Eight years ago, my wife Sheryl and I jumped right into the parental waters of youth football headfirst. Bradley had been playing soccer in the fall, but it was clear he needed a sport that was more suited to his personality and aggressiveness. We registered Bradley for instructional peanut football in the local youth football program. Eight years later, he is still playing and is getting ready to make the jump to playing in middle school.
It’s been a ride that Bradley has loved, and to be honest we as parents have loved watching. Over eight years, we’ve seen Bradley grow as a football player, learn the fundamentals of the game, experience what teamwork and discipline is all about, and win a couple of championships. We’re a football family that loves watching football and going to games and we’re a family that now has two boys playing the sport with Jared now participating in flag football. Jared loves football and has found a niche playing flag. He’s having fun, learning about the game, and has made some great friends.
But let’s face it. Eight years is a long time.
So much has happened in the world of football over the last eight years that has a lot of parents asking many questions before they fill out that registration form. If you’re a parent who is thinking about allowing your child to play football, you should ask a lot of questions and do your homework, whether it’s tackle or flag because you want your child to be in the best and safest program possible.
A youth football parent needs to be informed.
You know what? Parents should ask a lot of questions because just like anything else in life, knowledge is good. When it comes to youth football, you need to be informed as a parent on a number of different topics because your child’s best interests are what’s most important. Once you decide your child is going to play, tackle or flag, you have a right to do your homework to ensure you have all your “I”’s crossed and “T”’s dotted.
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The first thing you need to do is pick a program for your child to play in.
The best way to do that is to ask family and friends for suggestions. If they already have a child who is playing, they can be a good resource to help you make a decision. Many times, a local program will send flyers home with kids at school with information, so calling and speaking to an administrator is a good idea. You want to make sure your child is playing in a program with a good reputation in town.
If you’re signing your child up to play youth tackle football, the first and best thing you can do in your research is to find out if the program is associated with USA Football and instructing the kids on Heads Up Football. There are other factors to consider like location of games, practice schedule, and if your child has friends in the program, but your first question to a program should be “are you affiliated with USA Football?”
Researching a program for flag football is also very important.
You want to make sure the league is properly run and well-organized. You should ask family, friends, and neighbors who are familiar with the programs. In our community, you can see signs posted for a number of different flag football entities, but when it came time for Jared to play, we received an overwhelming consensus about one particular program that was also the same organization that runs the little league in which our kids play.
For tackle football, you want to make sure your child is wearing the best and safest equipment possible.
Check with the program to make sure their helmets go through a reconditioning process and that the other equipment distributed like shoulder pads and pants are in good shape. Most programs make equipment available with registration, but you can also decide to buy your child better equipment than what you feel the program is offering with registration. When you bring your child in to pick up equipment, look it over and ask questions. If you’re not 100 percent satisfied with it, then looking around for your child’s own gear is a good idea.
Equipment quality is important in flag football as well.
Programs require your child to wear a mouthpiece, and they generally offer one to you with registration. Just like in tackle football, go to a local sporting goods store and buy a top-quality mouthpiece for your child. When your child goes to the first flag football practice, look at the belts with flags that the program is providing. Make sure they’re in good condition and take good care of them if the program gives it to you to take home for the season.
Parents should also familiarize themselves with the coaches who volunteer their time at the program you are considering. See if you know anyone who has kids who have played for the same coaches. Look into the league that your child’s team will be playing in. Where are the other teams? How far away will road games be? You should also look into the program’s fundraising efforts. Can parents volunteer? Are they receptive to ideas?
Youth football is a great experience for parents and kids, but you have to make sure you ask all of the appropriate questions before submitting that registration form.
Peter Schwartz is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network, FOX News Headlines 24/7 and WCBS 880 Radio in New York. His older son Bradley plays youth tackle football for the Super Bowl Champion East Meadow Rams on Long Island while his younger son Jared plays flag football for the LSW Giants. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.