Well, another football season has come to an end for my son, definitely a little earlier than we would have liked.  This time, though, it also marks the end of my football coaching career.  Since my son first walked onto the practice field as a second-grader, till he left the field for the final time in youth football as a sixth-grader, I have been there right along with him, fighting the heat in the late summer and the cold in the fall, and feeling the joys of a hard-fought victory and the lows of a disappointing loss.  As he prepares to start playing for the middle school team next year- where parent volunteers are no longer necessary- I have to prepare as well for my new role as well: just a fan.

A part of me is actually quite excited for this;  coaching youth football is a tremendous time investment.  For the last few years, it has been at least three days a week of practice, beginning in early August and running through the middle of October.  Then the games- at least eight weekends events, sometimes late Saturday under the lights or sometimes 8:00 Sunday morning, depending on the whims of the schedule-maker. Don’t forget scouting the opponent; more often than not I could be found on a given weekend watching a future opponent’s game, copying down their tendencies and schemes.  Then I would spend an hour or two writing a scouting report for the other coaches and the kids.

But it was an amazing experience too, and there is so much that I will miss.  Seeing my son and all his friends learn the game, to grow as athletes and as young men, was a pleasure.  To share in the camaraderie of a football team, which is unique in all of sports, with the players and other coaches was a gift.  Football is the ultimate team sport: it is eleven boys working together to accomplish a common goal.   No other sport is so reliant on teamwork for success, no other sport demonstrates the harsh lesson that  your teammate on either side of you or in front of you or behind you is depending on you to do your job.  My son enjoyed hearing that he played the same positions as his father once did (and that  he never fumbled three times in a game like I did) ; my heart swelled a little bit each time I saw him play, no matter the outcome.    And I got to spend a few extra hours a week with him, sometimes laughing together at some funny story from practice, sometimes listening to him vent some frustrations, and sometimes even just driving together in silence after a tough game.   Those will always be the moments I cherish the most, not any particular win for the team, not any tackles or runs by my son.  Just spending time together, father and son, coach and player.

Occasionally, someone will ask me about football and the recent revelations about concussions- “How can you let your son play football?”  In the end, it was an easy decision.   My son has been playing youth football for five years, and the number of plays that I have seen that have resulted in concussions  can be counted on one hand.   Players at the youth levels are simply not fast nor large enough yet to deliver blows like we see weekly on NFL broadcasts.  Strange things happen, and concussions occur, but they also occur in every sport, every time kids get together and play.  Studies have shown that concussions are almost as frequent in youth soccer, and my son’s only concussion thus far occurred in a basketball game.  There is danger in any sport, and I have seen first-hand how safety conscious youth football organizations are, particularly the Hudson Hawks, who my son played for.  Proper technique, keeping the helmet out of the play, is constantly instructed and reinforced.  And any time there is contact that looks like there is potential for a concussion, coaches will stop the action, remove the player, and make sure he is able to return to practice or the game.  Safety is the first priority.

So, as my time as a youth football coach comes to an end, I can confidently say that I will look back and always fondly remember these past five years. I would urge anyone with the desire and the knowledge to help out with youth coaching when you can- there is always a need, and although it might be cliche, you WILL learn as much or more from the kids as they will learn from you. That being said,  I look forward to just sitting in the stands next year, with no responsibilities,  “retired” from coaching my son and his teammates, and being able to concentrate on my son playing a sport that he loves.  Being able to be a fan, and not a coach.   His biggest fan.  Always.

Dr. K.



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