‘Friday Night Tykes’—Forming Character or Scrambling Brains?

Sports Industry News and Analysis

‘Friday Night Tykes’—Forming Character or Scrambling Brains?

Whatever it’s being called — “docuseries” or “reality TV” — Esquire Network’s new series “Friday Night Tykes” is showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of youth football as practiced by the Texas Youth Football Association. In a recent episode, a coach points to the earhole in the helmet of one of his charges and says, “Hit everybody right here. They’re going to lose players, one at a time.”

Those players are eight and nine-years-old, and many of their parents see the coach’s directive as a way to develop toughness and discipline in their children. Chris Hummel, an Ithaca College faculty member, concussion researcher, and certified athletic trainer, sees it differently.

“That kind of coaching is dangerous,” Hummel said. “Concussion education has dominated the sports news for the last three or four years. How can this be the direction given to a developing eight or nine year old?”

Collisions in football are inevitable, but Hummel believes changes in state laws, rules, practice and coaching techniques, and helmet technology can significantly increase player safety, in Texas and everywhere else.

“The Heads Up method of tackling helps,” said Hummel, referring to USA Football’s recommended program of safe tackling techniques. “But tackling should be significantly reduced or even eliminated for those under 12. Limiting the number of collisions per practice or game has far reaching consequences. Typically, a player concussed in youth football takes longer to recover than a player concussed in the NFL. We’re only beginning to understand the possible long term effects of concussions in youth athletes.”

On-field measures work best, Hummel added, when backed by community-wide concussion education—something not evident in “Friday Night Tykes.”

“Teaching parents, athletes, and coaches how to recognize concussions is vital. So are measures making sure athletic trainers are on the sidelines and doctors in the community are current with concussion management. Keeping youth football players safe really does take a village.”