Banning anything in a supposedly free society is always difficult.

Banning youth football raises many issues that can cause great concern. Maybe the biggest for those who think all is fine with youth football is that some think the sport will die if kids are not allowed to play tackle football–until junior high.

The concern I have is if you continue to allow young kids to play a violent game such as football, more and more serious injuries will mount. Football could come under scrutiny that could lead to an already softening society to actually ban the game as a whole. Today, I am going to look at the biggest problems facing youth football and if they can be solved.

Lack of quality coaches and a win at all cost mentality

Football is an inherently a violent game. Just because someone played high school football, and watched it on TV, does not make a person capable of coaching a violent game. The kids have to be properly trained. At the youth level, pretty much all coaches are untrained. They are parents or volunteers who make there living as plumbers, contractors, and factory workers. Their expertise is not coaching football.

Would you allow your plumber to teach your son English? Of course not, no offense to plumbers, maybe some could teach English well, but the large majority could not.

The first time I coached football was at the peewee level in the early 1990s. I was fresh out of college. I’ll be the first person to admit that I should not have been coaching kids to play football. I have since coached for 30 years at the high school and professional level. I realize I had no clue what I was doing until I started coaching at a higher level.

In 1992, the community where I coached was in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Our big rival was South Dearborn. I coached a 7-9-year-old team and I went to watch the final regular season game between a very good South Dearborn team and a mediocre Lawrenceburg team. South Dearborn had a big lead and was taking a knee as time expired on the game clock, but with a few seconds left, Lawrenceburg called a timeout. I wondered what was going on. I found out after the ball was snapped. Lawrenceburg sent their biggest players charging through the line-directly at the South Dearborn quarterback, who was trying to take a knee. A group of Lawrenceburg players blasted him as hard as they could. The result of the play was a broken arm for the South Dearborn player. You cannot go much lower than that.

I saw a lot of similar things happen over the next couple of years. I watched coaches cheat so players would make weight. I know of coaches that changed birth certificates, you name it and it happened!

I do believe there are some good men out there that coach Pee Wee football and have the kids best interests at heart. But we also know that a win at all cost mentality exists among a lot of these coaches. Even the most well-meaning coaches can get competitive and do something they know they shouldn’t. A lot of these men get into sports to coach their own kids. That’s not a good enough reason when you don’t know what you’re doing.

The improper teaching of coaches and not enough on-site medical care

To solve all of these coaching problems, the NFL has come up with USA Football’s Heads Up program – which includes a certification course for coaches, “created by football experts and health professionals,” to teach kids the “safe” way to play the sport.

FUN FACT: If you complete the course, you get a discount on your insurance if one of your players loses an arm. I kid you not. Even though they shouldn’t need insurance if they play football the correct way, right? The course cost 25 dollars to take because we all know the NFL need’s the money.  They are currently helping to take care of all the retired players that need help! (That was sarcasm)

I took the course a few years ago. You’d have to be a moron to fail. They actually make it really easy to cheat, and if you somehow fail you can take it immediately over and over again until you pass it!

Let’s talk about the concussion video portion of the course. I bet the whole reason this certification system was devised was to address the concussion issue. If you send little Bobby out onto that field, you want to know that your coach won’t let him get his brain pounded into mush, right? This is why USA Football dedicates a whopping ten minutes to head injury awareness. The video is tastefully narrated by Chris Nowinski, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Strangely enough, the phrase “CTE” is never uttered within this portion of the course. Also, while every other video concentrates on the game of football when you get to the concussion section, it suddenly becomes about ALL youth sports. There are stock images of basketball players and lacrosse players and hockey players. And there’s even a slide noting that concussions can happen OUTSIDE of sports. Concussions are everywhere, guys! It’s definitely not just a football thing.

Since we’ve established that “Heads Up Football” is a waste of time, let’s look at on-site medical care. Most pee wee football programs do not have an ambulance on site. Some do but the majority of youth programs do not have the money for that or an on-site doctor. Those two things should automatically mean no tackle football is to be played.

Proof that kids 12 and under should not be getting hit in the head 

Is there any proof that this is dangerous? Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center provides the most powerful evidence to date that playing contact football before age 12 may cause brain changes throughout life. “This study adds to growing research suggesting that incurring repeated head impacts through tackle football before the age of 12 can lead to a greater risk for short- and long-term neurological consequences,” said Michael Alosco, the study’s lead author, a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine.

Robert Stern, a BU professor who is one of the study’s senior authors, said, “I’m at a point where I feel comfortable saying that, based on logic and common sense and the growing totality of the research, I don’t think kids should be playing tackle football.’’

The new study says the consequences include behavioral and mood impairments such as depression and apathy. The study follows previous findings that brain damage can result from repetitive head impacts, regardless of whether the blows cause concussions. That’s important a blow to the head does not have to result in a concussion to do permanent damage to a child’s brain.

The findings follow a BU study in 2015 that focused only on former NFL players. In that study, those who began participating in tackle football before age 12 were found to have worse memory and mental flexibility than those who waited to play until they were at least 12. In my experience of interviewing well over 100 former NFL players, the guys that had trouble were the ones that played youth football. The important thing to consider is this I have interviewed multiple NFL Hall of Famers and pro bowlers who did not start playing football until high school. None of those guys are suffering the debilitating effects of football like the ones who played at a young age.

Neurologists say the brain undergoes a stage of peak maturation between the ages of 9 and 12 — a period when children who play tackle football experience a median of 252 head impacts per season, according to a separate survey.

Ask yourself if the risk is worth the reward?

No matter what a delusional parent may think, the chances of an NFL career for little Bobby are almost non-existent. And for that matter, a full ride to a Division 1 school is a pipe dream.  So why have your child go through the abuse of football at such a young age? Is it really worth the risk? I know you coach your son and think you know what you’re doing. Sadly you probably don’t. I coach a large number of quarterbacks and offensive lineman privately. I spend most of my time trying to fix what the player was taught wrongly to do by his youth coach. I get excited whenever I get a kid who has not played yet because I don’t have to undo what has already been done.

Solution?

Flag football until the child reaches junior high. At all levels of football put the offensive lineman in two-point stances. I have actually found that in today’s offenses the two-point stance is the preferred way to block. How about let’s actually train our middle school and high school coaches better. Let’s make sure we’re not moving youth coaches up with there sons. We’re not letting them become part of a high school staff just for the hell of it.

Let’s make sure the high school coaches aren’t there for a few thousand extra dollars.

They’re there for the right reasons.