My son decided in 3rd grade he was done with soccer and wanted to play youth football. His friends were all sticking to soccer and he still loved to play, but a poster of boys in full pads and helmets emerging from smoke made him want a piece of the gridiron.
We aren’t a family who spends our weekends glued to the games. However, I quickly realized football was an experience he could share across generations with his grandpa, dad, and cousins. It was a connection to our roots in Chicago, and one he needed more than I realized.
Not really knowing what we were getting into, we signed him up to play for the 3rd/4th grade Grant team. It turned out we were in for two-hour practices, minimum training before becoming game-eligible, and coaches who were much firmer than others we encountered in other Portland recreational sports. I wondered if he would quit. Instead, he thrived.
Three years later, my son still loves football, and I like it for my own reasons.
1. Football Includes Everyone
Portland youth football teams draw from the entire high school cluster, making them more racially and socioeconomically diverse than our neighborhood teams.
You know that kid who struggles with his weight? The one the “athletic” kids write off in PE? He’s there running drills for two hours at a time, too. Often, he’s the superstar. And you know the tiny kid who runs fast? There’s also a spot for him. Oh, and girls? Yep, they can play as well, through senior year in high school. Everyone has a place to shine on the field.
2. They Coach the Whole Kid
Instead of one-sport fanatics, our youth football coaches have encouraged my son year after year to also play other sports. He was lukewarm about swim team until his coach pointed out how much it could help with his endurance. Now, he’s all in. If we bump into a football coach in the spring, they ask about his baseball season. This is a well-rounded approach not often seen in other youth sports.
More than once, I’ve heard the coaches talking to the team about being good people and helping each other out. They remind the players to thank their parents for getting them to practice and games. The coaches talk to the players about respecting themselves and respecting their parents and teachers. In other words, they’re coaching beyond the game.
3. Football Has Given Him Something to Teach Me
I’ve been to a lot of football games. Although the concession stand and socializing at games was an integral part of my youth, I’m not in tune with the finer points of the game. My son loves it when I watch football with him. Maybe after all those hours of me helping him with his homework, it feels good for him to get to teach me something. It’s made me realize how important it is for me to spend time learning about something he loves.
4. My Son Has Become the Kid with the Football
His love of football extends off the field. He carries his football to school every day in the fall, passing it to friends as they walk. The other day he was working on his spiral with a few girls in his class who could certainly teach him a thing or two about spirals. When the bell rings, he gets a game going of touch or flag. Even when his days of competitive football are over, I think autumn will always make him want to grab his football and head outside, which is always a good thing in my book.
Want to learn more about youth football in the Portland area? Check out these resources: