Another youth football season has come to an end, and the Trumansburg senior squad bounced back from a 2017 season record of 1 and 5 to win the 2018 championship. In 2017 the team was fractured by mandatory weight limit rules, which define eligibility for play, and became a divisive distraction when one player was unable to play. This year, the team was free of that distraction, and the difference in emotional states of the players both on and off the field was palpable.
The weight limit rule is handed down by the CNY Youth Football League (CNYYFL), which operates under the uidance of one director to organize coaches, leaders, and players, oversee rosters and rules, and schedule games. In August of 2017 in the wake of several teams having players who were going to weigh above the allowed weight limits (115 pounds to carry the ball, 170 pounds to play for the senior league), it was suggested that CNYYFL retract the rule. This would have allowed all those who are interested in the sport to support their team and continue to work with coaches on physical fitness and healthy lifestyle choices. Doing away with the weight limit rule is by no means a controversial idea. In fact, CNYYFL is one of the few leagues in the State that maintains the rule.
Throughout training before the September eligibility weigh-in, coaches and athletes rallied around each other to be healthier and become better athletes. On the sidelines, coaches were advocating for the elimination of the weight limit where they were answered with one single and problematic solution; move those who were ineligible because of weight from the youth leagues to modified teams, where athletes as young as a newly turned 12-year-old and an almost 16-year-old would be competing against each other.
Studies have shown the risk of injury in youth football is not defined by weight, but by age, and the occurrence of football injuries increases as players get older. According to a Mayo Clinic study focussed on grouping athletes by weight to prevent injury, “...the number one predictor of injuries in youth tackle football is age and weight groups would not appear to protect players…Most scientists and doctors who have studied the issue speculate that older players are injured more frequently because they run faster, hit harder, and are more aggressive.” If moved up to modified, the younger players, who have inadequately developed strength and growth plates, would have been put at an increased risk of injury when being hit by an older, faster, and stronger athlete. They simply are not on the same physical or emotional level as older players. In Trumansburg, it was an emotional blow to not allow every able member of the team play to their fullest ability, and the turmoil damaged the team to their core. The young players had supported each other to be the healthiest athletes they could be, and it was destructive to experience a teammate being turned away from something he felt passionate about. They also lost a coach who was reprimanded by game suspensions when he and the coach of an opposing team both agreed to let their ineligible athletes play against each other.
This created a potent mix of compassion and heartache that is nearly impossible for children, much less adults, to turn into productive energy. One player noted, “I feel like it really dragged our team down because we had a great player who worked really hard to try to make weight. He just wanted to play, and when he didn’t make weight, it took a toll on our team. He was a kid that affected the team chemistry so much in a positive manner. Seeing a player go through that and not be able to play was devastating. It was always in the back of our minds how wrong it was, and it destroyed our confidence.” Of the coaches suspension, he goes on to say, “I don’t feel like a coach should be suspended for giving a kid playing time, especially after the player had worked so hard. I remember how happy he was when he was going to be able to play, and he played very well that game.”
For the upcoming 2019 season, the CNYYFL is discussing eliminating the weight limit rule. The Trumansburg 2018 team was free of weight limit distractions and finished with a 5 and 1 record and a championship title. That is a good indication that a move toward eliminating the rule helps coaches facilitate the physical and emotional health and confidence of the individual players and teams as a whole. Of the success of the season, coach Jimmy Landon said, “The biggest difference with the kids this year is they were free of distraction and played as a team. They supported one another and wanted to see each other succeed. I preached to them to be a family and be there for one another. They ran with it and embraced it. The moral was very good early on. They fed off that and it helped their confidence.”
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