Living life in fear isn’t a life worth living.
That painfully obvious statement often goes right out the window with parents, however, when a kid expresses an interest in playing football.
In recent years, the parental brain has gone a couple of different directions when faced with the topic due to the internet and Hollywood. Parents go online and read the stories like the one on 24-year-old Chris Boreland, who retired in 2015 after just one year in the NFL because he didn’t want potential injuries to alter his quality of life as he got older. Or, parents watch the movie “Concussion” and assume that will happen to their children if they play football.
Parents aren’t wrong for having these concerns. They’re wrong for saying no to their kids before conversing with youth football program coaches and officials. Because, if they did, they’d discover that football at its most infant stages today in 2017 is far safer than it has ever been in the sport’s history.
“Concussions are real,” said Blaze Barber, head coach of the 11- and 12-year-old Federal Way Hawks youth football team. “I’m not going to act like they’re not a serious thing, but if that’s the only reason you’re not allowing your kid to play, then you haven’t done your homework.”
Barber has been a youth football coach in Federal Way for the last 12 years and has coached grades one through six. He played in the league for Federal Way in the early 1990s.
His son currently play for the Hawks.
As a parent and coach, does Barber think his son could suffer a grade 3, which is the most severe, concussion while playing? Absolutely.
But Barber spends next to no time fearing that possibility.
“My kids can just as easily get a concussion slipping on a toy in their room,” Barber said. “What parents tend to not research is how football has progressed over time and the extreme precautions we take now.”
Barber is referring to the advancements equipment companies have made. He refers to current football helmets as “the Cadillacs of helmets.”
And coaches have begun teaching players to tackle differently.
The days of “put your head on it” are no more.
If it happens, it happens out of mistake. The rugby style of shoulder tackling has become a standard teaching method in youth football now.
Coaches go through what Barber refers to as “heads-up training.” They’re taught not only how to spot tell-tale signs of concussions, but also how to limit them all together. In addition, coaches undergo testing and mountains of paperwork specifically in regard to concussions.
Youth football leagues now require a certified league trainer, who follows specific examination protocols, be present at every game.
Through 15 games in the last season, the Federal Way Hawks had just one player encounter borderline concussion-like symptoms.
Barber’s player was accidentally chop-blocked, and he hit his head on the turf upon landing. At the time, the trainer wasn’t sure if he suffered a concussion or not.
As a precaution, Barber and the trainer agreed to sit the player for one game to be safe.
I worry for the parents more than the players.
I worry because I don’t think parents realize the impacts their personal fears have on their children.
Sports, in general, and in this case football, gives kids a sense of family for those who may not have one. It instills the importance of teamwork. Most importantly, it shows them that being selfless and sacrificing for the betterment of their teammates produces rewards like wins and championships.
Barber routinely greets his team at the start of each season with the words: “Everything in life worth having is hard to achieve. If it wasn’t, everybody would have it.”
The Internet and Hollywood are doing a great job.
They’re teaching parents that sports will certainly turn their greatest achievement into a vegetable if they play contact sports.
And it’s working.
It’s heartbreaking. This fear is preventing kids from learning what it is like to lean on one another and be a part of something. Something bigger than themselves.
But the cool thing about fear is that it is never too late to overcome it.
It’s not too late to put your fears aside, listen to your children, and let them do what you’re afraid to do: face fear head on with the bravery of football pads and the best sports armor to date.
But don’t take my word for it.
“What I tell parents is that kids that want to come out and be a part of this have to put in a lot of work,” Barber said. “But when they accomplish something like a winning season or even a championship, they learn things about themselves you can’t teach in a classroom. I don’t know why anyone would want to prevent that.”
Jerod Young is the sports reporter for the Mirror. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.