Will You Let Your Son Play Tackle Football? Looking at the pros and cons of kids playing football

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The flier for next season came home last week, and the whirlwind debate began … again. America’s biggest obsession has become a frequent topic of arguments in a lot of our families:  will you let your son play tackle football?

This is a debate my wife, Boy #1 and I’ve had for a while. He is dying to play — and asks us on average of twice a day. I know we’re not the only family going through this. I’ve met a ton of guys who’ve told me this conversation has been going on for years. It’s for two reasons: because football is awesome and it can be brutal.

I played football through high school, so I know how tough it is. I had the enviable combination of being short and slow, so I was no star, but stuck it out. I took my lumps, and I’m probably a better person for it. But I didn’t play until 7th grade because my mom wouldn’t let me. My neighbor played little league football, and I envied the hell out of him. (Side note: she also wouldn’t let me play the drums, and I still have deep seeded issues from that.)

In my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few NFL coaches, and I’ve had some tell me that they think flag football is a better way to teach young kids the necessary skills for football. I’ve followed that advice and Boy #1 has played flag for three seasons now. The coaches were right: his skills have gotten much better without having to worry about all the equipment, getting smashed and having such a fantastic coach (I’d do a smiley face here if I didn’t loathe them). My original plan was to go with the 7th-grade rule, but now I’m having second thoughts.

There are reasons for my second thoughts. The first being that when your kid wants something so bad, it’s tough not to try to give it to him/her if you can. You want them to be happy. The second is that our local youth football program has such a great partnership with the high school and the community. The third reason is: most kids growing up today are soft. The discipline, concentration, and determination it takes to play football pays off in other parts of their life as well.

Boy #1’s mom is terrified for either of our boys to play football. I have tried to put her at ease by telling her that tackle football is not for most normal people. You have to be a little crazy to actually excel. Smashing into people (and getting smashed) is not an activity that comes naturally to most of us and a large percentage quit soon after boiling their first mouthpiece. When I started playing in 7th grade, we had something like 75 kids try out, and by 8th grade that number was cut in half. Let me tell you, getting the wind knocked out of you by some crazy bastard over and over again makes a guy rethink marching band.

We all start out the same way: we have these preconceived notions of what our kids will or will not do before they’re even born. You still hear them from people who don’t have kids or are expecting: my child will never: throw tantrums, play a violent sport, watch TV, eat sugar, play with his wee-wee … Then we have kids and everything changes.

You may love basketball, but your child might be short, can’t dribble and hates wearing shorts because they chafe the inside of his thighs. He might love to swim, dance or design dresses. You just don’t know. But one thing I do know: keep him/her from doing what they love, and you will regret it.  A buddy of mine is still pissed that his mom never let him play football, and he still brings it up (with fire in his eyes) 30 years later. Not to mention, having to tell your 6th-grade buddies you can’t do something because, and I quote, “my mom won’t let me” is a recipe for disaster. I’ve lived that nightmare.

What about you? Will you or do you let your kids play tackle football? Or is it just too dangerous?

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  1. Hi Craig – we said HS for son #1. He asked in middle school; but wasn’t too dissapointed when we said ‘no’. He is so excited to start this next year. He has a camp one week out of school and it is all he can talk about. Wants us to puchase his shoes now [no way – feet are still growing a size a month]. This was the advice we had from The Kaz of the Seattle Seahawks. Next year I will be the mom in the stands, closing her eyes, and praying for a win!

  2. Hi Craig – There are less dangerous sports than football….and hey yes marching band can be very demanding. My kids went to a performing arts high school – nobody ended up in the hospital while competing in band/dance/orchestra/or choir competition. The same lessons of competition were taught without all the physical bumps, bruises, and concussions that will haunt your body later in life. What would a USC football game be without the band playing TUSK?! Life is a game that can be played many ways….not just by playing sports.

  3. I hope I have the guts to let my son do what he wants. My wife and I have a lot of time before we have to worry about it. I know now that I would let him, I also know my wife would be a lot like yours in hoping that he finds music more to his liking.

    I, myself, went the musical route. I look back and I think it took me further than my bean pole frame would have taken me in sports. I was able to travel and compete in 38 states between two summers and end my musical “career” directing a half time show in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. My older brother who was very into sports laughed that with all the work he did with his sports, he was never able to be on the video screen at the Rose Bowl.

  4. First of all — let me just say that I am pro-band. You’re talking to the 2nd chair tenor sax in Capital High School’s first ever marching band. I just used band as the other end of the extreme. Every kid should play some kind of sport AND play a musical instrument. Music is a huge part of our lives with the kids already trying guitar, piano and the violin. Both sports and music help develop kids in different ways — it should never be one or the other. Ask any adult who ever played an instrument as a kid — every one regrets ever quitting.

    WC – That is awesome that you had that experience and it’ll be a great thing to pass down. That’s a big deal. I just wish the Rose Bowl had turned out a little differently. As we get older we all tend to gravitate to what we do well … hopefully.

    Kim – College football would not be the same without the band, they are a huge part of the experience. I hope my kids end up having the same passion for music. I checked on the most injuries and it went: Baskeball, bicycling, cheer leading, and then football. Not sure you can really call cheer leading a sport though …

    Cheryl – I had no idea that football was in your future. It’s really different for everyone. I do know that when you’re big and fast you can almost start whenever you want, but if you’re smaller — the coach pretty much disregards you until you give him a reason not to.

