Preparing your child to play youth football (see reference) can pay big dividends in the long run. Youth football is a rough and tumble sport in which children, if not properly supervised, trained, and equipped, can sustain serious injury. Youth football team participation can help your child develope mental and physical skills and learn teamwork and discipline. Youth football includes pee wee football, mity might football and junior football. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has classified football as one of the four top activities among children most likely to cause injury. Because it is a contact sport, youth football, (not including flag football) is not recommended for very young children. Older children between the ages of 8 and 14 who express an interest in the sport will more likely enjoy a football experience. A smart parent can begin at home by physically preparing a child to play youth football.
Training Begins at Home
In every sport, training begins at home. Sufficient rest, good nutrition, and daily activity with some structured training will prepare your child to be a strong team player. Make sure your child gets at least eight hours of rest every night and eats a well-balanced diet that includes proteins, fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates. Encourage them to avoid junk foods, caffeinated drinks and super sugary snacks like candy. If your child is playing football or involved in a football camp or program, be sure that they eat two to three hours prior to physical activity. You may also want to increase their carbohydrate and fluid intake. Carbohydrates help a child have more energy while fluids keep them hydrated between games. Football often involves “bulking up” or developing more of a muscular build. Be sure to consult your pediatrician before making any radical changes in your child’s diet. If a dietary change is recommended by your pediatrician, continue to monitor your child to determine if the change is helping them stay strong in the game.
Daily activity is very important to any aspiring athlete. Small children prepare for organized sports like youth football through daily chores and activities. Dancing, tag, and helping Dad wash the car are all experiences that stretch muscles and develop coordination as well as muscular strength. This type of activity helps small children stay fit and ready for play. Older children interested in youth football can add more structured training to their daily activities. More structured training can help an older child develop specialized skills which will enable them to become a better football player.
Football: Strength, Speed and Grip Training
The art of football involves strength, speed and grip. Professional coaches and trainers throughout the years have developed specialized exercises to help aspiring athletes achieve their physical goals. Please be sure to consult a pediatrician before implementing strength, speed or grip training into your child’s daily routine.
Strength Training involves exercises designed to improve bone and muscular strength which can protect a child from injury. Strong muscles and bones also give a child the ability to exert or resist a tackle strategy. Strength Training involves simple daily exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups, and leg curls. Many Health Organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believe that a strength training program can be very beneficial for a child and now “support children’s participation in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs.”
A child between the ages of 7 to 8 who is interested in participating in an organized sporting program is ready for a basic strength training program. Help your child set aside some time each day for appropriate strength training. Warm muscles work better, so before strength training have your child do five to fifteen minutes of warm up stretching and cardiovascular movement such as jogging, bike riding or jumping jacks. Exercise time should be based on a child’s age, ability, and interest level. Teach by example and do the warm-up with them and demonstrate 3-6 strength training exercises. Below are two simple strength training exercises recommended by Coach Arthur Erickson, head football coach at Copper Hills High School, Utah.
Youth strength training
Bear Crawl: Have your child crawl on hands and feet with arms extended as if they were a bear running. This will work the muscles and joints of the upper body from the wrist to the shoulder.
Crabwalk: The player from a sitting position rises up on their hands and feet “walking backwards.” This exercise also works the upper body and focuses building the triceps of the upper arm.
Explain how each push-up or curl-up is strengthening a specific set of muscles. Help your child to understand that with each exercise their muscles are working and as they exercise regularly, the muscles will get stronger and help them be a better football player. Start off by doing just a few exercises and gradually build to 10-15 repetitions of each strength training exercise. Encourage your child to do more as they build muscular strength. Weight lifting can be added gradually as the child grows older and stronger. Monitor your child carefully so that they do not over train. Coach Erickson recommends that “participation and fun should be the goal” of any training program and that “specialized training should be reserved for a more mature body and interest level.” Twenty to thirty minutes of strength, speed and grip exercise for young children and thirty to sixty minutes for pre-teens and teens should be enough to help improve their game.
Youth Speed Training
Integrate speed training after strength training to help a child develop more agility and speed. In football the average play lasts about 5 seconds and ends in some type of collision. During these five seconds, players need to be able to move fast within short and long distances. Sprinting and jumping drills otherwise known as light polymeric exercises can help a child develop this ability to move fast. Start with short sprints of about five to fifteen yards and time your child to determine their starting speed. Train your child to understand explosive movement which involves being still and then exploding quickly into accelerated movement. Teach your child by example how to run fast by lifting the legs med-high and quick. Show them how to breathe properly by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Run repetitious drills gradually increasing yardage distance as your child’s speed and endurance increases. Coach Karl D. Cloward, head football coach at Bingham High School, Utah , recommends basic speed training exercises of running up and down stairs, short 10 yard sprints and cone drills where cones are set up for the child to sprint and run around and back. As a child grows and masters each skill, more complicated speed drills such as the ones below can be introduced.
