In most of the country when you say the words TEXAS and FOOTBALL in the same sentence you can count on certain responses, “It’s huge there.” is first, but dig deeper and you find that the hugeness isn’t usually seen as a positive thing to most outside the state. The perception is that Texas has misplaced priorities and winning football games has become too important.
This attitude is reinforced by many of the same things Texans are proud of. 54,000 at a high school football game… “What’s wrong with those people?” … big stadiums and indoor practice facilities better than many universities all feed into this idea that Texas football is out of control.
In my book, I’ve tried to point out the positives in the Texas system. I strongly believe the Texas Model of high school football is the best in the nation, not just in producing talented football players, but in building boys to men.
Although, it has nothing to do with the high school game, the new series, Friday Night Tykes, sadly is another example for football detractors to hold against Texas Football.
The reality series follows San Antonio area youth teams for 8 and 9 year old. The organizers of this league proudly point out that their league caters to the SERIOUS 8 and 9 year old… (It feels crazy to even write the previous sentence, but there it is.) There is no minimum playing time, no coddling, no participation trophies, just hard-nosed football where the goal is to win.
What is shown is almost horrifying. Young children being ordered to run until they puke in 100 plus degree heat and no water breaks, coaches instructing players to aim for the ear hole and win through attrition, players being yanked up by their shoulder pads and thrown back into the action after likely concussion causing hits and everywhere–despite repeated demands from coaches and parents–crying children.
It’s fascinating to watch, but very uncomfortable, realizing that these kids are effectively being abused. The coaches seem to mean well, but clearly have no idea what they’re doing. They’ve bought into the popular description of what a football coach is SUPPOSED to be…all motivational speeches and hard discipline while being oblivious to the fact that they’re working with little boys.
I’m making a leap, but I’m guessing many of these coaches would be high school assistants in other states. In Texas, HS and even middle school jobs are exclusively held by professional educators, so youth ball is all that’s left to non-professionals. It’s probably a frustrating situation for an aspiring, but non-teaching coach in a place that loves football and might explain some of the overzealous behavior.
I’ve read where some see this series as exploitive. I don’t agree. There are no contrived situations, nothing is celebrated or demonized. The camera appears to simply document what is going on. What bothers me is that some will come to the conclusion that this is the average youth football experience and I really doubt this is true. It certainly has nothing to do with the high school football I knew as a player, over 23 years as a coach or what I saw during my travels in Texas.
I have no reason to be defensive as the show has nothing to do with my book. But having spent so much of the last two years defending Texas HS football, I do feel the need to point some things out.
During my time in Texas I observed hundreds of high school and middle school coaches. I never saw anything like what appears to be normal in this youth league. Texas public school coaches are professionals and generally behave like it. The safety of the players is also another huge difference between public schools and this youth league. Texas schools all have two fulltime on-staff trainers and a strict concussion protocol; water bottles toted by student-trainers are always available to thirsty players. Whatever safety measures this youth league has don’t seem to be enforced.
As someone who loves the football, Friday Night Tykes is depressing. Kids this young and pushed this hard are very quick to burn out. I can’t help thinking most of these boys will end up hating the game and will quit before reaching high school, never learning what a great experience it can be when done right.