Running into the absurd

I try to go run each weekend on the local high school football field. It is a new, artificial-turf field that offers plenty of cushioning for my creaky joints. Almost every time I go, I find I am not alone on the field. I often run into private football coaching sessions for boys in their tweens.

Over the past two years, I have noticed an increasing trend: parents hiring private coaches to work on football skills with their 10- to 15-year-old sons. There are quarterback coaches, punting and kicking coaches and long-snapping coaches. Some of these sessions are private lessons; others are two or three boys working with one coach. Occasionally, a parent or two is sitting on the sidelines, eager to talk with the coach about their son’s progress after the coaching session ends.

Last New Year’s Day, I decided to go run before plopping myself on the couch to watch the Rose Bowl. When I went over to the field, I encountered a mom and dad watching their 9th-grade son get a private lesson from a quarterback coach. The boy was throwing the ball well and the coach had a lot of good advice for him, but I was still taken aback by the timing. The high school football passing league season was more than four months away and it was more than seven months before anyone would put on football pads. Plus, it was New Year’s Day, for crying out loud.

Yesterday, I came across a dad sitting on the sidelines watching his 6th- or 7th-grade son get private coaching on how to run agility and conditioning drills to prepare him for the upcoming Pop Warner season (which is still more than two months away). I’m sorry, but a middle-aged man showing a well coordinated pre-teen boy how to run agility and conditioning drills is simply absurd. It is a waste of both money and time. Plus, let’s face it–middle-aged guys really are not all that agile.

I love that kids are involved in sports and many of the private coaches do a great job with the kids, especially those in their later teens who can get a real benefit out of the coaching. It bothers me, however, to see more and more private football coaching sessions with boys in their tweens.

“Private coaching at that age is pretty much useless,” says my friend, Ron Estabrook, who coached both of my sons at Chaparral High School. “Puberty reshuffles the deck anyway. A boy changes so much between 8th grade and his junior year in high school.”

Ron knows what he is talking about. He retired two years ago as one of the more successful football coaches in the history of Arizona high school football. He won more than 120 games and three state championships at Chaparral. He also won two Nevada high school championship before coming to Arizona.

I had lunch with Ron recently and shared with him what I was seeing when I went running over at the high school. Ron said that he thought that the private coaching of tweens was not only useless, but also built up unwarranted expectations with the kids and the parents who had spent the money on such coaching. “Parents who spend all this money on private quarterback coaching can’t understand how their kid got beat out once he is on the varsity squad by the natural athlete or the kid whose athleticism has improved greatly since middle school,” Ron said.

Ron’s advice for dads who want to help develop their young sons’ football skills is pretty simple. “Go out to the back yard or the park and throw the ball with your son. It is supposed to be fun.” And it is something that a dad can provide to his young son that no coach can. — Dan Barr

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