By Katie Moosbrugger (with contributions from guest blogger Moose Lester)
While most families are currently knee deep in fall sports, we are wrapping up a second season of tackle football for my nine-year-old son. Yes, we are those parents.
It’s been nearly three months of practice, conditioning and games that take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours a week. The season starts in the middle of summer break, requires endless loads of laundry, constant fumbling of pads (hip pads, shoulder pads, knee pads and more), many moments stressing over the ever-elusive glove, hours of volunteering, countless bitten nails and pulled hairs, and the list goes on.
For the first time this year – and for a very brief and scary moment – I saw the team “take a knee” for my son who was lying on the field and couldn’t get up. Thankfully he only had the wind knocked out of him. I realize it could have been a lot worse, and never a moment goes by in a season that I don’t worry about a more crippling injury.
So with all the risks and stress associated with football, why would we let him play?
There are many reasons. Believe me, my husband and I have had our pros and cons discussions. We’ve chatted with pediatricians, other football families and the coaches. Today I’m sharing our reasons – plus the reasons of a local dad and coach, Moose Lester. We realize these reasons don’t minimize the risks; however to us, they outweigh them.
Reason One: The Lifestyle
Katie: Football is a lifestyle in our house. It’s also in our blood as my dad played college ball and my grandfather played semi-pro before the NFL was ever formed. From the moment my son understood the game, he never stopped playing. He started in flag football at the Y, and no matter the season, you can count on a game being played in our backyard or on the school recess field. Fantasy football is a constant conversation and I love how my husband and son have bonded over stats, players, football cards and favorite teams.
Reason Two: The Friendships
Moose: The brotherhood of going through the ups and downs together are memories and friendships that last a lifetime. These kids learn to respect authority (coaches and referees), as well as respect the differences in their teammates (culturally and physically).
Katie: Friendships are formed in every sport, but for some reason, I’ve noticed a different kind of bond among the kids on the football team. Many of these kids come from all different backgrounds and meet for the first time on the field. They may not see one another again until next fall. But when they do, they fall back in step as if they’ve been together all year long.
Reason Three: The Life Lessons
Moose: You get knocked down A LOT in football, just like in life. I tell my son that he has two options, 1) stay down and pout, or 2) get back up and learn from what happened. The life lessons in football are intertwined in every practice, game and literally every play. Not only are there lessons in winning and losing, but also in working hard. Perseverance is key. You set goals and try to achieve them. It’s truly a TEAM sport. Most only see the person with the ball score the touchdown. However, it required the other 10 players to do their job for the one person to get the glory of scoring the touchdown.
Reason Four: The Discipline & Hard Work
Katie: Like Moose said, football requires hard work. Yes, so do many other sports. But particularly for the kids of this age, I have rarely seen the type – and consistent level – of pre-season conditioning required to build a healthy foundation for play. Practices start the end of July and players are expected to put in a certain amount of strength and flexibility training hours before they’re allowed to play. The exercises are fair and age appropriate. Off the field, every player also has certain grade requirements to meet before they’re allowed to play. The hours are long on the field which has helped my son prioritize his homework and free time as well.
Reason Five: The Leadership
Katie: Building on discipline and hard work, I love how the players are rewarded with leadership roles for going the extra mile, being the first to finish, as well as making smart decisions.
Moose: As a coach, we’re constantly asking the players, “What kind of teammate are you? Do you make your teammates better with your attitude, actions, and words? What kind of person are you? Do you make your community better with your attitude, actions, and words? Leader or follower? Are you an encourager or discourager?” These are leadership traits we hope to build on and off the field.
Reason Six: The Un-Likelihood
Moose: As a father, coach, and educator I’d be remiss if the risk of concussion didn’t concern me. Thankfully there is a lot of information on concussions now. Also, the technology of the helmets continues to improve. All coaches must be certified on concussions by the CDC. We take a lot of precautions at practice as we teach techniques to protect the players. There is limited hitting in practice, so it’s not like old school football where all you do is line up and hit. With all that said, it’s a concern, but not enough to keep us from playing.
Katie: We’ve all heard the age-old argument that accidents can happen in any sport, and it’s true. If my daughter continued with gymnastics, I’d be a basket case every time she got upside down or airborne. When my son plays baseball, I worry about line drives to his helmet-less head in the infield. I’ve seen kids dive in water less than 5 feet deep at summer swim meets. Truth be told, I’m a worry wart, but I’m learning to put it all in perspective for the sake of experience, opportunities, and growth for my kids.
We realize some parents hold strong opinions on this topic, and we’d love to hear from you. Do you – or would you – let your child play football? Why or why not?