boost their morale, so you may have a very inexperienced, poorly trained team, facing a well organized, well trained, experienced football team on the first week of the season, on the first time the kids are facing real contact from an opposing rival, and coaches in need to play every kid according to the rules. I have witnessed that situation several times, and it has always been disastrous, injuries not uncommon, heads rattled by poor technique, fear and desperation, I’m not kidding or exaggerating, sometimes the outcome it’s not that bad, but it depends on luck more than anything. The risk is present even when your opposition is at the same level, poor technique and lack of physical preparation cannot be overcome.

Be specially aware of wide age groups, some of these league create pretty wide age groups to be able to form full teams, age groups should not be wider than two (5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12), even under weight limit, having an 8 year old face a 10 year old is not safe by any means.

I feel the need to add that what I’ve been talking about is the best-case scenario, in my experience with those leagues; I have found the following practices to be extremely common.

–       Birth certificates aren’t checked.

–       Player identities aren’t checked.

–       Weight is not checked.

–       Kids lead with their helmet.

–       Horse collar tackling is common.

–       Playing time is not enforced (thankfully).

If your kid wants to play TACKLE football, start early, find an established Football Club that plays in a well organized league.  In San Antonio we have NAJIFF, TYFA, and Pop Warner, any other league right now is just in my opinion a waste of your time.

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