If you get tired of Super Bowl coverage this week or the seemingly all-day pregame show Sunday, you should check out the Esquire network’s new show, Friday Night Tykes. It’s compelling television for two very different reasons.

Friday Night Tykes follows the seasons of five San Antonio football teams in the Texas Youth Football Association’s Rookie Division. These teams of eight- and nine-year-olds play in what is billed as “one of the elite football leagues for kids in America.”

On one hand, the show is compelling because of how honestly it portrays real concerns of parents about youth football.

• The family of a Predators player consoling him when he is held out after suffering a Football injurysevere concussion – one that caused him to be unable to recognize his own mother.
• The parents of the Predators’ quarterback – whose dad is also the head coach – trying to allay the child’s fears of getting hurt before playing the Outlaws, a team that celebrates how hard its players hit opponents.
• The mom/general manager of the Jr. Broncos, frustrated with the coach who plays her son only one play in his team’s first two games despite his tireless work in practice.

“Some kids are your everyday kids that just want to quit. If you allow them to quit on the football field, it’s going to be OK to quit in the classroom, going to be able to quit on jobs, be able to quit on life. That’s our job as coaches. You can’t let ’em quit. You’ve got to push ’em.”
-Jr. Broncos head coach Charles Chavarria

On the other hand, Friday Night Tykes is compelling because it demonstrates in vivid detail everything that is wrong with youth football.

• The Colts, one of the league’s best teams, going for another touchdown with seconds remaining while already beating its rival, the Jr. Rockets, 25-0.
• Jaden “J Boogie” Armmer, who was recruited to play football – when he was three years old.
• The mother of an Outlaws player who rehearses the obnoxious trash-talking cheers she screams at the opposing teams.
• The Jr. Broncos coach who tells his nose tackle to intentionally jump offsides just to knock the opposing center on his back on the first play of the game.

“The hardest thing is getting them past the fear. Once you make that first hit, you start liking it, craving it. That’s what it’s all about. Once you get past that fear, the sky’s the limit.”
-Outlaws assistant coach Tony Coley

Youth footballWorse than all of those bad behaviors, though, is the treatment of the players by many of the coaches. It is behavior that could be described as falling somewhere between bullying and child abuse.

These are just a few examples from the show’s first three episodes. Again, these aren’t professional athletes. These are eight- and nine-year-old children.

• An Outlaws assistant coach screams at a player, who is vomiting during a game after being sick all week, “Damn Luke. Stop your f***ing crying, for one thing. Drink some water. Shake it off. Finish the game.”
• Colby, the son of the previously mentioned Jr. Broncos “momager,” runs all day in 99° heat. After he throws up several times, the head coach screams at him to run with the team. “I don’t care how bad it hurts. You don’t quit!”
• Possibly worst of all, I counted 20 instances of coaches calling for their players to hurt the opposing players. By my count, there were 27 helmet-to-helmet hits shown before the first mention of players keeping their heads up and tackling properly. That tackling instruction occurred six minutes into the third episode.

“You have the opportunity today to rip their freaking head off and let them bleed. If I cut ’em with a knife, they’re gonna bleed red, just like you.”
-Jr. Broncos head coach Charles Chavarria

The NFL has expressed its concerns over Friday Night Tykes. According to the Los Angeles Times, an NFL spokesman admitted, “The trailer is definitely troubling to watch,” and pointed out that TYFA does not participate in the Heads Up Football program.

Football helmetAs bad as this coaching behavior is, it is also likely to be counterproductive. While many of the parents of the San Antonio kids probably dream of their kids playing in the Super Bowl one day, this bullying might actually cause the kids to quit football before they even make it to high school. According to Safe Kids USA, 70% of children quit playing organized sports by age 13. Excessive pressure from coaches is thought to be one of the main factors.

“A lot of kids are soft today. I think they are pampered too much. I think we need to be a little ruthless on our kids. Sometimes parents say I might be crossing a little bit over the line. They need to toughen up. If you don’t push your kids, you’re accepting failure. You’re enabling your kids to fail.”
-Jr. Broncos head coach Charles Chavarria

In a rare moment of compassion, Colts’ head coach Marecus Goodloe admits that youth sports must be fun for young athletes. “The way to get the kids to give you 100%, they have to have fun doing it. If they don’t have fun, they’re just out there. You’re not going to get out of them what you need to get out of them.”

Ironically his Colts team is the same one whose coaches lead the players in “F*** the Rockets” cheers and whose players chant “Let’s get paid!” and symbolically throw money on the opponent’s logo when they score.

Despite all of the startling behaviors seen in Friday Night Tykes, to me it is the bullying of players by the coaches that is most disturbing. Sports are critical for the development of young kids. I’m all for coaches pushing their players to work hard in practice and compete to the best of their abilities. But at some point, we have to realize that they are still kids.

Any coach who feels the need to bully young kids is a loser, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

The Dr. David Geier ShowIs football under attack? In the Zone segment from Episode 127 of The Dr. David Geier Show

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Note: A modified version of this post appears as my sports medicine column in the February 10, 2014 issue of The Post and Courier.