NFL veteran kicker Nate Kaeding and everybody else who is helping to launch a youth flag football league in the Iowa City area deserve praise for doing the right thing.
They deserve praise for coming up with a safer and more practical way to introduce the sport of football to kids at a young age.
Kaeding, who is married and the father of two boys ages 3 and 4, isn’t opposed to his kids playing tackle football some day. He just wants them to be ready both physically and mentally to take on such a challenge.
Kaeding believes that having kids play flag football and learning more about the fundamentals up until the seventh grade would better prepare them for the sport when it shifts to the tackling phase in junior high.
“As a parent with two boys in the community, and someone that obviously has a rooting interest in the sport and the longevity of the sport and the viability of the sport going forward, I think we need to take more of a tactical approach in terms of how we present the game to the youngsters here in the area,” Kaeding said Tuesday afternoon in a phone interview.”
Kaeding then reeled off what he called a multitude of reasons, beginning, of course, with safety concerns.
“It just doesn’t make sense to be banging heads at that age,” said Kaeding, who graduated from West High in 2000 and was star kicker at the University of Iowa, winning the Lou Groza Award in 2002 as the nation’s top collegiate kicker. “And then also from an engagement standpoint, some of the parents that I’ve talked to that are involved with youth tackle football say the kids are going there for an hour-and-a-half and they’re spending 60 percent of the time adjusting shoulder pads and chin straps and the dads are moving the different players into different positions.
“The game should be them walking out of there with a smile on their face, sweaty, muddy and they should’ve had fun. The tackling can come later. Let’s just deal with introducing the sport in a fun manner.”
It’s hard to argue against Kaeding’s view because he’s basically trying to reach a compromise in what has become a very delicate and polarizing topic. The growing concern over head injuries in football and their long-term effects has caused some current and former NFL players, including former star quarterback and Cedar Rapids native Kurt Warner to say they don’t ever want their sons to play football. Current NFL defensive back Bernard Pollard has recently said the same thing.
Kaeding doesn’t want to take it to that extreme because he admires the game and he appreciates what it’s done for him. He has played nine seasons in the NFL and hopes to continue playing after agreeing to a 1-year free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.
Kaeding, even as a kicker, understands that the game is inherently violent and dangerous for those who play it. He’s witnessed the brutality up close and personal for years now.
So it makes more sense to Kaeding to limit the danger by teaching kids the fundamentals of football at a young age, but without tackling. Kaeding studied to be a teacher in college and he’s now using much of what he learned to help form the league.
“With having a little bit of an educator’s bone in my body, I know that the positive benefits of the game far outweigh the negatives in terms of the safety risks,” Kaeding said. “And I haven’t seen a comprehensive effort, at least locally, so this is how we should introduce the game to our kids.”
Kaeding also is using common sense. What is the benefit of having a kid in second or third grade play tackle football? It’s hard enough for kids that age to keep their shoulder pads and helmets on properly without having to deal with being tackled or making tackles.
“Their bodies just aren’t ready for it,” Kaeding said.
Kaeding said the league will be called the Red Zone Youth Football League and the plan is to start playing games and teaching fundamentals in August. He has joined forces with the Diamond Dreams Sports Academy and with former Iowa football player Tyler Blum, who is handling many of the day-to-day responsibilities, including having the league recently insured.
Kaeding also has reached out to the area high school football coaches and he said the response has been positive. He said the response has been positive on a national level, too, because more communities want an alternative for youth tackle football.
“What I want to sort of spearhead is to create an age-based curriculum with sort of a lesson plan, just like an educator would use if they were teaching history or social studies as he comes into the first grade and all the way through,” Kaeding said. “And the ultimate goal would be as they get older and get closer to junior high that they’re going to be better tacklers, safer tacklers because at the beginning of fifth and sixth grade in these programs they’re going to start learning tackling techniques.”
Kaeding expects to face some resistance from supporters of youth tackle football mostly because of the money invested in running those leagues.
“Some people get into this whole conspiracy theory, they call it the football industrial complex with all these equipment companies,” Kaeding said. “It’s a hot-button issue. They’re still protecting the interest of youth tackle football because there is a lot of money it.”
Kaeding doesn’t want to get rid of youth tackle football in the Iowa City area, but rather offer what he considers a safer alternative.
And with kids, safety always should come first.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football