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Learning about Football
by Nicole Pickens
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The teams get into their positions. The center and tackles have their shoes touching in the proper position. All the linemen are in their three point stances. Number sixty-eight looks into the eyes of number ninety-three, giving him a cold icy glare.
“Down!” The quarterback yells.
Sixty-eight lips syncs, “You’re goin’ down.”
“Set!” The quarterback looks around to study the field.
Ninety-three lifts his right upper lip to sneer.
The center snaps the ball.
The teams rush each other. Crash! The players hear the violent sounds of plastic meeting plastic. The battle wall is in formation. The quarterback makes a dash down the field to the end zone. The entire team is in motion after him. The crowd cheers.
On the sideline are a row of men who are strong and stern-faced. Their bodies are rigid and up right like gods of war. They clap and yell, “Run him down, boy!” and “Hold him, hold him!” These men are the football dads of the county little league football teams.
Behind the dads are other spectators of the game: mothers, grandparents, siblings, and friends. Most of which have their own portable seats and carry along coolers.
The cheerleaders are also in motion, jumping and kicking to an imaginary tune to chant their cheers to.
This was number 68’s first year in the little league football. He begged to play. He was given the necessary warnings of the game, and shrugged it off. He wanted to play, anyway. He didn’t care about the possible injuries or the shattering of his ego. He wanted to get out there and show them all what he is made of, learn the strategy of football on the field, and be a part of the team. He is determined to be the best football player the county has ever seen. He’s name is Ian and he’s seven years old.
He also has a mom that is totally ignorant of the game. This is what she’s learning.
Many people are familiar with the players and procedures of College and Professional Football Teams. The games of the NFL are well exposed on the television circuits all day and night on Sunday, and Thursday and Monday nights. The little league teams are often compared to the Professional teams, since many of the younger players have ambitions to become professional football players.
One of the first exciting similarities for the little players is their uniform. The professional football player’s uniform leaves very little to the feminine imagination, but the little leaguer’s uniform is hilarious. Their pants are too big. They’re constantly pulling them up especially during their runs to the end zone. The pads knock around like huge tiles stuck inside their pants, beating against their legs. The jersey and shoulder pads swallow the poor child, showing only part of his little forearms and hands. The only item that fits properly was the helmet, probably due to the rule written on a stone tablet from the Department of Recreation.
The average professional football team has anywhere between forty-three to sixty-nine players. These players are divided into three primary groups: offense, defense, and specialty. The offense team, as it stands on the field, includes five to seven offensive linemen, one quarterback, three backfield players, and up to three wide receivers. The defense team includes three to eight defensive linemen, up to four linebackers, two safeties, and three corner backs. Specialty players get to kick the ball.
Ian’s entire little league team, the Jets, had fourteen players. The offense team has five players, the standard center, two tackles, and two guards. The defense team had four defensive tackles and, maybe two linebackers. They have a quarterback, but he doesn’t really do the same job as the pro’s. He’s more like a one-eighth of a back in combination with a running back. That means, when the center hands the ball to him, he doesn’t throw it to a wide receiver because . . . there are none.
He runs to the end zone like a little devil, though. Ian commented that during a practice session, he got the ball and realized why football players run so fast. The whole team runs after him.
Little league doesn’t start the game at a kick off, as tradition dictates. They toss a coin to decide who gets the ball and meet at the fifty-yard-line. They don’t pass or throw the ball. They clash at the line and chase the quarter/running back. At one point in a game, one little player had a choice, to chase the quarter/running back or throw himself into the mountainous dog pile in front of him. After standing there deliberating on this option for a few seconds, he chose the dog pile.
The concept of first and ten is very active. This is where the offense side must acquire ten yards in four attempts, when they are in control of the ball. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The Pro’s crash head-on into the other players, a process that makes this motherly spectator pity the player at the bottom of the pile. Think about it. The average pro-football player weighs around two hundred and twenty pounds. If you’re on the bottom, you must withstand at least a few thousand pounds in any pile up. This gives a new outlook on how resilient the male anatomy really is.
This head-on tactic gains the controlling team the yardage they need to get closer to their end zone. If they choose not to go in head-on, they lose time and yardage by going around and end up out of bounds. The closer they get to their end zone, the harder this is to accomplish.
The little guys almost never go in head-on. They seem to always go around. Amazingly, they get the yardage they need probably because there are more kids in the pile than there are running after the guy with the ball.
