A few years ago, my son’s football team was handing out game jerseys during training camp. Our program orders the jerseys in advance in assorted sizes with numbers already on them. Once they’re given out, the last names are added to them.

Bradley looked at the jerseys in his size and settled on No. 3. A short time later, another child picked out his jersey. I don’t remember exactly what number it was, but let’s just say it was 65. One of his parents was overheard saying something to the effect of …

“That number is not good. My son is a wide receiver, and wide receivers don’t wear that number in the NFL.”

I really don’t know if the parent was serious, but it brings up an important topic. If your child is playing youth football because you think he’s making it to the NFL, then he’s playing youth football for the wrong reason. The numbers against that happening are just astronomical.

The funny part is that my wife and I joke with people from time to time that when it comes to Bradley, we don’t need the NFL. We just want a college scholarship. Calm down. We know that the chances of that are also slim. In fact, the NCAA publishes those percentages each year so parents have a realistic view of what’s in front of their children.

Now, there is no doubt that there are kids playing youth football today who will make it the NFL. Others will reach the college level, and most will see their playing careers end in high school or before. The dream of playing at the highest level possible is admirable, but it should not be the reason your child takes the field.

Here are three reasons why your child should play youth football:

  • For the love of the game. A child should never play a sport that he or she doesn’t like. My wife and I discuss that with both of our children. Bradley plays football because he loves the sport. He’s been around it from a young age as I used to take him to practices when I was the radio announcer for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. From the baby carrier to running around with the players after practice, Bradley fell in love with football and carries that passion to this day.
  • Physical activity. We live in a society where an increasing number of children are inactive. According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 1 in 6 U.S. children are obese. A little fun playing Madden is fine, but not moving around is not good for a child. Kids need to be active and playing something. Whether its tackle or flag football, those are great ways for a child to run around and stay in shape.
  • Teamwork and discipline. During my 26 years in sports media, I’ve had many football players tell me that the sport played a big role in their lives, not just on the field but also off-the field. I’ve also had many parents tell me how important it is for their kids to play, and I’ve seen this as well during the six years that Bradley has played. Playing youth football is a great way to build discipline in a child, and it is a terrific tool for learning how important teamwork is. It’s a sport where you really have to concentrate on your job and be able to trust what your teammates are doing.

Every kid who plays youth football dreams of making it to the NFL. It could just be having a catch with a parent or sibling, and a child will pretend that he or she is hauling in the game winning catch in the Super Bowl.

It’s great to dream and to have goals in life, but that’s just a kid being a kid. A parent shouldn’t have such lofty expectations or put that kind of pressure on a child.

Children should play football because they like it, to have fun and to learn some important life lessons. My son Bradley loves playing football, and he would love to play at the next level. We go to see our local high school team play from time to time, and Bradley wonders what it would be like to be out on that field five years or so if the opportunity comes about.

But that’s not why he plays. He plays because it’s fun, he’s making friends for life, and he’s using it as a tool to grow. That’s all my wife and I can ask for as parents.

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