The armpit is the part of the body that is dark, stinky, and unattractive. Everyone has one, but no one wants to see it or acknowledge it, and would rather cover it up and move on.
The armpit of American youth sports is the culture of win-at-all-costs, uneducated, over the top coaches and parents who are doing the children in our country a massive disservice. They have created such a toxic environment that most children drop out of sports by middle school.
If ever a show exemplified this travesty, the ‘armpitification’ of youth sports, it is Esquire Network’s new show “Friday Night Tykes.” (Airs on Tuesdays at 8pm).
The show takes us inside the world of San Antonio, Texas youth football, specifically the rookie division for 8 and 9 year olds. It is a stomach-churning display of ignorant and misguided parents, coaches and administrators applying adult values, tactics, and training to children in 2nd through 4th grade, some of it bordering upon child abuse.
While I realize this is television, and thus full of made for TV moments and not the full picture of what happens on a daily basis (wasn’t that Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice’s excuse?), upon watching the first episode of this show, a few things came to mind:
- These Coaches Have no Clue: “You have the opportunity to rip their freakin’ head off and let them bleed” yells Charles Chavarria, coach of the Jr. Broncos. Are you kidding? As coach after coach uses language and tactics that are not appropriate for high school and college-age players, never mind 8 and 9 year olds, I could not help but wonder not if, but when, one of these children would get seriously injured or die. Some examples:
- Children in full pads puking after running in 100 degree heat are put back into drills to teach them “toughness.”
- Kids crying after high impact, head to head collisions do not receive medical attention
- $16,000 spent on new equipment instead of athletic trainers
- Children taught to cheat and jump the snap count on the game’s opening play to set the tone of the game
- 8 year olds who do not receive a single moment of playing time because the game was close and the team needed to win
The coaches on display at this point in the series, for the most part, clearly lack any training in physiological development and child psychology. They display no signs of having received any formal coaching education, how to assess and mitigate risk of injury, and how to use sports to teach sportsmanship, life lessons, and things like integrity. This is “Junction Boys” for 8 year olds, and it is dangerous.
- The Parents Are Scared: What else would explain parents sitting by meekly while their elementary school children are cussed at, slapped, berated, and put through arduous full pad training in dangerous heat. Why else would parents say nothing when their child does not get a single play game after game, cries all the way home after practice, or is clobbered in a head to head collision that leaves one kid screaming, and a coach stating “he got a stinger!” Throughout youth sports in our country, many good parents are suffering in silence as child after child drops out of youth sports, disillusioned by over-competitive, under-educated coaches and organizations who will do anything to win. We are so scared that our child will lose his chance to be a high school star or college athlete that we are putting the health and well being of our children at risk by specializing far to early in sports, selecting “elite” teams at far to young an age, and ignoring the reasons why kids play sports in the first place.
From what is on display after two episodes of “Friday Night Tykes,” these parents are either scared, or so enamored with the thought of their child playing Texas high school football that they are willing to put their kids’ futures at risk, and are not willing to stand up and say something to change the culture of youth sports.
- The League is at Fault: In a statement released by Texas Youth Football League CEO Brian Morgan, he says “In Texas it’s going to be perceived very well. Outside Texas, where football is not king, those people are going to be taken aback by some of the kids out there exercising in 100 degrees heat, how the fans are fanatical like it’s an NFL game and by some of the coaches and the coaches’ tactics.” Really? Engaging in behavior that at times borders on child abuse, and endangering the health and welfare of children in pursuit of wins in an 8 and 9 year old league can only be understood and considered acceptable if you are from Texas? I think if I were from Texas, I would be offended.
Watch this CNN interview with CEO Brian Morgan as he admits that while some of this is made for TV, it is still an accurate portrayal of Texas youth football, and then ask yourself is this a guy who should keep his job?
Now I know that people like Morgan will say many of you do not understand. They will say these coaches are teaching toughness, grit, and helping kids overcome their fears and never quit; this is not a league where everyone gets a trophy. I think all of those things are great, admirable, and I agree that our society needs more of this, not less. I am the first to say that we have too many unmotivated, soft kids, and an overabundance of helicopter parents protecting their child from every possibility of failure.
But this is not how you combat this! The NFL has come out and said they find the show “troubling to watch.” Top professional and college players and coaches have come out against it, stating that is not an appropriate way to develop good football players, never mind developing good kids. I have yet to see one physician, sports psychologist, educator, or high level coach say a kind word about this show, or support the actions of the coaches and this league. They are disgusted as well.
I like football. My father was a college player at Fordham University back in the early 1950s when they were one of the nation’s elite programs. I was a wrestler for 7 years, and I am incredibly thankful for the toughness and resiliency that sport instilled in me. Football can do the same. But every year less and less kids are playing, partly due to the new findings on concussions in youth sport.
I have to think coaches like those in “Friday Night Tykes” are a major contributor as well.
There are plenty of ways to teach kids to never give up, to be tough, and to push themselves. But we do not tell them to run out on a busy highway and dodge cars, even though this would teach them all of the above. Why? Because one mistake and they are dead! Watching “Friday Night Tykes,” I could not help but think the same thing.
In the end, I am happy that “Friday Night Tykes” is on. I hope Esquire does not cancel it. I hope week after week more people watch this lunacy and finally raise a unified voice and do something about it.
It is time for the silent majority of parents to speak up and take sports away from the misguided adults on display here. Moms and dads whom love their children and want sports to be a great experience, be full of enjoyment and fun, and teach their kids valuable life lessons need to step up and give sports back to our kids.
The armpit is exposed, and it stinks!
Please raise your voice, share this article, serve on a youth sports board, coach a team, and do something about it.
Please help to change the game, and leave your comments, questions and thoughts below to begin our discussion.