Saving Our Sport

Let me preface this by saying I love football.

I loved playing football.

I love coaching football.

I love practicing football… did as a player… do as a coach.

But…. I am truly worried about the future of our sport… for a number of reasons. As I wrote about last year (History Lesson) our game is under siege… and the battle has not lessened over the past year.

  • Concussions…
  • Decreasing numbers of participants…
  • Bad behavior (leading to bad press) by student/ professional athletes…

Here are some things to think about.

I can’t believe I am saying this… and it may be considered blasphemous, but I will just go ahead and get this out first. The 25 summer contact days allowed in our state (Missouri) is too much. By judiciously using the days, combining them with summer strength and conditioning days (which don’t count for your 25) a coach can effectively add three months to football “season”.

We are talking about a season… with pads… and practice… and scrimmages… and contact… that now lasts nearly seven months!

I think it is too much for the players, too much for parents, and too much for the coaches …who often don’t get paid any additional stipend for their summer work.

When you multiply that summer commitment required by students and their families for players who are multi sport athletes, it becomes an even crazier schedule… especially in those schools where each sport uses all of their 25 contact days.

We tell our athletes that we want them to be multi-sport athletes, but this model makes it nearly impossible.

On the same subject (25 summer contact days) let me just say that the MSHSAA required acclimatization period (first three days of practice helmets only) is obsolete. Our kids can practice nearly all summer with pads, but then when practice “officially” starts they have to go back to helmets only… it makes no sense.

safe footballThe emphasis on concussions and head injuries increases daily.   It is a hot-button issue at all levels. It is changing the nature of our sport, and we as coaches will need to adapt our coaching and teaching styles.

I am not sure what the best solutions are for this problem, but here are some thoughts…

First, I think that we, as coaches, need to be more proactive regarding these issues….

We need to effectively communicate to parents, administrators, community, and media:

  1. The value of our sport, football, and how we teach life lessons, character, healthy lifestyle, and leadership to our student-athletes. We teach more than X’s and O’s. If you have not seen them, here are a couple of excellent pieces by John Harbaugh of the Ravens and Chris Creighton, head coach at Eastern Michigan.
  1. We care about the safety of our athletes. We teach how to play the game safely. We are trained to recognize the symptoms of concussion and head injuries, and we will not put your child at risk.
  1. We have the best equipment. We recondition and recertify our equipment each year and replace when needed.

I think the tough, challenging, part of this situation is how to strike a balance between teaching what needs to be taught before you line up and play Friday night, and how to keep your athletes as safe as possible

Football is a physical game… that is part of what makes it a great sport. Your players have to know how to tackle, block, hit, and be hit, in order to play safely and play well. It may take some out-of-the-box thinking and ideas to teach them these skills and give them enough reps and time to be successful on Friday night.   I wrote about some ideas in these posts, Adaptation, and The Highest Quality Mental Reps.

I don’t have the answers, but I know collectively as a group… we as coaches will find the answers in order to keep our sport healthy and strong.

Thanks to PrepsKC.com for featuring this post (and my posts weekly during the season) on their site.  If you get a chance, check them out for great content regarding football in the Metro KC area!

Good luck to everyone this season, I am looking forward to watching your teams compete!

You Can Do More… your brain is lying to you… Don’t Believe It!

Jeff Floyd – youcandomore1@yahoo.com

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2 thoughts on “Saving Our Sport

  1. Warning! Long Winded Rant Ahead!

    In The United States Marine Corps We Always Use The Phrase Give Me 125%. Outsiders That Hear This Look At Us Like We Are Crazy (Not That They Don’t Already Think We Are Crazy As It Is) But, We Say This Because Your Body Can Withstand 125% Of What Your Mind Tells You That You Can.

    Each Time You Press Past The Point You Thought Was Your Maximum, You Create A New Maximum That You Can Achieve. It Is The Very Basis Of Performance And Weight Training Itself. It Is The Principle That Superior Athletes And Armed Forces / Special Forces / Tactical Teams Throughout The World Live By Each And Everyday.

    With Better Equipment Today Than In Days Of Old, You Would Think That Athletes Would Suffer Less Injuries, Not More Of Them. It Is My Personal Belief That More Injuries Occur Today Than Ever Before, Largely Due To The Increased Regulations Placed On Every Sport. We Are Making Softer, Less Prepared, Athletes That Are Not Able To Withstand Higher Levels Due To These New Regulations. It Is The Very Reason That We Often Do Not Have The Best Athletes In World, At World Level Competition Such As Olympics And The Such. It Is The Reason That More And More Other Countries Are Catching Up And Surpassing Us. They Are Quite Simply More Willing To Push The Envelope Of Human Endurance Now Than We Are. With The Better Equipment And Increased Technology They Are Doing More (Not Less) Than Ever Before.

