A.J. started his first season of flag-football with his first-ever football practice this week. His mom and I drove him over to the practice field, and he was about as excited as I’ve ever seen him. For the several days leading up to the practice, there had been a litany of questions:
Do we get jerseys? Yes.
Will they have numbers? I don't know.
Can I play quarterback? Your coach will probably let everyone have a chance to try all the positions.
So I can play quarterback? I don’t know.
It’s an amazing thing, the enthusiasm of a six-year-old. It is, in the end, the best reason I can think of for signing him up for this league and standing around on the sidelines with the other parents.
Still, the idea of six-year-olds playing organized football does seem a little bizarre to me. Part of the problem is my suspicion of the overzealous youth sports culture, which is definitely on display in these parts. They start the kids on football at five, t-ball at four, and hockey, I think, even earlier. At every stage, parents seem to be obliged to advertise their kids’ youth sports affiliation with a sticker fixed on the back window of the minivan or SUV. At my son’s school, the boys in the youth football league wear their jerseys on Fridays, and the girls in cheerleading wear their little cheerleading outfits—even the first-graders—just like the big kids in high school. I guess it’s never too young to steer the kids into inflexible cliques.
You can argue about whether kids so young are emotionally ready for organized sports, but there’s no arguing this point: They can’t catch a ball worth a damn. I watched A.J.’s practice and the kids were as cute as could be, but not one of them could reliably catch a ball or throw a ball or even run with one for very long without dropping it. Come to think of it, they reminded me a little of some of the Bears teams of the late ‘70s I grew up watching.
Still, it was a good practice. The kids got to run around, throw some grass at each other, and listen to their coach try to explain what he means by “two parallel lines.”
The only real downer: No jerseys were handed out. So on the way home, the questions continued:
Daddy, will we get jerseys next week? I don’t know.
What color are our jerseys? I don't know.
Will they have numbers? Sounds of father sobbing.