So just the other day I was TV channeling and landed on an ESPN segment about a possible Pop Warner football coach putting “bounties” out on players from opposing teams (see below for link.) Not just incentives to give a strong hit or make a great tackle, but an actual monetary award to knock a player out of the game from the opposing team. Now for those who follow the NFL, you are probably aware of the recent suspensions of a few football players and coaches from the New Orleans Saints because of their involvement in a bounty-like clubhouse environment a few years ago. So obviously, this is not a unique thing. But the fact that it is probably trickling down to children just 10, 11, 12 years of age is what I find most disturbing.
Now some might say tackle football is a violent sport and big hits and tackles are going to occur. And they would be right. But to specifically target members of an opposing football team with the goal of knocking them out of the game is flat out wrong. And deep down, I’m confident many professional football players would agree with this because if you ever see a situation during a game where a player can’t get off the field on his own and needs to be stabilized from the head/neck down, you can easily see the look of great concern on every player’s face…from both teams.
And others might say incentivizing occurs all the time in childhood sports. And again, they would probably be right. While I don’t have any statistics, I often hear of parents giving a few bucks to their child for a homerun, scoring a goal, or even getting an A on a test. In fact, a couple of years ago I heard the story of a star player on the women’s national soccer team who said she was able to buy a car in high-school from the money she made by all the goals she scored in her youth. I even tried this for a weekend with my kids a while back. Only thing is it got a little complicated keeping track of my 3 kids and ultimately, I felt they needed to learn to inspire themselves to do well. But if parents want to incentivize their children in that way, I’m not going to lose sleep over it, as it’s still not the same thing as encouraging them to knock an opposing player out of the game.
So what to do now? Well, obviously, bounties need not be a part of any sport. They need to be outlawed. But a greater question might be what is an appropriate age for our children to start playing tackle football? Although probably an extreme thought (but something I’ve heard from ex-professional players and college players alike) is to hold off on any formal tackle football until 8th grade…that is 1 year before high school. Minimizing the contact at an earlier age will minimize the unnecessary injuries.
- Dr. Jeremy
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