Are You Tough Enough? 5 Concussions Later Losing Team Says ‘Yes’

What were they thinking? Apparently no one was in this youth game: not the coaches, referees or parents. In this post I share what happened in the game and what parents can do to create a safe sports environment for their kids.

Are you tough enough is the slogan on Southbridge’s Pop Warner Football league’s site. Apparently this team is tough; tough and rough given that this leagues’ team delivered five concussions to the opposition during a recent game. The injured players were children between the ages of ten and twelve, and the concussions a result of head-on contact during the game. For the record the game was a washout, the losing team, Tantasqua scored 0 points and Southbridge 52.  I share this story because it illustrates all that is wrong with youth sports; how the relentless competitive emphasis, the win at all costs mentality, and the disregard for safety rules puts our kids at risk. When it comes to youth sports, the common sense of many adults seems to be non-existent.

Where’s the Common Sense?
In this game common sense was absent in both teams’ coaches, the referees and parents. The Southbridge coach let the score rack up and did not direct his players to ease up given the obvious mismatch [one of the injuries happened in the 4th quarter]. What happened to the ‘mercy’ rule?

Good sense also eluded the Tantasqua coach, since he allowed the game to continue even after the injuries. And the referees of the game, what were they thinking? Apparently they were not. Parents did not appear to intervene either. According to the article in New York Times, “parents on the losing side of the field wanted their sons to soldier on” (Belson, 2012).  I think what is more disturbing is the fact that parents seem to encourage tackling and hitting in young players even though the league discourages it because of safety.

In June, Pop Warner told its coaches to limit player contact in practices and to eliminate full-speed head-on blocking and tackling drills. Yet on any given Saturday, the rules may be bent or ignored, even by referees under pressure from parents and coaches (Mihoces, 2012).

Film poster for a student created documentary about concussions in youth football.

Fortunately someone did have some common sense, as on October 18th after a hearing the Central Massachusetts Pop Warner league suspended the two coaches for the rest of the season and put them on probation for 2013. Both teams’ presidents were put on probation through 2013. I think the ruling was too lenient. I believe it would be appropriate that both coaches be banned from coaching forever from the league.

Bounty to Hurt Players in Pop Warner
Is this an isolated incident? I would like to think so, but unfortunately it is not. In Orange County there is an investigation underway with one of the coaches of a Pop Warner team who is being accused of paying a ‘bounty’. Cheap shots too, at $20 or $30 a head given by the coach for taking out opposing players (Michoces, 2012).

What can Parents Do?

  • Emphasize the important aspects of sports which is why most of us want our kids to play sports in the first place: good sportsmanship, commitment, activity, learning how to win and lose graciously, and of course fun. Fun is why kids want to play in the first place. Somehow the fun gets lost when along with the common sense.
  • Get involved in creating a safe sports environment. Be aware and vocal about safe practices in sport participation. I cannot emphasize this enough – parents are responsible for their child’s safety – is something doesn’t seem right or safe – STOP it. Speak up, be proactive and help make the game safe and fun.
  • Visit STOP Sports Injuries website, a non-profit organization dedicated to keep kids in the game of life, by providing parents, coaches and teams with resources and tools. They have a resource sheet for almost every youth sport, including football. They have resources for youth athletes, parents and coaches. Click here for the link to the parents resources.
  • Sign-up for the STOP Sports Injuries parent newsletter. It’s a quarterly e-newsletter. I like this organization because they don’t inundate me with emails, but send an excellent newsletter once every three months. Click here to get to the link to sign-up.

Being a parent is tough enough, let’s leave it up to us to be tough, and let the coaches teach other values, all the ‘good’ values that sports participation can instill.

STOP Sports Injuries, Keeping Kids in the Game of Life
Pop Warner Investigates, Suspends Coach, Gary Mihoces, USA Today, October 24, 2012
A 5-Concussion Pee Wee Game Leads to Penalties for the Adults, Ken Belson, NYT, October 23, 2012

Photo Credits:
 I Got You, first image, jedIII’s Photstream, Flickr
Concussions in Football, No Joke, second image, mrmayo’s Photostream, Flickr

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