Breaking In The Rookies
Breaking in the Rookies:
By Tim Enger of Football Alberta
As published in the Wideside - winter 2007
- Someone is going to hit your kid - and it's OK. "I can't believe they could do that to my child," is a popular refrain from some parents who call us up with concerns over tackling and hitting in a normal game. It's true, to someone who has raised their kids to not hit others the action at a minor football game can come as quite a shock. It can be worse if they watch a practice where certain "pit" drills are designed to accentuate contact. But, it's OK. The equipment that the players wear is probably the best protective equipment in sport and a great deal of time is spent by coaches on how to give and receive a hit properly. Football has its fair share of injuries, but no more than most other sports such as hockey, soccer, skiing, basketball, etc. We wouldn't offer this sport to kids if it was a true hazard to their health and we have over 100 years of history to back that up. Really - it's OK.
- Your kid may never see the ball - and it's OK. If you come from other ball or puck based, goal oriented sports you're probably used to the fact that at some point your child will touch the basketball, puck or soccer ball. With a limited number of people on the court, field or ice essentially doing the same athletic movements it's inevitable that at some point there is going to be contact between your child and the implement of play. It's a slam dunk guarantee in baseball where everyone, regardless of their position, gets a turn at bat. In football - not so much. Now, there is nothing sinister about this fact, it's just reality. Of the 24 positions on a field (12 on offense and 12 on defense) at any time during a game - only 7 of them are designed to carry or receive the ball. Plus, at younger levels anyone tagged with a "receiver" position is infinitely less likely to get any love from the ball than someone with a "runningback" position. This does not mean that the other positions are useless or not important. That runningback will be going nowhere unless the offensive line does it's thing and does it well, and unless everyone with a defensive position works hard, your team is going to get a lot of points scored against it. In short, football has many positions that are so disparate that we need all sorts of body types in order to play this game. That is the beauty of our sport, but please understand that more than 2/3's of the players on the field are not supposed to get the ball unless a fumble or interception is at hand. Your child may be one of them but he/she has an important job to do to ensure the team's success, so don't worry if they "get no touches" during a game. Really - it's OK.
- Equal playing time is a myth - and it's OK. I know that statement may seem cold and cruel in today's "fun first" world of youth sports, but it's also the truth, so put away those stop watches and understand why this happens. Coaches will bend over backwards at the younger levels to make sure that everyone sees the field for a significant period of time. But, unless you have 48 kids exactly on the roster who fit perfectly into each position it will be impossible for each kid to play exactly one half. Usually minor teams will have 25-35 players so someone is going to wind up playing the whole game while another may see only a half of play or less. Plus, you may have a scarcity of large bodies and plethora of tiny fast kids which means there might be no back ups along a lines of play while wide receiver might be three deep on the depth chart. To make matters more unsettling for parents, particularly with a hockey background, there are no "shifts" in football. Once an offense is on the field they get to stay on as long as they are making 1st downs or until they score. This could be less than a minute or the majority of time in a particular quarter. That quarter might also be the one in which your child was scheduled to play linebacker for that team and spent most of it on the bench waiting. This can be a source of frustration if you do not understand that there is nothing a coach can do about that, and that he has the best intentions to get your child some significant playing time but the game might not work out that way. Relax, it may go in your favor next week when your child's team's defense in on the field all day (which isn't necessarily a good thing). Some leagues have built in equal time scenarios for the youngest kids (ie. at the Atom level in Calgary it's 10 plays for your team then 10 plays for the other), but most don't, so if you see your child playing a regulation game and want to judge playing time - your in for a long frustrating day. Playing time is just one of many things a coach has to coordinate in a game. Trust that he'll do his best and just relax and enjoy the game. Really - it's OK.
- You can't rotate positions - and it's OK. "My kid would like to try quarterback this week." Nothing can send shivers up the spine of a minor football coach more than hearing that from the father or mother of one of his offensive linemen. And, it happens more than you think. People don't usually start their kids in football until later on in a youth sport context (ie. 10 years or older), whereas they may have had their son or daughter in soccer or hockey since they were 4. At the youngest levels of other sports it's quite common for kids to play right wing one game then defenseman the next, or even to go from catcher to shortstop between innings. That's because even though there are noticeable differences in those positions they are essentially doing the same thing (ie. moving a puck or catching a baseball) and are similar enough to allow kids to experiment with most or all of the positions while learning the basic skills of the game.