My son's junior high football coach is a 40-year veteran. He has taught and coached in several area schools over the past four decades and has had the opportunity to even see some of his boys move on to the NFL. This man knows football. At the parents meeting last night, he let the parents in on a well-known, but little discussed secret. I, for one, am glad the boys sat in on this little lecture. The following are a few of his points mixed in with my own thoughts on the matter.
Disproportionate rates of growth
Junior high is tough. Boys grow at wildly different rates. Some may look (and sound) like 15-year-olds, others are closer in stature to a mid-elementary school student. This is simply fact. There is about a five-inch span in what is considered "normal," according to government charts.
Unlike cross country, wrestling or basketball, football is a full-contact sport without any weight guidelines in most junior high schools. This may mean your 70 pound son could be paired up with a 160 pound lineman from the opposing team. I have to trust that the coach and trainer will make wise choices in this regard. If this means the 70 pound boy is pulled from the play, then so be it. In a year or two that boy could hit his growth spurt or gain an impressive amount of speed.
Deal with teasing
Teasing could be interpreted as simply pointing out the obvious. If someone is sensitive about their large feet, or small legs, any amount of attention could be construed as teasing. On one hand, kids need to know how to give an unemotional reply; for example if they are shorter than most, they could agree with the comment, or just say, "So what?"
Teach your kids regardless of where they fall in the spectrum to respect each other, especially teammates. The coach did a good job of sharing how the small boy in seventh grade often surprises everyone in ninth.
Watch your mouth, parents
Do not add fuel to the fire. My son is tall and strong for his age. He gets a lot of attention for being athletic. While encouraging him, I need to be careful not to diss other kids or make him think that his size and strength is the only measuring rod that matters. Emphasis the strengths of others and challenge your child to push themselves in other areas, especially in junior high, when they are faced with so many different opportunities.
Another thought from the coach: Know that that large boy on the opposing team is most likely the same age and try to refrain from shouting foul. The disparity in size on a football field can cause concern, but try to stay positive as a fan, (and encourage your son to practice well and pay attention!)
The big picture
A study done by the University of Michigan found that out of 712 junior high children surveyed, a child's size made no difference in friendships, popularity or reputation.
In team sports, size and athletic ability will make a difference, but if managed correctly, the kids do not have to feel inferior, or get injured! Oh, and by the way, the coach's own son was extra small in seventh grade. He went on to play football in high school, the Air Force Academy and finally the Denver Broncos. Size has little effect on personal drive and ability.