High Knees: Stand upright in good running posture and run a set amount of yardage while lifting the knees high. Raise the knees parallel to the ground and repeat 3 times with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
Power Slides: Stand upright with feet together. With the left foot, step to the left stretching the leg out. Slide the right foot to the left, keeping it lightly on the ground. Repeat the drill starting this time with the right foot. Repeat 4 times with a short rest between repetitions.
Jumping: Stand upright and jump up and try to touch your chest with your knees. Repeat 3 times.
As with strength training, be sure to monitor your child closely so that they do not over exert them sel
ves. Speed training is an important part of an effective football training program. Properly implemented speed training can enable your child to move fast, catch the ball, and avoid the tackler just behind them.
Youth Grip Training
Grip training involves exercises are designed to strengthen the hand and arms helping your child to catch and hold the football. Grip training often involves weights and enables a child to develop more specialized skills. This type of training is largely reserved for pre-teens and teens while more basic exercises can help a younger child develop stronger arms and hands. Below are some basic grip training exercises that will help your child catch that slippery ball.
Fingertip pushups: Place your hand flat on a surface and push up with your fingertips. Repeat ten times on each hand with a short rest between repetitions.
Crushing: Grab some pliers or a nutcracker and squeeze or crush it 10 times with a short rest between repetitions.
Wrist Curls: Hold your hand out flat and make a fist. Curl your hand up using the muscles of your wrist. Repeat 10 times with short rests between repetitions as needed.
In all training situations remember to watch your child carefully for signs of over exertion and strain. Organized sports should be a fun experience for each child and unfortunately overtraining can result in a bad experience. Coach Erickson says that “overtraining is a real situation and can be avoided through proper planning and prudent use of allotted training time.” Regarding overexertion, Coach Erickson “would look for lack of energy, lack of desire and injuries that increase and do not heal in a timely manner.”
Look for Signs of a Great Youth Football Program
If your child is ready to play ball, then it’s time to enroll them in a football program or camp. Summer Sport Camps keep children busy and help them learn new skills. Flag Football is very popular for both younger and older children. Flag Football allows children to become acquainted with the rules and basic fundamentals of the game without the full on-tackle experience. It also gives them the opportunity to have fun and is ideal for younger children whose bodies are not ready for constant collisions. Flag Football is also a good alternative for children with disabilities who need a less physical football experience.
For older children ready for the real thing, a national or state football program can offer more of the real football experience. The Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks, members of the NFL, offer week-long summer football camps for youth. These camps are taught by professional educators with coaching experience. Camp trainees can learn how to block, pass, form tackle, run, throw, and catch. Youth can also learn more about explosive movement and how to go from frozen stance to quick winning movements.
Local and State football programs are also available though Parks and Recreation Departments as well as local High Schools. Of course what makes any program great is the leadership involved. When investigating a football program or camp for your child, ask about the coach interview process. Programs and camps that staff coaches with more professional experience will help ensure that your child has a positive football experience.
Coach Cloward’s School, the Bingham Miners, offers a Conference Football program which is one of the most successful programs in the state of Utah. It gives children the ages of 8 to 15 years the opportunity to train and learn how to play football. Cost for this camp is $200.00 per player and includes game jersey, mouth piece, socks, as well as the use of helmet, pads, practice pants and game pants. They also offer team and individual pictures and are scheduled for a minimum of 8 regular season games.
As your child grows, continue to support them in their athletic interest. Good health habits and lots of positive emotional support can help a child follow their focus into their pre-teen and teenage years. Most high schools offer Jr. Varsity and Varsity football programs that will enable your child to further their athletic goals and interests. In any athletic program, it is important that both child and parent put school first. The NFL has a “Play It Smart” coaching program which recommends that a second academic coach is assigned to help team players make good life and academic choices. Many high schools also have their own programs in place to help team players make positive and effective life decisions.
As your child develops physical and mental football skills, you can help them make the team by supporting them in developing these ten attributes recommended by Coach Erickson.
1. Hard Worker
2. Great Effort
4. Team Oriented
5. Passion or love of the Game
6. Hand-eye coordination
In any football program it is most important that both child and parents listen to coaching instructions. The coach is there to give direct instructions that will prevent injuries and enable a child or youth to play a good game. A positive coach with good communication skills can help a child to go the distance. Parents who support the coach set a good example of team work for their child.
Youth football equipment maintenance is also important to a child’s safety and parents should be aware of the school’s equipment policies and procedures. Parents should also be aware of equipment policies and procedures in any football program or camp. Coach Erickson states that “helmets should be re-certified every two years and pads should be replaced out of a program if the protective properties have broken down over time, through use.” In any football program, the equipment should be well maintained and the coach should train team members on the proper use of each piece of equipment.
In any organized sport, the most important factor is to have fun and enjoy playing the game. Have your child learn basic football concepts first and move on to more structured training as they develop. A child that is happy and safe in an organized sporting program is a winning goal for any parent.
These links have more help to prepare your child to play youth football.
Learn more about the importance of nutrition and plan your pre-game meal.
More on strength training for the very young.
Find a flag football or regular football camp or program near you!