  5. HEY…..wait a minute – if Poker is considered a sport (anything on ESPN is a sport according to my husband) – then certainly Cheer leading is most definitely sport!!!! LOL !!!

  6. I’ve always said that if you can have a cocktail and smoke a cigarette while doing it, then it isn’t a sport. But ESPN has definitely made a sport our of poker, bowling, and even curling.

  7. Of course you have to let him play! It’s a right of passage! It’s comradery. It’s team work. It’s sacrifice, dedication, commitment. It’s learning that even though you show up everyday and work you may still not get what you want, that life doesn’t always work the way we want. It’s a life lesson.

    Both of my sons played youth football, then high school football. Both became starters and team captains. One played junior college ball and then got a scholarship to an NAIA college in Oklahoma. The other is joining the Marine Corp. No, not all players are that successful but it doesn’t detract from the experience.

    Yes, kids get bumps and bruises playing football. They also get them riding bikes, roller bladding, skate boarding, falling off of swings and can get a swollen lip from a tuba or a broken ankle from a fall during cheer leading practice.. It’s life. Football teaches them to get up, shrug it off and keep moving.

    It’s also a very proud moment to watch your son go through the experience and have it in common. At some point you have to let him go and make his way a bit on his own. Football is a great way to start.

  8. I went throught the same circumstances with my son.

    He is 8 now and has been asking me for the last 2 years to play tackle football. I hesistated with the decision but finally allowed him to play this year at age 8. Let me tell you I am a huge football fan and love the sport but I wasn’t sure he was ready physically. But decided to allow him because the last 2 years we have been playing flag football and the sport comes naturally to him. He has a nose for the football and a natural agression.

    So we have been practicing for a month now and we have had our ups and downs. But we are about to begin the season and he is the starting Defensive Tackle for his team.

    But beyond football he showed me what kind of character he has and for that I could not be more proud of him. He was recruited by the coach to be the starting DE. A couple of weeks into practice he lost his starting spot do to a lack of desire (as the coach put it). He worked his way back and earned a starting spot.

    It is not an easy sport and can be harsh but I believe that lesson of working hard, dedication, perseverance

  9. Totally agree. Football is the one sport that really stresses discipline — especially because of the safety issues. It also really helps toughen the kids up because as we all know – they’re soft these days.

    Thanks for the comments.

  10. I have a 10 year son who is beginning his 3rd year of flag football. He has been identified by one former D1 college player and a former NFL quarterback as having the raw skills and mind to become a very good quarterback. The whole concussion business worries me, partly because he got a concussion when he fell from a rope-swing when he was 7. He is very good in basketball and gets the team benefits from playing that sport, and but he is not “special player” like in football. He also plays the drums. He loves both sports and wants to play tackle next year. So I hear voices from both sides. One side telling me they would never let their kid be prey to those kind of serious dangers they don’t care what kind of potential he has, others saying, “your kid has a gift and could be on a college gridiron one day loving it.” He seems so young for me to be stressing about it this.

  11. The irony: I’m a former rugby player and current youth rugby coach, and I’m very hesitant about letting my son – who is a rugger, at 7 years of age – play football. The problem is Pop Warner coaching, and the lack of training I’ve seen among youth football coaches. In rugby, coaches MUST be trained and certified by USA Rugby before they’re allowed to work with kids, and the first thing we teach young players is not how to tackle, but how to BE tackled. Padding in rugby is minimal (some players do wear shoulder pads, but they’re compressible foam and not the hard plastic variety, as is the headgear that players have the option of wearing) and so it’s crucial to teach kids how to fall properly and use their muscles to absorb impact. Rugby is also much more physically demanding than football – adult players can expect to run an average of 5 miles during a game, whereas American football players run an average of 200 yards. Consequently, the average rugger is usually in much better shape than his American football playing counterpart, and that is a key factor in reducing injuries. Football coaches teach one thing: hit, hit, hit, and players rely on equipment – and not skills or conditioning – to avoid injury. And intentionally or not, the helmet – which is supposed to provide protection – becomes a weapon. Consequently, the instances of concussion are much higher in football.

  12. I just had a discussion with a co-worker who asked if my 2nd grader was going to play football next year. I said, “He’s 7,” and she said that’s when they start and she was going to make her son (also 7 yrs. old) play. I said there is no way a 7 yr. old should be playing tackle football. I’ve always been against the young age that kids start competitive sports. For me, it’s not an issue of whether a kid wants to play or not. I just don’t think kids this young have the stamina, body control, or maturity to understand how to play a sport correctly. I know there are some kids that are natural-born athletes but in my experience they are an exception to the rule. I think it’s a good idea to expose children to different sports, but having 7 year olds putting on pads and helmets seems to be ridiculous to me. There is a proper way to block, tackle, run, etc. and kids these age are just too young to teach this to. I didn’t start playing competitive sports until I started soccer at the age of 9. In fact, I think that was AYSO’s youngest age group at the time. Our local little league baseball started when a kid was 10. I’m in favor of giving a child time to mature a bit and gain control over their body before throwing them out on a football field.

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