    As A Former Multi-Sport Athlete And United States Marine, I Shake My Head At The Complaints I Hear From Young Athletes And Parents Alike These Days; As I Competed At Higher Levels, Endured More, And Was Injured Less, During A Time Period That Had Worse Equipment, And Less Educated On Human Performance. The Days Before These Increased Regulations. We Did Two-A-Day And Three-A-Day Practices In Texas’ 110 Degree Heat With Humidity Far Exceeding Those Experienced Here In Missouri Without Suffering Heat Exhaustion / Heat Stroke ,And Without Our Parents Complaining About The Level Our Kids Were Being Pushed To. How? Using Common-Sense! Trusting Our Coaches To Know That It Is Hot Outside And They Are Grown Adults That Can Make Logical Decisions As To What The Limit Of His Players Are.

    In Football, We Hit With Fierceness, Leading With Our Face-Mask, Putting Them Strait Into The Numbers On The Front Of Our Opponents Jersey. We Did This Without Suffering Injuries Like I Witness Kids Suffering From Today. The Human Anatomy Has Not Changed, How We Approach Training Is What Has Changed. And, In My Opinion, Not For The Better To Spite Having Better Equipment. I Contribute This To The Fact That We Were Physically Stronger And More Prepared. We Started Weight Training The Second We Became Middle School Age, And We Specifically Worked On Neck Strength From Day One, So That We Could Hit Head First Without Injuring Our Necks. And In Reality I Knew No One Personally That Suffered A Concussion Or Severe Neck Injury During This Time Period.

    In The Summer, And Throughout The Year, The Weight Gym And All The Athletic Facilities Were Open At Our Middle Schools And High Schools All Day For Student Athletes To Show Up And Workout On Their Own If They Wanted To. Their Was No Limit On How Much You Could Workout Or Practice. And, Equally Athletic Directors & Coaches Were Paid 12 Months A Year To Be Accessible To Those Athletes Whenever Needed. My Coach Sat In His Office 8 – 12 hours a day EVERY DAY Of The Week, Year Around. They Gave Advice On What Weight Program To Follow, Monitored Safety And Progress, Helped Athletes With What Skills To Work On Throughout The Year To Be Better Athletes, How To AVOID Injury, And, We Started Two-A-Day And/Or Three-A-Day Practices Half Way Through The Summer,

    And During The Season We Practiced Both Before School AND After. And, I Still Managed To Play Multiple Sports, Because Coaches Coordinated With Each Other So That If You Wanted To Play Multiple Sports You Could Because One Did Not Interfere Or Overlap With The Other. In Fact, All Athletes Weight Trained During The Same Time Period (It Created Competition Between The Various Sports And Created Camaraderie Among All Athletes At School Simultaneously). So, It Did Not Matter If You Were Playing Football, Basketball, Baseball,Wrestling, Soccer, Tennis, Volleyball, Golf, Or Whatever. Whatever Sport Was In Season At The Time, We All Worked Out Together. Then, The Individual Drill For Each Sports Were Run On Each Individual Field Respectively. This Also Kept The Hour You Did “Sports” The Same And Encouraged More Athletes To Compete In Multiple Sports. Any Overlap In Season Was Worked Out Among The Coaches, So That An Athlete Could Practice Football Monday, Wednesday, Friday One Week With Wrestling (Or Whatever) On Tuesday, Thursday. Then Flip It The Next Week. And, It Did Not Interfere One Ounce With The Team Or The Athletes Performance In Either Sport. We Had People That Managed To Be 5 Sport Athletes And Letter In Them All, As Well As Make All-American In All Or Most Of Them. And, Still End Up On The Honor Roll.

    We Managed To Do All Of This, Not To Mention We Managed To Get All Our Chores Done, Do All Our Homework, Get Plenty Of Rest And Recuperation, And Spend Quality Time With Our Family And Friends. In Fact, Most Of Us Still Had Other Activities / Hobbies We Participated In Both Recreational, As Well As Academic. Most Of Us Were Busy All Year Around, And There Was Not Time Left For Us To Get Into Any Kind Of Trouble Because We Had Goals And Those Goals Kept Us Busy Every Waking Hour. We Did All Of This Without Constant Complaints From Athletes Or Parents.

