I was reminded once again just how important a youth coach can be in the life of a child. A football mom stopped me in a store and told me how much she enjoyed a newsletter that I’d written the week before for the local youth league.
And as we spoke more, she shared how a couple of our coaches had helped make her sons fall in love with football enough to want to play in high school. She explained how her youngest was an average player but was made to feel just as important as every other player on the team. As she named each coach and tagged them with their particular qualities, I was gushing like a proud Papa.
I wish every coach would realize how much their own actions can influence the choices that a young athlete makes. A coach can be the springboard just as easily as the last stop because the walkway between each usually runs directly through them. It’s a role that too many coaches either fail to understand or completely ignore.
So, perhaps unfairly, that leads us into this next observation.
Chances are you’ve already seen the highlight video of 9-year-old Sam Gordon. She’s the little girl who’s leaving most of her little boy opponents wondering what just happened.
I love this story — I really do. Well … until I took a look at the numbers.
Consider this: Little Sam ran the ball 233 times this season. I searched for her particular team’s schedule on the league’s vast website. While I couldn’t figure out exactly which team she played on, I did find the “gremlin” division and it appears that their seasons consist of eight or nine games. But let’s throw in an extra game and go with ten. That works out to 23 carries per game.
According to MaxPreps.com, Jacob Taylor is the 8th-ranked high school running back in the nation. He’s run the ball 238 times in 10 games this season. That’s 23 carries per game. Using 60 plays as an average for a high school offense per game, Jacob is getting the ball roughly one-third of the time that his team runs a play. Jacob owns an adult body. His high school football coach is paid to achieve some level of success.
Sam’s youth football games have four 15-minute quarters. They use a running clock. Forget about trying to figure out how many plays her team runs per game. She’s getting the ball 23 times. She’s playing on defense as well. Did you see some of those collisions? Do you see where I’m going with this?
Now forget that Sam is a girl and clearly one of the best players on the field. Forget that Sam is a superstar. Forget that without this player the team is most likely less-than-average. Forget that her youth football team is probably coached by another player’s dad who really likes the fact that he has this tiny human who is difficult to tackle.
It’s a team of 8- and 9-year-olds. How many opportunities can possibly be left for any of the other little children who would like to run with the ball? How many times per hour should such a small body get exposed to collisions with another body or helmet?
On the outside it’s a wonderful story, isn’t it? I hope Sam goes on to play college football. I hope Sam wins the Heisman Trophy. But first, I hope Sam makes it out of youth football intact.