As a woman who has always been more NPR than NFL, I was shocked when my eight-year-old son came to me this summer and asked me to sign him up for football. Sure, we can sign up for flag football. “No, that one, mom.” he said, pointing to a large banner hanging from the tennis courts. The banner showed a picture of boys in full pads and helmets with smoke rising behind them.
I could see why that would look appealing to a little boy, and just thought he would forget. But as days went by he continued to ask, “did you sign me up for football yet?” I asked which friends were playing and he said he didn’t know. I pointed out that his buddies on the soccer team would miss him this fall, but his reply was that he’d see them at school.
I’ve never been too concerned with what people thought of me as a parent, but this was different. Likely because I wasn’t comfortable with it myself. Was I ready to own that I was letting my kid play a sport people viewed as dangerous?
After a few emails back and forth confirming that the league he would play in was a modified tackle program where they emphasized safety, my husband signed him up. I remained skeptical, and still uneasy, I set off to do some research. It turns out Oregon and the Pac 12 are leaders in practice safety protocols to minimize concussions. Every coach in Oregon, whether paid or volunteer, must complete Head’s Up training, which includes reducing head contact when tackling and blocking, heat preparedness and hydration, concussion recognition, and proper equipment fitting.
Even knowing all this, I found myself staying at every practice. A lot of parents hung around, but as the season wore on, fewer parents stayed until it was just a couple of us. I was there in case my son got hurt, but instead I saw the slowest kid in drills clapped-in by his teammates, week after week. The slowest kid was my son. Despite the two-hour practices and stricter coaching than other sports we’ve been involved in, I saw my son falling in love with football. A culture of drop-and-give-me-twenty was foreign to me with youth sports, but it turned out he loved the discipline. He learned to respect when someone else was talking, and to stay focused even when it wasn’t his turn. He learned what it felt like to be a team in a way I haven’t seen with his other sports. He also learned it isn’t in his nature to run toward danger, so he was rarely a ball carrier.
Do I love that my son wants to play football again next year? No, but I love that he found something he loves.
Katie moved to Portland from Chicago three years ago. She has a ten-year-old daughter, an eight-year-old son, and a 19-year-old stepdaughter. She is a freelance advertising producer, blogger, and avid school volunteer constantly adjusting to find balance. When she isn’t shuttling kids to sports or navigating college applications she can be found at one of Portland’s amazing coffee shops reading some YA fiction, or out for a run contemplating life and why Portlanders don’t like to cross the river. You can follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram and read her personal blog at Portlanded.net