Below is a link to a very interesting and well-written article, by John O’Sulivan of http://www.changingthegameproject.com. The article reviews a recent reality TV show called ‘Friday Night Tykes’ which profiles and follows the coaches, parents and players from several different “rookie” (ages 8-9) American football teams from the Texas Youth Football Association, or “TYFA” for short. I stumbled upon this TV series on Netflix two weeks ago, and I have just finished watching the 10 episodes which make up the show’s first season. I must say that, although the show is centred around a different sport than the sport in which I work, the parallels between the youth football system portrayed on ‘Friday Night Tykes’ and the youth soccer system I have worked in for the past 10 years are astounding.
First and foremost, the biggest problem which becomes apparent almost immediately at the start of the show is the youth football coaches. These grown men are so hell-bent on winning (even though they are working with children in the “rookie” or 8-9 year old age category) that they are constantly losing their tempers, are routinely verbally and physically abusive to their players, and show an almost criminal lack of regard for basic first aid and treatment of injuries. The parents of the children participating in the TYFA rookie league do not come across much better in the show. There are frequent examples of parents pushing their kids too hard, placing enormous pressure on them to win and getting into verbal and physical altercations with each other, their coaches, game officials, and even opposing parents and coaches during games. Unfortunately, at the centre of all of these problems are the players, 8-9 year-old kids who seem to want to have fun and enjoy the sport of football, and who really do deserve better coaching and in some cases, better parenting than what they appear to be receiving over the course of the show.
The author describes the win-at-all-costs mentality of the American youth football system in general, and of TYFA in particular, as the “armpit of America”, meaning that although Americans know it exists, “no one wants to see it or acknowledge it, and (they) would rather cover it up and move on”. O’Sullivan goes on to write about the show:
“It is a stomach-churning display of ignorant and misguided parents, coaches and administrators applying adult values, tactics, and training to children in 2nd through 4th grade, some of it bordering upon child abuse.”
As I mentioned previously, the similarities between the American youth football system as it is portrayed on ‘Friday Night Tykes’ and the Canadian youth soccer system are abundant. Unfortunately, there are still far too many environments in Canadian youth soccer in which uneducated clubs, teams and coaches are only concerned with winning, and far too many parents who are pushing their children into these environments at the expense of their own development. While there have been several positive changes made to promote player development in Ontario and Canada in recent years, including the formation of standards-based organizations like Soccer Academy Alliance Canada (SAAC), the Canadian Academy of Football (CAF) and the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), the implementation of age-appropriate competitions and rules, the elimination of standings from youth league competitions, and changes made to the formatting of many youth soccer tournaments, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.
The message of player development needs to be delivered to the people involved in the youngest, grass roots levels of Canadian youth soccer, to the recreational and house league clubs, coaches and parents who provide young children (sometimes as young as 4 or 5 years old) with their first experiences of the sport. If we truly want to develop more, better soccer players, then need to acknowledge and deal with the “armpit” of our own youth soccer system. It’s time to take youth soccer away from, as O’Sullivan calls them, the “misguided adults” in the present system.
Below is a link to the article. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.