"This is a football game, not a Hallmark moment."
The tough-as-nails coach who made that comment was the coach of a team which had demolished its opponents by the lopsided score of 52-0. Not only did this coach watch his players roll up the points, he watched them demolish the opposition physically. Five of the players on the losing squad were carted off the field with concussions.
Now, this is clearly a coach’s coach. This is a man who embodies the rock ‘em, sock ‘em ruggedness of America’s favorite pastime. This is the kind of man’s man you want coaching men who bang helmets every Sunday.
Or, rather, he would be if he was coaching men. But, unfortunately, he wasn’t. This wasn’t a pro game, or a Division 1 college showdown, or even a hotly contested high school Super Bowl battle. This battle of the Titans was a Pop Warner Pee Wee football game that took place in Massachusetts last month between Southbridge and Tantasqua. That’s right, Pop Warner Pee Wees, where the warriors are 10-, 11- and 12-year-old kids.
Well, the Southbridge coach was right about one thing. It wasn’t a Hallmark moment. It wasn’t even close. It was instead a creepy, very weird display of everything that can go wrong with youth sports.
In all fairness to the Pop Warner league itself, its officials have stepped in and done what they should do.
It’s tough to understand why neither coach pulled the plug after the first quarter, when Southbridge led 28-0 and three of the Tantasqua boys had already been taken out of the game with injuries. It’s even more difficult to understand why the officials allowed it go on. What were they all trying to prove? How many kids they could knock out?
For some reason, coaching contact sports can quickly bring out the worst in middle-aged men. Deep in the heart of many of them lurks a frustrated Pro-Bowl wannabe hungering to break free and dominate the gridiron. And if he could never achieve the Hall of Fame status he so richly deserved, well, by God, these kids will.
Even when coaches aren’t driving their young pupils to the point of injury, they can sometimes still be in a world of their own. Few things are as absurd as a spitting mad forty year old man hollering catchy sayings about the will to win at kids whose helmets barely stay on their heads.
But, it’s easy to make a scapegoat out of any one single knucklehead.
My kids all participated in youth sports of one kind or another, and their experiences were generally pretty good. I wouldn’t let them do Little League baseball or Pee Wee football simply because the coaches I had encountered locally all seemed to specialize in unresolved anger issues.
But once they were older, I let them make their own decisions. My oldest son played junior football for the Adams Saints and had fun.
My daughter played girls softball and also had a good experience. My youngest son played youth hockey and basketball, and never had a bad moment. All three of them went on to play different varsity high school sports at McCann and Drury and enjoyed their experiences.
My kids did participate in several youth teams in soccer and basketball. One of their coaches had an attitude about it all that seemed to me to be absolutely sensible. When a parent would approach him after a game with a question which he thought was a little too complex for the level of competition, he would answer, "A couple of hours or so after you get home, ask little Johnny who won or lost today. If he remembers, come back next week and we’ll talk about it."
He never got any returns.
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.