    I Hear Constant Complaining From Coaches, Schools, And Parents How They Can Not Seem To Get Enough High Caliber Athletes Able To Perform At Higher Levels, And Especially None That Are Multiple Sport Athletes. Some Schools Have Even Had New Organizations Formed To Supposedly Encourage The Creation Of Higher Caliber Athletes (Future This That Or The Other, Champions This That Or The Other, Elite This That Or The Other), But All Of Them Suffer From The Same Problem….TOO MANY REGULATIONS AND CODDLING. None Of Those “Future” Athletes Are Ever Going To Perform To Their Potential If We Hold Them Back. The Problem Isn’t That Athletics Don’t Start Early Enough….Because They Start Plenty Early Enough. The Problem Is That Their Are Too Many Regulations That Prevent Athletes From Fully Developing Their Bodies And Their Potential. In Fact, I Feel We Should GET OUT OF THEIR WAY And Watch What They Are Capable Of On Their Own. Kids Are Motivated Best By Competition And Peer-Pressure, Not By Coddling And “Positive Re-Enforcement”, But By Letting Them Obtain Their Full Potential Through Competition And Pulling Each Other Up. Nothing Motivates An Athlete More Than Looking At The Guy Next To Him Pushing Himself Harder Than They Are. They Will Step Up, If We Simply Step Out Of The Way.

    Personally I Feel As Though Athletes Were More Mentally And Physically Tough During The “Blood And Guts” Time Period. And, Fewer Of Us Were Overweight. And, If You Do Your Research, There Are Actually Statistics That Support What I Am Saying Here; Showing That As Time Progresses Kids Are Becoming Less Healthy, Less Active, And Less Able To Perform At Higher Levels, With Higher Percentages Of Injury And With More Athletes Dropping Out Of Both Sports And School Itself. Maybe It Is Just Me And My Perception Of The World Today. Maybe It Is The Old “I Walked 10 Miles To School In The Snow, Uphills, Both Ways” Syndrome That Old Folks Like Myself Eventually Suffer From. But Personally I Feel That Our Nation In General And The New Generations Are Growing Soft And Things Are Becoming Far Too Over-Regulated And Turned Into A Nanny State. I Wish Someone Would Be Brave Enough To Say To These Regulators What Most Of Us Are Thinking; Which Is That Once Coaches And Parents Are Informed And Educated On The Risks, Let Go And Let Us Judge For Ourselves What Is Best For Our Kids.

    I Know That This Ended Up Being Multiple Rants, All Wrapped Up In One Post. But I Am Passionate About Sports And What It Offers…..Particularly Kids Sports. And I Feel Like It Is Dying A Slow Death Of 1000 Cuts. Those Cuts Coming In The Form Of Regulations And Cutting Of Programs / Benefits. And, I Find It A Shame Since It Is So Easy To Fix. And, My Greatest Fear Is That One Day, School Athletics Will Be A Thing Of The Past. That Fear And Intimidation Will Have Delivered The Final Blow, And Schools Will Cower In Fear, Having Lost Both A Legacy And A Vital Teaching Tool. Don’t Let It Die Without A Fight…

    Just My Two Cents…If It Is Even Worth That

    Passionate Father And Parent

  2. Great post. Our youth football league is down 20% annually over EACH of the last three seasons. The media attention given to football injuries is the primary cause, of course. I understand that youth sports participation is down 30% overall compared to just 10 years ago. I wonder if there is a correlation between the negative publicity surrounding football and the decline in sports participation in general?

    Ironically, I recently read an article that explained that a young person that begins driving at 16 years old has a better chance of being severely injured in an automobile accident between the ages of 16 and 22 than a young athlete that plays football from the age of 5 through college football or the age of 22. Shall we stop issuing licenses until a person reaches the age of 22? Perhaps we just don’t let our children drive at all?

    Regarding the length (and overlap) of the high school sports seasons, I believe that the time commitment required of young athletes today is ridiculous. Families can’t even go on vacation anymore. It all starts at the youth level where there is no limit to the number of tournaments and leagues available. We foolishly fall into the trap of worrying that our children may lag behind in a given sport if they don’t commit to never ending sports seasons.

    The sad part…there is no solution and no end so long as private, for profit, organizations are driving the BUSINESS of youth sports.

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