Pop Warner Football, After 40 Years The Coaches Still Don't Get The Point As To Why The Kids Should Be Playing It 
I HAVE a grandson, 8, that is playing his first season of Pop Warner football; something I am not too thrilled about, not because he is playing football, but, because he is playing Pop Warner football. You see, I grew up in the 70's on 60-Minute exposés and other news sensations of the excesses many Pop Warner coaches would go to in order to secure "wins"; it wasn't a pretty sight at all, as I recall. As a good grandpa should, however, I kept my opinion to myself, for things can change in 40 years. I know one thing did, parental involvement; my step-daughter does not need to put in near the amount the time I have heard horror stories about from days gone by.
If memory serves, the two primary behaviors the Pop Warner coaches were accused of exhibiting were an Army boot camp atmosphere at training and a "win-at-all-costs" psyche they wanted to impart onto the kids in their charge. To what degree that still exists nationwide in the Pop Warner system, I can't say, but, I can say, from my observations and what I have heard, that in Keystone Heights, FL and the teams they play, vestiges of it still appear to exist.
In my book, Pop Warner has two purposes, 1) to teach kids the game of football, and 2) to develop in them a sense of virtue and ethics as Aristotle had in mind; to excel at whatever you attempt to do to the best of your abilities and to strive for that golden middle between two bad extremes. The latter includes such ideas as striving for that right balance of discipline, sportsmanship, fair play, and your moral attributes without tipping too far to one extreme or another; moderation in other words.
From the little I have seen so far this season, some coaches, including those in Keystone Heights, are in the process of violating these ideas, and their Pop Warner Code of Conduct, They are doing this in three ways: 1) the use of near profanity during practice, 2) favoring certain players over others and similar actions including how often each kid is played in a game, and 3) an unhealthy "winning is the only thing that matters" attitude. Some of these I have seen, some I have heard about; all of them need to change, soon!
1. I would hope I don't get any push back at all on this, an eight year old boy recently started using the word "freaking". We all know what word that is a close cousin to. When asked by his parents where he learned such a word, his answer was that his coach used it all the time when yelling at them; it was always "freaking this" and "freaking that". As far as I understand it there are only two places kids normally pick up foul, or near-foul language; in the home and on the playground; it shouldn't ever, ever be from an educator.
And make no mistake, as much as these coaches may hate to be thought of as one, they are, first and foremost educators. Their sole job, in my view, whether they understand it or not (I am sure they know it), on the football field is to teach those kids; to teach those kids the game of football and to teach those kids how to act. Teaching them how to say "freaking" is definitely not on their syllabus.
2. The official Pop Warner rules say that each player on teams between 16 and 25 players should be in for at least 10 plays; that isn't happening; today, I say my grandson play five plays. Some young players are sitting out most of the game seeing maybe 5 or 6 plays on a frequent basis; I also saw a change of downs and only three new players were put on the defense out of about eight available. This is clearly a case of playing your better players more and goes also to point number three, "winning is everything". In fact, I think it is fair to say, that is what probably drives some coaches to say the following.
3. "A tie isn't a win!,” overheard, as a coach was screaming at his team about losing a game they just finished (they actually tied), in response to one eight or nine-year old boy's statement "But coach, a tie isn't a loss." That says it all, doesn't it? What kind of value does that instill in our kids? Is it the same kind of value followed by the Republicans and Democrats last month during the debt ceiling crises, "a compromise isn't a win?"; look what that value brought us. What should the coach of said? "Yep, you are right son, a tie isn't a loss for it certainly beats a loss, but we really don't want to settle for ties if we can do something about it, do we?" or some such other touchy-feely liberal tripe that might actually help children rather than set the wrong example. Storm trooper tactics, I would have hoped, went out in the 50s and has no place in today's youth football.
I have looked through much of the Pop Warner “rule” book and must say the ideals behind it are laudable, to say the least. It is too bad I find myself having to report that while we try to teach our children to play by the letter and the spirit of the rules, I find it necessary to remind the coaches to do the same.
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