This week's episode of "Friday Night Tykes" hit a new low.
In case you missed it, have it in the queue on your DVR, or plan on watching it on reruns, be forewarned: while it is chock full of "teachable moments" which continue to show precisely how not to run a youth football program, it is really getting to the point where it is painful to watch, making it increasingly difficult for me to say, as I did for the premiere and Episode 3, that it continues to be "must-see TV" or that it has any educational value whatsoever.
Things have gotten so bad that, yesterday, I was not at all surprised to see that the National Athletic Trainers' Association felt compelled to issue a terse statement condemning the show and Esquire Network for allowing it to air, saying it was "concerned and disappointed" that Esquire was "providing a platform for the blatant disregard for player safety."
In particular, the NATA lamented the lack of "proper medical personnel such as an athletic trainer available at practices or games," and said, in the absence of such personnel, "it is incumbent that responsible adults assure the safety of these young athletes," a recurring theme in the show that, I'm afraid, promises to only get more pronounced as the weeks roll on.
There is "no shortage of valuable information available" on topics such as hydration, heat acclimatization, concussion and head down contact in football," the NATA continued, pointing to the guidelines it has issued, most or all of which, of course, can be found on the MomsTEAM website.
There is a lot I could talk about (the continued bullying by coaches, the improper use of exercise as a punishment, denying water breaks as punishment, among others), but here are the Episode 4 highlights (or should I say low-lights), with links to relevant MomsTEAM content:
Mismanaged concussions/intent to injure
The absolute worst part of this week's episode - the one that got me and the NATA so steamed - was undoubtedly the way concussions continue to mismanaged.
When Eric Burnett of the Junior Broncos took a helmet-to-helmet blow in the first half of the game against the Outlaws and came off the field crying, his coach told him he was "all right." Incredibly, he was allowed to return to the game, and, on the kickoff to begin the second half, took another brutal hit which knocked him senseless.
After lying on the ground for several minutes, he was helped to the sideline, where he sat with a towel on his head for the remainder of the game. In neither instance does it appear he was evaluated by anyone, much less an athletic trainer or doctor. He should NEVER have been allowed to return to the game, and should have been given a full evaluation on the sideline, not just for concussion, but to rule out a more serious brain injury.
Sure, the parents were quick to criticize the coaches for failing to "protect our players." But they didn't mean "protect" them by making sure they were properly evaluated for concussion. No. What they really were asking the coach to do was to make sure their players were the ones inflicting injury, not the ones who were injured. As one parent was overheard saying, "HIt with your helmet."
Where did she get the idea that hitting an opponent in the helmet with an intent to injure was somehow okay? Because that is exactly what, in one of the practices leading up to the game, Junior Broncos' head coach, Charles Chavarria, told his players to do! Pointing to the earhole of a player's helmet, he told his team to "hit players [right here] so they will lose players one at a time"
That is shameful advice that isn't tolerated even in the NFL (remember how New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for a season for putting a "bounty" on opponents' heads?), and it shouldn't be tolerated in youth football. Period. End of story.
[Update: almost at the same time I released this blog, a story appeared in the San Antonio Express reporting that the Texas Youth Football Association had suspended Coach Chavarria for at least a year for encouraging his players to injure opponents. According to the Express, TYFA President Brian Morgan said that the league had planned to wait until the series had finished airing before taking any action, but couldn't wait any longer after Tuesday's episode. "I was truly disgusted," Morgan told the paper. The league also suspended another coach, Marecus Goodloe, for the six game spring football season for encouraging profanity on the series. Morgan said the league was keeping a tally of other violations that have been aired. (As we have!).]
Related MomsTEAM content
Any article on concussions in the MomsTEAM concussion center. Take your pick.
This week's episode is full of parents behaving badly: taunting other parents, players and coaches, running on to the field to confront coaches from the other team. Out-of-control parents have been a problem we have been talking about on MomsTEAM since Day 1. In particular, I direct your attention to a wonderful article from our archives by sports psychologist Shane Murphy, adapted from his book, "The Cheers and Tears," that spins the question of whether your child is ready for youth sports on its head to ask whether you, as a parent, are ready for your child to play youth sports. Clearly, some of the parents in this week's episode weren't ready.
Related MomsTEAM content:
This week's episode made a big point of showing just how much of Coach Chavarra's life was wrapped up in youth football. He was heard to say that when the team won, it was "his" loss; when it won, it was "his" win. "It's what I do. It's who I am," he said. His life is so out of whack that his coaching a team of 8- and 9-year-olds, none of whom were even his own, meant that he only ate dinner with his family one night out of the week. Because he had "chosen football over family," his wife intimated that their marriage was on very shaky grounds. She said she had given him an unspecified ultimatum. It isn't likely that this is going to turn out well (ah, the drama of reality television).
Related MomsTEAM content:Over-Involved Youth Sports Parent: Are You One?
A while back I wrote an article listing the tell-tale signs of what I consider to be a bad (not in the sense of being evil, but in the sense of being bad for the kids they coach). Some of the coaches featured in "Friday Night Lights" would definitely be ones I would be trying to avoid if I still had kids in sports, but the fact that the parents with kids on the teams, by and large, seem to be happy with them suggests that my definition of a bad coach may not be everyone's, at least in San Antonio, Texas. Has winning become so important that we should be willing to sacrifice our kids physical, psychological and emotional safety by entrusting them to coaches like these? I don't think so. Read my article, and then watch the show. See how many items on my lists you can check off.
Related MomsTEAM content
We have been seeing the issue of playing time building since the first episode in the by-play between Jr. Broncos "general manager" Lisa Connell and head coach Charles Chavarra, and this episode continues down what I expect will be a path towards Lisa eventually pulling her kid off the team because all he does is ride the bench. What I found interesting about their discussion of playing time was Coach Chavarra's statement that she had signed her kid up "to win" and that meant playing the "best 11" no matter what. Whether you agree with that "win-at-all-costs" philosophy, their discussion does raise a good point, and that is about parent expectations. From the very beginning of MomsTEAM, I have always advocated in favor of teams developing mission statements and holding pre-season meetings so that parents understand going in what the team's philosophy is about matters such as playing time. When I was coaching youth soccer, and I continue to believe, that equal playing time at the "rec" level and for grades six and below, and "significant playing time" after that, except for high school varsity, should be the rule, not the exception, it appears that this is becoming more and more a minority view, a development I find unfortunate and will continue to fight against.
Related MomsTEAM content
I can hardly wait to what kid's safety will be put at risk next week (tongue planted firmly in cheek).
Missed the earlier blogs in this series? Here are the links:
Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers In Youth Sports (HarperCollins), and Producer/Director of the PBS concussion documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer." You can email Brooke at delench@MomsTeam.com and follow her on Twitter @brookedelench.