Today’s edition of My 2 Sense was written by Sal Marinello, President Athletic Development Coaching.
Safe – protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost; uninjured; with no harm done. There is no safe way to tackle. Football is not a safe sport.
There are better and worse ways to tackle, but a good tackle is in no way safe, as a good tackle can result in injuries to both the tackler and tackled. Furthermore, tackling cannot be taught in a step-by-step manner because human beings do not – cannot – learn to perform complex, spontaneous movements by having them broken down into component parts and taught in a controlled manner. That’s a whole other article I can write.
I am not a football basher. I have been a high school and youth football coach for almost 20-years and have three boys currently playing football; one in high school and twin 12-year olds playing youth football, who’s team I coach. The boys have suffered their fair share of injuries, especially my older boy who has endured three surgeries. I played organized football into my college years, and escaped unscathed for the long-term.
But enough about me…
If you’ve taken the NFL’s Heads Up Tackling course you must have noticed that there is no in-game footage used for examples of proper tackling. That should tell you something. What it should tell you is that you can’t make a tackle in a game like the tackles they are trying to teach in the Heads Up program. Even pros, the best in the world.
I was featured on an edition of ESPN’s Outside the Lines almost 2 years ago that took a look at the NFL’s Heads Up program and took this very same position. We need to be more honest about what football is and what it isn’t. Stop the dishonesty of telling parents tackling can be safe. You can absolutely teach kids to not hit with and lead with the head, but this doesn’t mean the head will not be hit during a football game. Nor does it make a tackle safe.
Football is a physically demanding sport that is not safe and can result in a wide range of injuries of varying degrees of severity. Just like Rugby and Ice Hockey. Looking at the definitions above, can anyone say these sports are safe? Every time a player steps on the field he is in jeopardy.
Have you ever stood on the sidelines of a high level game from youth on up through high school, and watched a kickoff? Nobody is protected from or not exposed to danger or risk.
These sports also aren’t for everyone. A big part of the problem with football is that for too long it was marketed as being great for all kids. Not true. Football requires a unique set of skills to play, both mentally and physically. Flag football is for everyone, not tackle football. Big difference.
For the better part of 2 decades there were a lot of kids playing football, even at the high school level, who had no business being on a football field with other boys their age who did belong. This lead to many issues, not the least of which were injuries. Perhaps this isn’t a politically correct position to take, but there were many kids who should have been told to pack it up and go home, especially in high school. The declining numbers of football participation isn’t a bad thing, but an inevitable swinging of the pendulum back to where it belongs.
For years I’ve coached with my best friend who also happens to be policeman. And he’s always said, “There’s no nice way to put handcuffs on somebody and there’s no nice way to make a tackle.” Truer words were never spoken as a good, proper tackle can result in a concussion, broken bones, torn ligaments, etc. And then there’s that nice hard ground and gravity that always has an effect on the players. And the tangle of bodies that results at the end of many plays.
So what is there to do about football? Does anything have to be done?
I think honesty is the best policy. Which is why I’ve always told people that football isn’t safe and isn’t for every kid. If a parent has any doubt about their kid playing I always advise against. If a kid is hesitant, he shouldn’t play. Football isn’t a sport for reluctant warriors. Life lessons can be learned from playing football and by deciding not to play, as well.
That being said, don’t tell my kids they shouldn’t play football. Kids get hurt skiing, on the playground, playing soccer, skateboarding and extreme sporting. Forget about driving. I’m way more nervous for the day my son gets his license than when he’s behind center at quarterback.
And another thing. Stop comparing the injury problems and long-term health issues of professional and college football players who have been pounded for tens of thousands of hours at the highest level to little kids who have played a few seasons and a couple of hundred hours. We need to keep things in perspective and the honesty goes both ways. We don’t need to scare people into not playing by conflating the injuries suffered by professionals with those of kids.
Photo credit: beedie.sfu.ca