Football provides benefits to athletes that they can’t get from hockey

Football in Alberta is considered the underdog sport when it comes to attracting young players, but older athletes are finding a switch to the gridiron can be a beneficial move.

Football Alberta’s technical director, Tim Enger says that other sports are scooping up kids that are as young as age four.

“Notably soccer and hockey … identifying the talented ones, and creating a year-long list of activities that not only chain these kids to one sport but create diehard supporters of their sport in the form of their parent,” Enger explains.

Moreover, Calgary Bantam Football Association president Ron Logan states, “A lot of parents want to replay their childhood through their kids. Hockey is a big ticket item and when a kid is a pretty good player, they are going to the NHL as far as mom and dad are concerned.”

But that’s not the only reason why parents don’t jump at the idea of raising a football player.

First and foremost, Enger says some parents are concerned about their children getting hurt.

“We seem to take a big hit from that. We’re working on that on all levels, but it has been a tough sell,” says Enger, adding that the risk of injury is present in other sports.

Besides parental worries about injuries, Mother Nature is also keeping children off the field. Some football teams have to play in cold temperatures, or even snow. Enger explains that parents would much rather cheer on their sons and daughters from indoor, heated arenas than the stands of a frigid football field.

Logan agrees that on a cold, Calgary day you might want to be in an arena. But also says temperature is the least of parents’ worries if their children are having fun.
Football can be a difficult sport for younger athletes to understand, with seven distinct positions, all of which require specific training. By comparison, give parents a manual, net and a ball or puck, and in time they may have a successful hockey or soccer team.

“You put these kids out on the ice or the field for the first time and they’re cute as bugs and they just do their thing: play 3-on-3, half-ice, half-field, it is so easy to start,” Enger says. “Whereas with us it’s a bit more difficult. We are trying to make it easier for the player and coach.”

However, Enger notes that there are a couple of benefits for athletes dealing with Alberta’s weather and facing the risks of injury.

“Football we feel offers a lot of character building,” he says. “It’s a contact sport and you are going to be playing in tough conditions, and the result of that is the athlete that comes out of that is character building with all those things they have to deal with.
Football Alberta’s executive director, Brian Fryer, agrees with Enger, listing off several benefits that young athletes can get from playing football, including learning time management, respect, competitiveness, mentorship and organizational skills, all while having fun.

Kyle Somerville is among those who have benefited.

As a young hockey player, he initially started playing football – a sport a number of his friends were already playing – to keep active during the summer and fall. At the age of 12, he became number 54, running back for the Fort McMurray Northstar Ford Saints.

Kyle Somerville made the switch from hockey to football and is now wearing number 89 for the University of Alberta’s Golden Bears.

Photo Courtesy of Kyle Somerville  Somerville made the complete switch from skates to cleats in high school after being cut from his rep hockey team, sparking some resentment towards the hockey community.

What makes football such a great sport, according to Somerville, is that it teaches young people great life lessons while learning a lot about themselves in the process.

“Team work, dedication, hard work and resiliency are core values for every team, and relay back to any kind of life experience,” Somerville says. “You have to rely on 11 other guys on the field to accomplish your goals, while at the same time, everyone has to do their job, it’s amazing what football does. The game allows you to learn what’s valuable in life, what you’re willing to work for.”

Somerville isn’t alone in suiting up as a teenager and becoming part of a football team, while players in other sports are quitting.
Enger says high school is when most athletes decide to give up their hockey dreams and pick up the old pigskin.

“There’s 5,000 kids playing minor football throughout the province but in high school alone there’s about 5,000. It’s a reversing trend. No one leaves our sport to go play other sports, they tend to come to our sport from other sports.”

The switch ended up being a great move for Somerville. Eight years later, he is now 20 and wearing number 89 for the University of Alberta’s Golden Bears.

“I have to constantly think of the organization I represent, along with bettering myself as an athlete and a person. It’s made me appreciate the support that I have around me, and the opportunities that it’s given me,” Somerville said.

mwalsh@cjournal.ca 

Thumbnail image courtesy of Google Images licensed to Creative Commons