When I was a kid, I played one year of football. I was probably about 10, and I was a small kid. I quickly learned that having much larger kids run you over was not fun, even if you had pads on.
When I got to college, I was introduced to flag football, which is football for people who don’t like to be crushed by larger people. Being small and quick is advantageous, as the way to down a player in flag football is to grab a flag off of a belt, not knock the person into a different week.
I played all through college on intramural teams, and then in City rec leagues when I left college. I hung up the flags for good about 10 years ago, mainly because my wife and I had two kids and I was getting plenty of exercise with that.
But after my hiatus, I am back. Only I’m not on the field, but rather prowling the sideline as the fiercest assistant coach the gridiron has ever known, instilling fear in the opposition and respect from our players when I say to the head coach, “Think we should run the ‘Skittles’ play?”
Yes, my son, Parker, is playing flag football, and I am an assistant coach, mainly because I was standing there on the first day of practice and was asked, “Do you want to be the assistant coach?” (I’d like to think my legendary flag football playing career was the reason I was tapped, and not that there was no one else currently standing there.)
Parker, who is 10, is like me in a lot of ways. Certainly, he is in size. He’s a small dude, but he loves football and is quick as jackrabbit. He has wanted to play football for a while, and we decided on flag football. The padded version was an option, but we decided he would have more fun if he did not have to don gear that would have doubled his weight. It’s not that we were worried about him getting hurt, but rather we would put the pads on him and he wouldn’t be able to stand.
“Skittles” is one of our main plays. At higher levels, teams develop complex names for plays like “42 Wichita Bouillon Fade Velcro 98 Gymkata Platypus.” Our playbook is more geared for the 8-12 year olds on the team. “Bubblegum” is another favorite.
The head coach, Adam, is a perfect coach for two very important reasons: (1) He’s great with the kids, being a patient teacher and not taking things too seriously and (2) He requested and received “Falcons” as our team name. No son of mine would play for the Saints or Panthers.
My main job as assistant coach is moral support. Sure, I’m there to help run drills in practice or help keep kids focused as needed. But the main thing I bring to the table is high fives when the kids come off the field and serving up the occasional reminder that “Coach Adam is talking, guys.”
The kids on the team are a good group of boys. And they are boys. Rowdy, raucous, silly boys who are playing hard to win, but still having lots of fun out there. The first couple of games, the Falcons lost by fairly heavy margins. (We’re in a rebuilding year.) But there was no quit in the Falcons. They played hard start to finish and ended each game with smiles on their faces.
Of course, they are at the age when winning is pretty darn fun, so when they finally notched their first victory, you could see that was a sweet nectar.
One of my favorite parts of any youth sports game is the post-game handshake, where everyone lines up and walks the line, slapping hands and saying, “Good game” over and over to the point where it kinda morphs into “ggame.” It’s a treat to stand at the back of that line and join in the handshakes and “ggames.” I like knowing that, at this age, these kids are still playing for the love of the game. I hope they will all continue to play with that mindset. Coaches like Adam are a big reason players develop a respect and love for the game, and I’m glad Parker is having such a fun season. Should he want to play another season, we’d support that 100 percent. Because you always want your kids to be part of a team, to learn the sport, to exercise. But most importantly, to have a ggame.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.