I recently read an article in the NY Times by Ken Belson about the suspension of Pop Warner Football coaches in Massachusetts for creating an unsafe playing environment. (Click Here to read Article) The article discusses the penalties imposed on coaches of two teams in a mismatched game, during which 5 players on the ‘smaller’ team were diagnosed with concussions after hits that knocked them out of the game. The coaches, club presidents and game officials were suspended for failing to stop the game after numerous injuries and a clear physical advantage for one of the teams, which was putting the other team at risk. It is a very scary, and a very real scenario.
The article brings up an important point about the role of adults in youth sports. In this situation, both coaches wanted to push through and finish the game. Many parents stated the same things, that they did not want their kids to quit. The losing coach kept going because he wanted his players to score at least one touchdown, so they would leave with “a good feeling.” The winning coach blamed the losing coach for not telling him about his injured players, concluding “This is a football game, not a Hallmark moment.” Really?
The scary thing demonstrated here is that no matter how many rules our clubs and leagues impose to protect the safety of children, we require the adults running the games to keep them in perspective, to enforce those rules, and to recognize that no game is more important then a child’s health. There is no lesson to be learned that is so important that we should be putting children in danger to teach it. Yet in this case, neither coaches nor officials considered that the game needed to be stopped, and as a result many children were injured. This is incredibly sad and disappointing.
When we treat our children’s games like we do the sports we see on TV, when we coach and behave in the way we see in professional sports, we take the game away from the kids. Youth sports is not professional sports, and it never should be. It is about fun. It is about being with friends. It is about wearing the stuff. It is not about winning and losing. And it is never about putting kids at risk of physical injury in order to prove a point, to win a game, or score a touchdown.
As a parent, if you are at your child’s game, and the goings on don’t seem right, you should be concerned. If the number of injuries or the physical mismatch that you are witnessing is putting your kids in physical danger, as it was in this case, sitting there quietly is not being an adult. It is irresponsible. I am not advocating that you charge onto the field and make a scene, but you can certainly are within your rights to respectfully ask an assistant coach if they are seeing the same thing as you. I am not talking about a blowout score, as that is a separate issue. I am talking about physical danger.
If you see that and the ‘adults’ in charge are doing nothing about an obvious mismatch, then you are responsible for keeping your child safe. When three players are knocked off the field with head injuries after 5 plays, something is not right. When at least 5 are concussed in half a game, there are big problems. As embarrassing as it might seem, you may need to pull your child if nothing is being done. Why? Because ultimately you have to ask yourself which is worse; taking your child home, or taking him to the hospital? For me, that is an easy one.