When a little league team gets a touchdown, they don’t get to kick it into the end zone for a one-point field goal. They get to line up at the very end of their zone to try for another touchdown, but it’s only for one extra point.
Kicking field goals seems a simple task. Drop and kick the ball instead of having someone holding it would seem ideal. But they never got to do that because the football dads were too obsessed with winning their local Mini Bowl.
The Mini Bowl is a local event to end the football season. It allows the little guys to play on the big local high school football field, with lots of room for their cheering friends and family members. It’s not the Heisman Trophy for the most outstanding player and their team. Nor is it the Super Bowl with its billions of dollars in revenue and diamond ring for the winning team players. It’s a community’s effort to boost confidence into its young players. It’s an important strategy to inspire participation of the game, and implement sportsmanship.
Unfortunately, of the coaches (who are dads, too), unmercifully drive their sons too hard. There were rumors during the season that the little guys were being cussed out, man-handled via their helmets and the face guards, and threatened with bodily harm for not winning a game.
Football is ideal for learning how to control and channel the energies of male aggression. It creates a controlled environment for venting out dangerous and pent up emotions.
But the football dads seemed unwilling to grasp that by participating in favoritism that resulted in some kids having to play the entire game, from start to finish, because they were drafted to both the offense and defense lines. Other kids were forced to stand on the sidelines for the entire game, in full gear, in the hot and humid weather, while the dads manipulated the game. Ian was one of those kids on the sidelines.
Ian entered the game less and less, and when the coaches were confronted with this concern they responded that this was what was necessary to win the game. They were using the best players they had.
It was an outrage. These are seven-year-olds, not the Pittsburg Steelers! They are supposed to learn to play this game of complicated strategies. The concept of winning shouldn’t be the primary focus, and the drive to win shouldn’t be encouraged until after they fully understand the game, preferably when they are over five feet tall.
But the coaching football dads don’t see it that way and the kids don’t win those games. They don’t win because the elite players are too tired halfway into the second quarter. Unfortunately, the other dads never intervened, and neither, did a lot of moms.
Ian’s mom felt compelled to charge head-on without the protection of proper body gear to show them how to play this game on the little league level. Another mother named Amy thought they could do it. She played football before.
Realistically, it was too late to change the coaching staff, but that didn’t stop them from perfecting their glares of intimidation. These moms made sure the football dads knew they were watching EVERYTHING!
This would never be allowed in professional football. The sports media could have a field day with a story like this.
This is a very physically demanding game that requires the professionals to train literally throughout the year to perform at peak during the season, who were fully aware of their limitations.
During an informal survey, some local men were asked about their experiences with the sport in their youth, they all reported similar stories. The coaches yelled and intimidated the crud out of them. Their bodies were tortured with excessive exercises and if they didn’t like it, they knew they better get out to the game. The coaches were bolder back then they said. They had no reservations of telling others of their Spartan-like sports views.
Some of the traditions that remained changed between the NFL and the little leagues are flags and cheerleaders. The flags are constant in both leagues. Every two minutes the referees seemed to toss up that little yellow flag and gave penalties for something: false start, holding a player, or interference with catching the ball. After a while you wonder when the ref is going to start penalizing the players for breathing.
There were times when the local referees found disfavor with the local spectators, especially the time when they miscounted the three timeouts allowed. The audience got very vocal about it. Random voices were heard among the crowd yelling, “The referees suck!” and “Refs can’t count!”
The local cheerleaders are cute by very annoying. They take the fifty-yard line for their performances and many parents travel down the field away from them. It’s extremely difficult to focus on the game when the little girls are screaming and jumping up and down in your face.
The players in the NFL never seem to pay attention to their cheerleaders. They’re usually far away from the players. On one occasion I witnessed a pro player collide into the cheerleaders in pursuit of the ball. He kindly picked up the poor girl he knock down as gentlemanly as he could. He returned to the game and never gave her another look.
The little players are different. On several occasions, Ian and some of his other teammates were so enchanted with the cheerleaders that they completely turned their backs to the game while they were on the sideline, to get a better view. They were oblivious to their mothers jumping up and down, waving their arms around to capture their attention, and tell them to pay attention to the game, not the cheerleaders! They were mesmerized. You could almost envision a thin trail of drool escaping their lips, due to the magic the girls wrapped them up with. A football uncle standing close to them finally smacked them on their helmets to break the spell. Boys.

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