Dedication and a never-give-up attitude are qualities that we love children to both learn and exhibit while playing sports. It’s nice to see them displayed by parents too, especially when it comes to doing what is best for young athletes.
Last month, I shared with you the story of a youth football program in South Florida that was lagging several steps behind most of the country in the way its youth football program was structured. Since the program wasn’t utilizing weight restrictions or modifying the rules, the 9-year-olds weighing 75 pounds were routinely facing kids of the same age that weighed twice as much, so you can imagine how quickly the injuries were stacking up.
Thankfully, father-of-two Gregg Webb was fed up and took action. Even more impressive, it wasn’t because his 10- and 8-year-olds were getting hurt--they never required a trip to the emergency room. It was because other kids in the program were being unnecessarily injured.
Now that’s the type of caring parent that we can use more of in our sports programs these days.
“I watched as ambulances came out and took these small kids away with broken arms and fractured wrists and ankles,” Webb says. “After I watched a 180-pound kid plow over our team of 75- to 85-pound kids, hitting our quarterback and sending him to the hospital with a fractured rib, I couldn’t believe that the league was allowing this.”
So Webb went to work.
Enough Is Enough
He began making more calls than a telephone solicitor to the folks running the league to get them to understand that children were not only suffering needless injuries, they also weren’t having much fun being roughed up by much bigger players on game day.
He set up a Web site calling for weight restrictions and to keep other parents informed of the progress of his pursuit for change.
He started a letter-writing campaign and contacted local media to alert them to the safety issues involved when bigger kids smash into much smaller ones.
He handed out flyers. He attended meetings and voiced his concern about youngsters being traumatized on the field and having their experience scarred by a trip to the emergency room.
He met with county officials and also reached out to our organization, the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
He simply didn’t rest until the problem was rectified.
“I firmly believed in this change because it was positive for the kids, so I had to go for it,” Webb says. “I knew in my heart that it was for the safety of our children. Nobody seemed to be doing anything about this, and I couldn’t watch anymore as ambulances came out.”
What was the result of his efforts? The league actually took a closer look and decided that Webb was right, and that changes needed to be made to better protect the players.
The majority of the parents, many of whom had been forced to take their children to neighboring leagues that had weight restriction policies in place, were also ecstatic with the results. Webb received many congratulatory notes, including the following: “You did a great job. Thanks for being the first one to have a backbone and create a change. Kudos to you. Perseverance pays off and the right thing was done.”
Making A Point
So why am I sharing this story with you? There is a message that all recreation professionals can take from this.
Many times parents get a bad rap for being over-involved and pushy--and many times it’s deserved. But that’s not the case every time, and that’s what is important to remember. Dealing with parents is oftentimes the number one cause of headaches and ulcers for administrators, but that doesn’t mean they should quickly dismiss a parent’s opinion simply because it doesn’t match their own, or because it goes against how the league has always operated in the past.
That’s what this story is about. It’s a great reminder that when it comes to youth sports, we all have a responsibility to work together for the kids. The more opinions and healthy discussions that are shared, the better chance the kids will have a great experience.
So, when a parent takes the time to bring up a point, do your part and analyze it, dissect it, and evaluate it, and then just ask yourself this simple question: Will this change enhance the experience for the kids in our program?
If the answer is yes, you know what you must do.
Children are counting on you.
Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com