By Ori Shabazz
Special to AFRO

The weekend of Oct. 12 was a huge celebratory day throughout Maryland and Washington D.C. Morgan State University, Bowie State University, and Howard University all celebrated Homecoming throughout the week, and all three universities played their Homecoming Football game that same Saturday. 

Thousands of people attended the games. There was not an empty seat in any of the stadiums, and throughout the universities’ campuses, nearly full capacity had been reached in other areas of Homecoming celebrations. Much of the action was caught on Facebook and other social media channels, and many little boys were trying to learn how to play football by practicing and playing with teams throughout the region. From ages five to 14, these little football players also had well attended and exciting games on Oct. 12. Nonetheless, college and professional football is different than youth football.

Generally, college players and pro players have developed various skill sets and the temperament to survive football seasons, but youth players need coaches who understand the rules established by the Maryland Youth Football Alliance (MYFA). Coaches are needed who know parental rights and responsibilities are not void during time spent at youth football practices and football games. Football players between the ages of 5 to 14 require coaches who can communicate with youth without insulting the young players and their supporters.  

At youth games spectators are fully engaged and excited, pretty much like college and the pros, relatively speaking. And when acts of aggression against these little boys are viewed by parents, unlike college and pro football, parents and family are more likely to advocate on behalf of the youth. Parental rights are consequently never second to youth football coaches.

My grandson is eight years old and he used to play with the Woodland’s Falcons. I attended my grandson’s game on Oct. 12 and observed many questionable practices by the coaching staff. I noticed a group of his teammates standing on the sidelines the entire game, while the other team members played on offense and defense.

During the 4th quarter, I asked the coaching staff why all of the boys weren’t playing. I respected the response about size, speed, possible injuries, etc., but the boys are now on the team and they want to play.

Consequently, not playing each child erodes the assumed partnership between parents and coaches. The partnership was thought to have been fused with the children’s football experience as priority. Yet, children are turned over to these coaches who either don’t know the rules or refuse to follow them, leaving many of the youth frustrated and confused.

Unlike college and the pros, rules established by MYFA governs youth football and dictates every child on the team must play, instead, youth desiring game time are humiliated by marching up and down the field without any game time at all as if they are cheerleaders instead of teammates of their peers.

These young boys, unlike the coaches, understand cheer-leading vs playing and vehemently oppose standing on the sideline the entire game. It is evident to the youth that the coach does not think much of their football abilities. However, many of these young boys have high football IQs.

They know about OBJ, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rogers, Ray Lewis, etc. They have an abundance of knowledge about plays, play calling and safety efforts. This up and coming generation is witnessing smaller quarterbacks and running backs throwing touchdowns. The game of football is changing. In order to keep up with this change coaches must consider swapping out many of their antiquated methodologies.

For example, the idea of physical and emotional punishment for not pleasing the wishes of a coach on the football field is past due for modifications. 

Traditional football camps are soon to experience major transitions. Unlike the prior century many of these camps were born into, today’s youth have much more information about everything, including football. Coaches have yet to scratch the surface regarding this development. Simply put, many of today’s youth have more information about today’s football theory than coaches, and children place a higher level of expectations upon coaches compared to youth in the former millennium.

As family and friends attend youth football games, the boys expect the coach to understand they want to get into the game and have meaningful playing time, especially after attending every scheduled practice. The children understand the pros and cons of playing football.

The young football players, like their supporters, have come to terms with possible injuries during one the world’s most dangerous contact sports. Oftentimes youth are spared from many injuries because during practice and games the youth know how to protect themselves. Many of these boys, at eight years old, may not be boisterous, nevertheless, their mental capacities can no longer go unnoticed by football coaches.  

Times have changed dramatically during this age of STEM and the availability of information. Children have access to new accumulative information about football and are ready to apply this knowledge. Also, children know when they are not being treated fairly. 

Any given Saturday, one can witness coaches yelling, pushing, cursing, and outright chastising youth, and such degradation is not what the children signed up for. Youth expect coaches to help them cultivate football theory into football practices. To continue to overlook the entire child and only pay attention to children’s physical abilities, size, weight, how fast a child can run, etc.,is once again, outdated. If a boy is on the team then he should play. Simple.

The MYFA has outlined when and how often each child should gain experience playing football during game time. This is an expectation of the players, after-all they did make the team. The coach’s sole concentration on winning is shared by the boys, but not at the expense of humiliation. Unlike college and the NFL, winning is not however everything for the youth players.

Boys expect to win and play. Many of the boys aren’t eight years of age weighing 150lbs nor are many of them eight years of age standing five feet and five inches. Nevertheless, they have other winning attributes not based solely on their physiques.

The mental and informational skill set of today’s youth can no longer be overshadowed by the concept of the child “jock”. The youth’s football theory or mental skill set of many of today’s youth is developed through GameStop, sports games such as “Madden,” social media, college and pro games. As it should be, they are more advanced than the youth of former generations. At 8yrs of age many of these boys had dreams of playing football long before they met their coaches.

Finally, as our youth participate in one of the world’s most dangerous contact sports, youth coaches must be prepared to nurture the entire child: their physical abilities (or the apparent lack thereof), their mental abilities and their feelings. Afterall, they are children.

Coach’s responsibilities include encouragement, helping to develop children’s potential, training young athletes, and observing and correcting their performance. All of the boys on a team can make contributions other than cheer-leading. These boys, very much like college and pro players, are football players not cheerleaders.