Eight years ago, my wife Sheryl and I jumped right into the parental waters of youth football headfirst. Bradley had been playing soccer in the fall, but it was clear he needed a sport that was more suited to his personality and aggressiveness. We registered Bradley for instructional peanut football in the local youth football program. Eight years later, he is still playing and is getting ready to make the jump to playing in middle school.
It’s been a ride that Bradley has loved, and to be honest we as parents have loved watching. Over eight years, we’ve seen Bradley grow as a football player, learn the fundamentals of the game, experience what teamwork and discipline is all about, and win a couple of championships. We’re a football family that loves watching football and going to games and we’re a family that now has two boys playing the sport with Jared now participating in flag football. Jared loves football and has found a niche playing flag. He’s having fun, learning about the game, and has made some great friends.
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But let’s face it. Eight years is a long time.
So much has happened in the world of football over the last eight years that has a lot of parents asking many questions before they fill out that registration form. If you’re a parent who is thinking about allowing your child to play football, you should ask a lot of questions and do your homework, whether it’s tackle or flag because you want your child to be in the best and safest program possible.
A youth football parent needs to be informed.
You know what? Parents should ask a lot of questions because just like anything else in life, knowledge is good. When it comes to youth football, you need to be informed as a parent on a number of different topics because your child’s best interests are what’s most important. Once you decide your child is going to play, tackle or flag, you have a right to do your homework to ensure you have all your “I”’s crossed and “T”’s dotted.
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The first thing you need to do is pick a program for your child to play in.
The best way to do that is to ask family and friends for suggestions. If they already have a child who is playing, they can be a good resource to help you make a decision. Many times, a local program will send flyers home with kids at school with information, so calling and speaking to an administrator is a good idea. You want to make sure your child is playing in a program with a good reputation in town.
If you’re signing your child up to play youth tackle football, the first and best thing you can do in your research is to find out if the program is associated with USA Football and instructing the kids on Heads Up Football. There are other factors to consider like location of games, practice schedule, and if your child has friends in the program, but your first question to a program should be “are you affiliated with USA Football?”
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Researching a program for flag football is also very important.
You want to make sure the league is properly run and well-organized. You should ask family, friends, and neighbors who are familiar with the programs. In our community, you can see signs posted for a number of different flag football entities, but when it came time for Jared to play, we received an overwhelming consensus about one particular program that was also the same organization that runs the little league in which our kids play.
For tackle football, you want to make sure your child is wearing the best and safest equipment possible.
Check with the program to make sure their helmets go through a reconditioning process and that the other equipment distributed like shoulder pads and pants are in good shape. Most programs make equipment available with registration, but you can also decide to buy your child better equipment than what you feel the program is offering with registration. When you bring your child in to pick up equipment, look it over and ask questions. If you’re not 100 percent satisfied with it, then looking around for your child’s own gear is a good idea.
Equipment quality is important in flag football as well.
Programs require your child to wear a mouthpiece, and they generally offer one to you with registration. Just like in tackle football, go to a local sporting goods store and buy a top-quality mouthpiece for your child. When your child goes to the first flag football practice, look at the belts with flags that the program is providing. Make sure they’re in good condition and take good care of them if the program gives it to you to take home for the season.
Parents should also familiarize themselves with the coaches who volunteer their time at the program you are considering. See if you know anyone who has kids who have played for the same coaches. Look into the league that your child’s team will be playing in. Where are the other teams? How far away will road games be? You should also look into the program’s fundraising efforts. Can parents volunteer? Are they receptive to ideas?
Youth football is a great experience for parents and kids, but you have to make sure you ask all of the appropriate questions before submitting that registration form.
Peter Schwartz is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network, FOX News Headlines 24/7 and WCBS 880 Radio in New York. His older son Bradley plays youth tackle football for the Super Bowl Champion East Meadow Rams on Long Island while his younger son Jared plays flag football for the LSW Giants. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.
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Congress and Your Homework
That's Arne Duncan, responding to the proposed Lamar Alexander remix of No Child Left Behind. It's an interesting construction, an inspiring line.
The first picture that popped into my head was an old white guy in a suit, knocking on some family's front door. When a parent answers, he says, "Hello. I'm Senator Bumswoggle, and I'm here to help Chris study for the big algebra test tomorrow."
Okay, that's probably not what Duncan means. But it does raise the question-- what exactly can Congress do to help all children succeed? If we went into classrooms and asked the students, "What do you need from your Congressperson to help you succeed this week?" what would they say?
Would they say that they really, really need to take a bunch of standardized tests? "I think I'm getting better at reading," will say some bright-eyed eight-year-old, "but until I take a standardized test from Congress, I just don't know." Is that what would happen?
Would they say, "Please don't give any more resources to this school. Instead, give the money to some charter operator to set up a completely different school. Yes, I realize they might not let me go to that school, and I'll have to stay in this one scraping by with fewer resources, but I'll sleep better knowing that entrepreneurs have had the opportunity to unleash innovation while making good ROI."
It is sweet that Duncan and Congress want to help. The desire to help, particularly to help those who are most vulnerable, is a basic human impulse, and a credit to every person who feels it. But the desire to help does not automatically confer the ability to help.
Suppose one of my children is injured and rushed to an operating room. I would want to help. I would want to wave a magic wand and fix it, right now. But if I grab a scalpel and dash into the operating theater declaring, "I really want to help. What can I do?" they would have to throw me out, because as someone with zero surgery-related skills, the most useful thing I can do is get out of the way. Even if I am obscenely rich and incredibly powerful, I still don't have the skills.
So if Congress's message to children is going to be, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you" the question remains-- what can Congress actually do to help children succeed?
Not teach the children-- neither Congress nor the Department of Education contains barely any people with skills and expertise in actually teaching children. Congress doesn't know how to build schools or run a sceince fair or assess an essay. Nor would I want to watch a Congressman take a shift or two of lunch duty (okay, I might want to watch a little). With few exceptions, Congresspersons do not know how to do any of the things directly related to helping a child achieve success in school. So they won't help the children succeed that way.
In fact, Congress doesn't even know the individual children that it's talking about. This means that it has no idea what individual strengths and weaknesses the children have. It also means that neither Congress nor Secretary Duncan knows what each individual child means by "succeed." So the actual working with children is best left up to the people who are right there with them-- teachers and parents.That work includes defining and measuring success; Congress lacks the skills and expertise to do either of those tasks.
Congress does have the expertise to deal with the money and politics portion of the picture. Congress can do its part to make sure that every school has the resources that it needs, and Congress has a responsibility to do that honestly, without damaging fictions such as, "We can fund ten different excellent schools for the same money that's now spent on just one." Congress has a responsibility to do its homework, so that it's not making choices based on the lies in charter school PR materials.
Congress has the expertise and skills to make sure that states do not create funding formulas that treat some children like second-class citizens. Congress has the expertise and skills to require that states and school districts remain transparent.
Neither Congress nor the Department of Education has the expertise and skill to determine when a school is failing or what should be done with that failing school. They have been told that expertise in business, politics and money are sufficient to identify and cure failing schools; this is simply not true, any more than my expertise in teaching English means I belong in an operating room or a board room.
Congress's responsibility to help children succeed is not a bad measure. But if we're going to be honest and truthful about the matter, Congress's ability to help children succeed is nearly non-existent. Great responsibility can come with great power, but in this case, Congress's most important power is to step back and let the people with expertise, training and skills do their jobs.