friday night tykes and sports parents

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Last week, the Esquire Network-it used to be G4-premiered a new documentary series. It’s called “Friday Night Tykes” and focuses on San Antonio-area youth football. In the first sixty minutes alone, viewers are exposed to the intensity and outdated thinking of some coaches.

I first learned of the series on Twitter, and was intrigued by the name. A clear takeoff of the book, movie, and television series Friday Night Lights, the docuseries examines the season of 8-and-9-year olds in a very competitive league.  Texas has long been recognized as an incredibly football-mad state, with high school games especially held in high regard.

The passion for the game starts incredibly young in the Lone Star State, as shown by “Tykes”. For the most part, the kids playing in the league are not the subject of the series. While a few are given arcs, it’s more about the adults.  As these are elementary school players, the way the coaches and parents act is more important in the overall development of the league.

San Antonio’s branch of the Texas Youth Football Association has only a few teams.  Like most youth teams, their names come from professional and amateur leagues. They’ve also got reputations to go with it.  Judson Junior Rockets have been accused of recruiting, the Outlaws are known for their alleged dirty play, and the Broncos are the team to beat.

Among the most polarizing figures in the first episode are Coach Charles of the Broncos, and the GM, who is a mother of one of the players. Coach Charles is a fierce, angry man who treats 9-year-olds as if they’re at least Division One players. He puts them through the blistering Texas heat doing drills that give exhaustion to the players and will most likely create brain damage.

His only recourse is to offer up years old platitudes and stories from when he was playing. Clearly, he’s trying to live vicariously through these kids for mistakes he made on the field in the past. His GM, a mother of the players, is sycophantic up until the point of the first game. She knows that her son has to compete for a spot on the team, but is still disappointed that he is only given one snap.

Perhaps the most telling moment happens at the practice of the Predators. A team decked out in Nashville Predators logos with Minnesota Vikings colors, their coached by the quarterback’s father. While that nepotism is off-putting, it’s not the worst thing about him. Generally, the coach seems to care about his players and making sure they do the right thing.

In one practice, two of his players are doing a tackling drill. One of the players clearly suffers a head injury and should not play anymore. What does the coach do? He gets him to “shake it off” and the player is right back to it.

Concussions in the NFL and in football itself are the most pressing issue of the sport right now.  Study after study shows that players will, in some way or another, get brain damage. Some players will suffer far worse than others. Better helmet construction, mental health care, and the creation of new rules has been a result.

As much as these innovations and discoveries happen, many want to stick to old ways of doing things. Progress does not come quickly to football, and it is unfortunate. “Friday Night Tykes” is a disturbing picture into the power of sports and the unfortunate way it can affect children.

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