Big Ten Conference head coaches discuss what football offers young athletes

By Samuel Teets | Posted 8/22/2022

Over the years, football has become a key part of American culture, especially in youth athletics. However, sometimes coaches, parents and their young athletes forget the value of football. It’s not about winning or losing at the youth level. Youth football presents an opportunity for children to develop and learn lessons they will apply in their everyday lives off the field while gaining friends and fitness. 

USA Football recently spoke with the Big Ten Conference’s 14 head football coaches at the conference’s annual football media days in Indianapolis about what football offers young athletes. Here are some of their responses:

“I think playing youth football is a great opportunity for young people to learn what it means to be on a team. The sport teaches what it means to do your part, make sacrifices, develop discipline and understand that the game is about more than yourself. Football is about figuring out a way to make everyone better, and the younger you start, the better.”

     --Jeff Brohm, Purdue University


“When you play football, it’s an opportunity to grow as a person. You learn values like hard work, dedication, teamwork and understanding how to overcome adversity if things don’t go your way. It’s important to learn how to handle challenges at a young age. Then there are the positives of scoring touchdowns, catching balls, throwing passes, blocking people, tackling, interceptions and the pageantry that goes with the game that brings the whole community together. That’s really special and unique to our game, especially youth football. There are different ways you can enter football, but as you go through the game, I think those shared experiences are what make being a football player special.”

     --Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern University


“Playing youth football is the first opportunity as a youngster to be a part of a team. I started playing pretty early and it was probably the first team sport that I played. Football is the closest thing to real life you experience at that age. You get knocked down, and you have to get back up. You can’t do it by yourself. It takes the guy to the left and to the right of you. Everybody works together. Those are some of the key things that I took away from playing football at a young age.”

     --Mike Locksley, University of Maryland


“I think football gives young people opportunities to really stretch their limits. In today’s society there’s just not as much of that physical activity that happens organically, but football offers that outlet. I think football is the greatest teacher for life. Whether it’s young people or older guys getting ready to enter adulthood, I think it’s a gift if young people can take part and really go through the process of building camaraderie with their teammates. Football is hard. Even at a young age, it’s hard. That’s okay. Not everything has to be easy. When a bunch of people are going through something hard together, the bonds that are created are special.”

     --Greg Schiano, Rutgers University


“The most basic thing is being part of a team. Kids learn how to do that in football, and they learn the same things in the classroom typically. They figure out how to get along with others and how to communicate. I think it’s healthy anytime you’re involved in something where everybody has a common goal and hopefully has a common understanding of how to achieve that goal. It’s something that will help young people be more productive as they get older.”

     --Kirk Ferentz, University of Iowa


“Some of my best memories of playing the game are from youth football. One of the things that really excites me about the future of the game is that so many young kids still love to play the sport. It teaches so many life lessons. The game of football is so much different from other sports. You’re constantly playing games if you play baseball, lacrosse, or basketball. With the game of football, you’re constantly preparing for that moment as a team. There’s a lot to be said for that preparation. There are just so many great learning opportunities along the way.”

     --Ryan Day, Ohio State University


“Youth football offers the same things that football provides at the high school level and the college level. There’s discipline involved. You have to show up at a certain time, stay the whole time, be on a team and communicate with each other. Those are some of the biggest essentials. You learn to build a callus, a level of toughness, a level of grit that I don’t think exists anywhere else when you’re a kid. I think it’s our last bastion of hope in any sport to build that toughness and grit in our young people.”

     --Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan