By: John Engh, Chief Operating Officer
National Alliance for Youth Sports
It looks like the NFL is taking some extraordinary action this week by addressing more issues with safety and specifically, head injuries. More than any other sport, football has a top down mentality where the divisions below take their lead from what is happening in the levels above. All you have to do is visit any sports bar on any Sunday in the fall to see the impact the NFL has on our society.
So by taking the stand this week that they are expanding their safety concerns to ball carriers who by instinct, or because of how they have been taught, lead with their helmet to punish a would be tackler, I for one am giving them a standing ovation. After all, the players that really matter, the thousands of kids who play on the youth level, will be the benefactors.
I hear traditionalists saying that these new rules are taking away from the game and are going to ruin football and to that I say "check your facts!" Football wasn’t created to be a sport in which the guy with the best pads wins. Pads were created for the purpose of incidental contact in a sport that is intended to be very physical in nature – not part of the game. I remember when we were kids in our pick-up games, we never had ANY equipment. You were rewarded when you either had the speed to elude a player or had the strength to break free of a tackle.
The idea that you run over a defender just because you have a better helmet and bigger pads shouldn’t be what the game is about. And while I realize the players at the upper levels are all playing with the same equipment, the same cannot be said for players at the youth level.
As a spectator, I can't deny enjoying the running back who has taken punishment all game getting the opportunity to punish a smaller defensive back who is hoping to make a tackle. But give me a Walter Payton stiff arm or a Barry Sanders juke any day over a guy lowering his helmet and spearing a guy because he has the safety of the best equipment money can buy on his head.
And triple that sentiment at the youth level where that running back and defender may both be 10 years old and only separated by a couple pounds but one, because of natural ability (or years of experience), is far superior to the other player. In that situation, it could mean an injury or just humiliation (based on the fan reaction I witness at many youth football games) and the end to a child’s desire to play this great game that we all love so much.
John Engh is the chief operating officer at the National Alliance for Youth Sports. Since 1988 Engh has helped to create a number of educational and youth development programs for NAYS, including the all new, free concussion training available to all NYSCA coaches.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.