Sports are a huge part of my family life. My wife owns a sports business for young people, my kids are very involved in numerous sports and I try to find time to coach and volunteer whenever I can.
And we participate in a lot of sports – soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, cheer, cross country, track and many more. We have never been a football family. Like others, anxiety over safety issues in football have raised concerns for me. And when I learned that former BC Lion Angus Reid was going to be speaking about high school football at TEDxWestVancouverEd I was preparing to not agree with him. A former football star touting the importance of high school football at a time when the sport is facing trouble with participation; I was ready to be reminded that schools need to be like they used to be, when football was king.
TED Conferences can be overwhelming. One speaker after another, mostly confirming your view of the world. Many of the talks, no matter how powerful or passionate, can run together. Well, we are a couple of months after the event now, and one talk has really stuck with me – it is Angus Reid’s Why We Need High School Football.
It is hard to change one’s thinking in 12 minutes – but Angus Reid made me see high school football differently. His set-up was important. He was clearly focused on high school football, differentiating it from community and professional football. He also dealt with the concussion and safety issue in a very upfront way – taking the approach if high school football is important enough we ca figure out the safety issues.
There were a number of strong points Angus made. His emphasis on the structure that football can give young people is important. In a world of uncertainty, football is very routine – one game a week, usually on Fridays, and a series of after-school practices each day with a specific purpose as they build up to the game. As I wrote in my most recent post, people are often seeking routine in an ever-changing world.
Then there is the entire issue of participation. Reid notes that there are 88 chances in a game to get kids to play. So you can find a way to get everyone in the game on a team of 40 or on a team of 80. Football is a sport that is open to everyone – different positions require different shapes and sizes and very different skills. The issue of participation in school sports is one I have been thinking a lot about recently. Maybe because my kids are now at the young high school age, I am seeing kids (and their parents) crushed as they are cut from basketball and volleyball teams. As much as I love both of those sports – they are ones where sometimes only 12 of 60 or 70 interested kids “make” the team. We need more sports like football, and rugby, ultimate, cross-country track, among others that find a way to include most if not all of their interested kids. This point has been further emphasized this past week with the announcement that young people in Canada are some of the least active in the world.
Finally Reid makes the case for the empowerment that can come from football. Reid mentioned Nolan Bellerose, who was the subject of a wonderful recent story from Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper. It is true that sports can be a vehicle for so much more. It is true that we see these possibilities through many school sports, and similarly through music, art, robotics and a range of other co-curricular and extra-curricular programs it is true that football can often tap into a population of our young men who often struggle to connect in our schools.
So, Angus Reid, you changed my thinking. I will look at high school football differently from now on.