Last year, I wrote this article about allowing and encouraging my son to play tackle football. A couple weeks after it posted on the Colorado Springs Moms Blog, my son quit the team. I couldn’t believe I was raising a quitter.
My son has been obsessed with football since he was five years old. (He’s currently 11.) We started out with a once-a-week flag football league. At age six, he was already begging to play tackle football. I made him wait until he was eight and eligible to play through the Falcon Youth Football League in our school district. So, in the third grade at age eight, he started playing tackle football.
Many parents and friends expressed their concern about his safety, but I figured that if his dad and I both thought it was OK for him to play, things would be fine.
And he loved it. Every single sweaty second. He played both fall and spring seasons for two years. He spent his free time running plays in our front yard, watching football on TV and collecting football cards. Football was his lifeblood. He dreamt of playing in high school, earning a college scholarship to play ball and eventually making it to the NFL. His dreams were big, and his passion was big. He talked about football constantly.
But then, near the beginning of his fifth season, his knee began to hurt.
For a week, he iced the knee daily, rested it and took ibuprofen. Probably a pulled muscle or simple strain, right? But after daily pain for two weeks, I took my son to our pediatrician. He had an overuse injury. It would likely come back. So, we got a knee brace, and he took another week off to rest it.
After previous injuries (a couple of sprained ankles), my son had been eager to return to football activities. But something was different this time. He was reluctant to go. He wanted just “one more day off.” He was willing to watch practice, but not participate. Something was not quite right.
His Tipping Point
I finally asked him point blank if he wanted to return to football, and his words came out in a flood. He didn’t know; wasn’t sure; didn’t want to let his teammates down; loved the game; loved his coach. My son admitted out loud that he was frustrated by his newest injury and was tired of purposefully placing himself in situations where he could get seriously hurt.
And in that moment, I saw that my little boy was gone and an emerging young man stood in his place. Something inside of him changed when he finally connected the game he loved so much to the pain it was causing him. He realized that the cost of tackle football was more than what he was willing to pay.
Becoming a Quitter
After deliberating for another week, my son decided to quit playing tackle football. We were well into the season. He struggled the most with others’ expectations and the fear that he was letting his friends and teammates down. Gone were his plans to make it to the NFL. He allowed himself to do what he felt was best for himself now and in the future.
I made my son explain to his coach face to face what was going on. We met him one day after practice, and my nervous son told a man he revered that he wanted to quit. While they talked, I silently prayed for my son to have courage. He awed me with his ability to speak up for himself and know what is best for himself. Coach accepted my son’s resignation from the team and—more than that—showed understanding for my son’s decision.
I am extremely relieved at my son’s decision to quit playing tackle football.
Since then, I read this article regarding children under age 12 playing tackle and their increased risk of developing CTE. (CTE is chronic traumatic encephalopathy or brain damage caused by repeated trauma to the head.) My son’s decision to quit wasn’t about his risk for brain injury. In fact, he didn’t even realize the great risk he was taking by playing. We have since discussed the brain injury risk football poses, and he says he never wants to play tackle football again.
My son still loves football.
He has since played a season of flag football and tried baseball over the summer. He continues to watch football and collect those trading cards. Since our beginning in this sport, I have learned so much about the dangers it poses to our children. My son is brave for standing up for what is best for himself.
I’m proud of my quitter!