A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a sports dad named Jeff Lyons, who coached middle and high school soccer for more than 15 years, and who worked as an equipment manager, trainer and kicking coach for his son’s youth football program. He had some good things to say about why he lets his son play youth sports and how he feels parents can help kids in youth football to be safer.
I wanted to share his thoughts with you.
Yes I admit it, I am a bad parent. I must be, I let my son play youth football and would do it again. I learned a lot while he was playing and I hope my experience can give you some insight.
The first thing to remember is no sport is 100% safe. I have been a high school soccer coach for several years and I have seen my share of injuries. Dislocated toes, concussions, a separated shoulder, and a ruptured spleen–that was just in girl’s soccer and is not counting all of the muscle strains and pulls.
The question is: how do we minimize injuries and how do we deal with them if they do happen. I do believe there are steps you can take as a parent to help your child remain safe while participating in youth football.
Attend The Meeting
There will be a sign-up meeting where the coach will talk. He will no doubt spend a lot of time talking about safety and how they handle injuries. Make sure you listen close. Coach will give you a lot of information that should ease your mind some. If you still have questions then talk to him after the meeting. He understands that you are a concerned parent, he is used to that.
Ask Who Deals with Injuries
Every team should have a plan in place to deal with injuries even though the majority of injuries in youth football are very minor, like bruises.
Games are normally more dangerous than practice because they are not as controlled. Each game should have medical personnel on site. This could be a doctor or a nurse or a certified sports trainer. Practices are a little different; it is not cost prohibitive to hire somebody to be at every practice. However, there does need to be someone with some first aid training or experience at practice. This could even be a parent.
In our case, I filled that role because of my coaching experience. No matter who is dealing with injuries they should have the last say if a player can continue to practice or play, not the coach. These people should always err on the side of caution.
Almost all of the youth sports leagues are run and staffed by volunteers. Most of these volunteers are parents. Being a volunteer gets you on the field during practice. This allows you to keep an eye on the players and the coaches. Youth football is not a babysitting service. Practice should be open to parents and I would urge you to show up and watch.
Understand the Equipment
Make sure you understand how the pads in the pants go in. These will probably need to be removed to wash the pants. If you are not sure, talk to the equipment manager or a coach. Shoulder pads should fit tight but not restrict movement. You should check the shoulder pads for proper fit after they are adjusted and at least once a week after that.
The simple rule of thumb is this: with the pads fully strapped on, place two fingers between the shoulder and shoulder pad on each side. You should not be able to get three fingers in on each side at the same time.
The helmet is the most important piece of equipment. Be sure the jaw pads are in the helmet. Most of these snap in so they can fall off. You should test the fit at least once a week. To test for a good fit, strap on the helmet, grab the face mask and wiggle back and forth. If the helmet moves and the head stays still it is too loose.
Here’s another helmet tip: helmets are supposed to be tight, but many first time players complain that they are too tight. This is normal and they will get used to it. If you have any doubts about the fit, ask the coach. He should be happy to check it.
My son still talks about his days in youth football. He learned a lot and built self-confidence. Yes, we were worried when he said he wanted to play. That is a natural feeling. Parents are supposed to try and protect their children.
However, with what I learned I do believe it is possible for a child to safely participate in youth football, and for the parents to survive the experience.
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