On Sunday March 23rd I was part of two panel discussions on the season ending wrap up show for Esquire Network’s Friday Night Tykes television show, the show was called “Tackling Tykes”. Like any television show of this type, not all of the discussion aired on the show, about half of it did. I don’t think this is part of any grand conspiracy to harm the game, just the everyday process most shows go through to put out a watchable show.
I was on two segments with Mike Martz, Clinton Portis, Brandon Jacobs and Dr Ameer. I’m just going to present the questions I commented on that didn’t make the cut. All of the The answers are all by memory, I don’t have a transcript of the taping.
Is the concussion problem a real problem or a perception problem?
It’s both. USA Football came out with a study that found that about 4% of youth football players get concussions, that means the vast majority of kids, 96% don’t get concussions. With the huge emphasis on concussions these days, anything that is even close to a concussion is being diagnosed as one. There is no incentive for Doctors to be anything less than over cautious, which means that 4% number is probably a little high. I have no problem with that, 4% is too high. Can we get that 4% number to 2% or 1%? I think so.
As to perception, yes that is a huge problem. Lots of people think that 30% of youth players get concussions, well the number is about a tenth of that perception. Lots of people think all these NFL guys are dying off in their 50s. The truth is the NFLPA did a study on 3.439 former players that showed the life expectancy of the NFL player is much higher than that of the average US male. Most people don’t know that.
How do you solve for the concussion problem in youth football?
Anything you do has some risk, so nothing anyone does can make the game concussion proof. Heck there’s danger in driving back and forth to practice and games in your car. But with proper coach training and practice approaches teams can have fewer concussions. My personal teams have had just 1 diagnosed concussion in the last 25 years I’ve coached. Of course we do a tremendous amount of progression based form tackling and fits that gets our kids muscle memory for tackling in a very safe position that keeps their heads out of contact. We add to that by practicing without our helmets on for about half of every practice, combined, that has worked for us. While most youth football leagues have mandatory coach training or clinics, maybe it’s time for all of them to have it.
Would you let your son play youth football?
Absolutely, I have one who is a Senior in High School, he played from 2nd grade all the way through High School. My youngest is 7 years old and he can’t wait to play.
How important is winning in youth football?
Winning is important, winning and losing are part of life. Winning validates you are doing the right things. It shouldn’t be the only or highest focus in youth football, but there’s nothing wrong with getting kids in the habit of doing what they have to do in practice to be in put in a position to win games. Winning is just the by-product of doing everything else right.
What were the most egregious error you saw from the Friday Night Tykes Coaches?
First off, each of these coaches did both positive and negative things. Some just did a lot more negative than positive. The worst one had to be Charles telling his kids to target the heads of their opponents. You just can’t do that, when combined with him telling one of his players to tee off on a defenseless Center to “set the tone of the game” was awful.
What advice would you have for the coaches of Friday Night Tykes?
Take a step back and rethink what your mission should be, why you coach. Work with some other successful coaches that you respect to come up with a mission statement. Then work on a plan to execute that mission by investing some time and effort into becoming a better coach. That may mean attending clinics, buying books or DVDs or even getting mentored by someone who can help you become a better coach. The specifics need to include; no more cursing in front of players, safer tackling and practice methods, less space in your drills, keeping the head out of tackling and a refocus on the kids fundamentals instead of obsessing on end product goals. Emphasizing the process goals of getting better fundamentally every practice as a player and person rather than winning championships. If you take care of the process goals, the winning and championships will take care of themselves.
I would like to add that the FNT crew were very professional and did an excellent job on logistics every step of the way. The host was a real pro along with everyone we came in contact with for the show. We had a youth football coaches clinic we did on that Saturday in Boston. We flew Omaha- Boston on Friday. After 7 hours on my feet doing the clinic on Saturday, we flew 6 1/2 hours that night to LA and got to the hotel and in bed at about 3:00 am. The FNT people kept the TYFA coaches and us in different hotels, different green rooms, we never mixed. We here at Winning Youth Football sincerely appreciate FNT and 411 Productions for giving us the opportunity to present the youth football coaching perspective to the show, they didn’t have to do that. They treated us with respect and great care and we appreciate that.