With all the noise coming out of the NFL in recent weeks regarding domestic violence, child abuse, and intense criticism of how Roger Goodell is or is not doing his job, the New York Times story on the NFL’s own internal report which states that one in three NFL players are guaranteed a midlife crisis (that goes far beyond dating younger women), has been all but ignored. One in three football players will experience significant brain injury.
Head and neck injuries are what parents thinking about letting their children play tackle football should be thinking about, talking about, and demanding answers about, from any coach presenting himself as a worthy custodian for their child’s introduction to tackle football.
Young boys must be taught to play football without leading with or lowering their heads. Young players must be drilled over and over and over with Heads Up Football skills until that skill set becomes muscle memory and second nature.
This is beginning to happen and the NFL’s Heads Up Football program is a good start, but it is not being monitored or practiced enough by youth football organizations. Coaches and parents are engaged in an unspoken collusion to rush through the technical (and often boring) tackling and blocking components of the game and into the actual playing. This is the equivalent of sending young soldiers into battle without basic training. No tactics for survival.
Young players need to learn how to NOT use their heads. They need to practice this over and over and over. This practice should be the main focus of a young player’s football experience, not throwing passes and scoring touchdowns.
If you are a parent and your kid is playing youth football, demand dialogue with the coaches about Heads Up Football. Ask them how they plan to teach it and how much practice time they will assign to safe tackling and blocking skills. Ask them how they will enforce and discipline your sons when they lower or lead with their heads.
This is really important. If you don’t believe me, ask Chris Canales and his Gridiron Hero Foundation.
Ask coaches often and ask them without fear. If they can’t answer, you must do what I have reluctantly done – pull your son out of tackle football and put a lacrosse stick in his hands.
Peter Berg is the writer and director of Friday Night Lights.