Like so many other all-American kids, I grew up juggling an impressive schedule of extracurricular activities that would put my current "work, happy hour, sleep" schedule to shame. Piano lessons, children's choir, orchestra, softball, youth soccer, swimming, even a brief stint as a gymnast. You name it, I tried it, and truth be told was probably pretty intermediate at it, thank you very much.
Trying my hand at a wide range of sports also means that I had a lot of really great coaches, and unfortunately some truly awful ones. Some were mentors, some were lazy, and one in particular was so verbally abusive that it put an abrupt end to my high school swimming career, but none of them compare to the coaches featured on Esquire Network's reality series Friday Night Tykes.
The docuseries follows the Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA) 8 and 9-year-old football league, exposing what goes into producing football stand-outs. Coaches are seen screaming in children's faces, encouraging aggressive play, and pushing these children to their physical limits all for the sake of winning a game.
Lisa Connell, the mother of Junior Bronco's member Colby, 8, explains in the series' first episode that she came to TYFA with hopes of her son experiencing a competitive athletic environment. "We were done with the 'everybody gets a trophy, everybody wins, everybody gets a fair turn.' We wanted him to understand the value of working hard and the reward that came with that." Minutes later she's seen on the sidelines telling her vomiting son "You are stronger than this. Don't you stop."
Call me crazy, but when a kid is vomiting and crying on the sidelines during practice, it begs the question of what's wrong with teaching kids fair play?
"Instead of focusing on just the score, we focus on how the game is played," Brian Sanders, president and COO of i9 Sports Corporation, told me. His company (which is not involved with Friday Night Tykes) is a national franchise organization of recreational youth sports programs for kids between 3 and 14 years of age. The organization focuses on kids having fun and learning sportsman-like values, and to ensure a positive environment for all, both coaches and parents are required to sign a pledge promising to keep safety, patience, enthusiasm, and sportsman like conduct top priorities at all events.
"Parents who have been in competitive programs comment how they like the focus on the positive side of things," Sanders said. "Kids are learning to be part of a team."
Now that's a program I can get behind. Speaking as someone who's experienced the breaking point when sports stop being fun, I realize the importance of teaching kids the incredible lessons that can be learned from participating in organized sports. Coaches should be there to mentor and encourage young athletes to become the best they can be, not force them into doing so by bullying.
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Image: Football player in huddle via Shutterstock