How many of you guys played little league football in the 1970's? If you jumped up and said "Hell, yeah! It got me into high school football and those were the BEST years of my LIFE!" I have a feeling that you were: A. The Coach's Son which implies that B. You were the quarterback. -Or, you were a 'skill position player' (they're referred to as 'athletes' on ESPN now-a-days) and, so, also enjoyed your time in little league. For the rest of us, it was hard, sweaty labor with little or no enjoyment while 'playing' the sport.
I started playing at seven years old and archaic, tribal lessons of manhood were taught there on the hot, dirty field next to Sinclair Elementary in August. Those fun tackle games amongst the fallen leaves bore no resemblance to summer practice where competition for approval replaced fun and being tough was ingrained. This is so different from how little boys are involved in sports today. Make sure all of the kids get rest and water. Make sure they all get positive encouragement. Give them all a trophy. Give all of the kids opportunities to touch the ball. Make'em play soccer.
So why did I play? Because I actually liked football. My brothers and I loved watching the one or maybe two televised football games on Sunday and those great old 1960's NFL films ("Frozen tundra of Lambeau Field") drove us into a frenzy. Afterward, we rushed out to play backyard tackle football in the brisk afternoons with the other kids. So, being a pretty dense little boy, I would forget every summer how un-fun little league was and sign up. The first clue that woke me up was the annual 'molding of the mouth-guard.' Of course, mouth-guards were required before you could suit up for practice and, so, you boiled the hard plastic until it got soft and comfortable in your mouth and then it hardened again around your teeth and gums. -Not comfortable, especially during a game when it cut your mouth and prevented easy breathing when you were already gasping and doubled over. But they helped in the summer heat when colliding with the others during tackling drills like Bull-in-the-Ring. One of the ONLY times I remembered my mom playing Mother Hen was one afternoon when she confronted the coach about the wisdom of little kids being involved with helmet on helmet contact over and over. I was mortified that she had stepped in to basically protect me from the coach.
Ah, coaches. Little league football coaches are well-adjusted guys that are not trying to relive their lost youth, especially in small Southern towns in the 1970's. Yep. On second thought, they could be kind of like today's youth soccer coaches but with 75 more pounds and 75 fewer I.Q. points. But I stuck with it because I didn't want to give up and I wanted to be like my older brothers. Stretch was a wide receiver who switched to first base in high school and Bobby was a rarity, even back then. He 'looked like me' and was a star running back and defensive cornerback on the area Pop Warner powerhouse. He never played high school ball though and I never knew why for sure. We were new in town and coaches often played favorites and friend's kids often got the best slots. Bobby sure was fast though.
That left me. I was relegated to some sh*t position like offensive guard every year. This position basically meant sprinting and bashing into people. I could go whole seasons without touching the ball in a game. This was broken up by huddles that consisted of learning when 'hike' would be called and listening to the cocky jerk de jour quarterback tell the 'athletes' which receiving routes to run. I watched the better-looking cheerleaders and scarfed concession stand Marathon bars (remember those?) to break up the monotony.
Playing football at seven years of age, I arguably experienced many of the basic things that 20th Century American men where supposed to learn; being on top meant glory and girls, being on the bottom meant a lot of order taking and sweaty labor, aggressive male-on-male rivalry, following orders through a chain-of-command. I guess that the question is "Today, do our boys need more or less of this at a young age?" -I honestly don't know. Didn't kill ME. Thoughts?