Pigskin, passion and Pop Warner

Are you ready for some football?
No, not that flashy dundercrap on television every Sunday. Steroids and assault charges might be fun for tabloids, but the rest of us remember when professionals were just that.
In the NFL, a paycheck is usually eschewed in favor of pride, class and respect. Just ask Junior Seau.
I’m talking about athletes who actually show up and care about the team they play for. There’s a select group of gentlemen who still hold the game in high regard and strive to achieve excellence and a reverence for the game that hasn’t been present since 1965.
I’m obviously speaking about our local Pop Warner teams.
My stepson Cole has decided to venture on a path of riotous, crushing calamity. A twisting purple clash of plastic, sweat and limbs jutting towards a goal of pushing laced brown leather across a chalk line.  
Carlsbad Pop Warner has a longstanding tradition of things I do not know and do not care enough to research. I’m sure some players moved on to the almighty Carlsbad High School and a select few have ascended to smashing face with other collegiate gladiators.
But Pop Warner has to start at the bare minimum. Most of these kids barely know the positions and how to calculate an angle of pursuit, let alone the ins and outs of suiting up and committing bodily injury toward their pre-teen brethren.
This is where Cole comes in.
He’s frighteningly mature for an 8-year-old. Since I’ve known him, he wakes, feeds and sends himself off to school without so much as a hint of parental or step-parental assistance. Waking up and trying to help is pointless because he’s a cyborg of efficiency with an acceptance of rules buried in his sub-routine. I can only hope that our daughter Samantha has even a hint of his discipline.
Cole’s devotion to discipline led me to believe that he would have an endearing respect for the game of full-contact football. Though my wife Shannon felt a twinge of trepidation toward her son throwing himself headlong into other children, we both thought it was a fantastic idea considering I played 12 years of tackle football myself.
And we were right. Cole loves playing football and can’t wait to suit up everyday in the heat to pursue a sport he loves to watch and participate in.
What I didn’t anticipate was how angry, snide and annoying some of the parents and coaches can be. Relax — I said some, not all. Take a breath. Most of the parents are there to be supportive and enjoy watching their child play football. Alas, there is a small group who forget they’re not coaching.  
Granted, a few of the coaches are immature, angry, antagonistic jerks toward the kids, but to a small degree, that’s expected. This is their one chance to relive their glory day of being cut from their JV football team and being relegated to waterboy status. If they could possibly avoid throwing their hats, clipboards and various other childish tantrums, we’d appreciate them acting like adults. These kids are watching every move you make, and when you act like an impudent 4-year-old, they notice that too and absorb that behavior as acceptable. It’s not. Grow up.
Unfortunately, it was the parents that made me almost root for these brave kids to quit playing football.
 I don’t want to set about lambasting fellow Pop Warner parents without setting myself on fire first. I am the first person to interrogate Cole and assess his performance during practice. If I feel he’s not running hard enough or not committing kid-battery with reckless abandon, then we’ll usually have a chat on the car ride home about how he could have approached that practice differently.
Therein lies the rub: my expectations mean spectacularly little in the grand scheme. Same as all those other parents screaming at their children from the fence because they have a disgustingly warped sense of personal responsibility.
It’s a game, played by young men who have been programmed their entire life that violence against other beings is wrong and to be avoided. Now, with helmet and purple padding, it’s deemed OK to decimate your school mates as long as the coaches approve.
That’s a fantastic culture shift for someone that young and something that takes a few years to fully understand.
When it plays out, it’s still just a game. A game that has nothing to do with the parents of those children. Other than to make sure their kids have gone to school that day, drank enough water and eaten enough to satiate the caloric taxation of that day’s gridiron challenge, parents simply need to let go and realize its not about them anymore.
It’s time to appreciate your children for what they are and let them play a game. Win or lose, be a supportive adult role model and show them how to accept both with dignity and respect.
Game on.

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