Coaches for San Ramon youth football aim to eliminate safety 'misconceptions'

Coaches for the San Ramon Valley Thunderbirds are dispelling misconceptions about youth football and encouraging parents to enroll their children to play.

Athletic Director Matt Lasker said the game is not what it used to be. One of his sons plays in the youth football league and his youngest daughter is a cheerleader.

“There was that mentality that if somebody smashes somebody and they’re hurt you tell them to get up and go get water and you’re back in the game… that doesn’t happen anymore,” Lasker said.

The organization has seen less children enroll, ages 6 to 8, due to a variety of factors. There is some hesitation from parents concerned about concussions and the degenerative brain disease CTE that has been found in people who have played contact sports. Football’s reputation may have taken hits, but the game has evolved for children.

“Obviously the biggest misconception is safety, but I can honestly tell you, anyone who has played football from 2004 and before, you wouldn’t recognize the sport today,” George Schramm, a board member for the San Ramon Valley Thunderbirds Football and Cheer.

T-birds coaches are all certified in CPR and “heads up” techniques, which is a way of teaching players to tackle without their head, according to Assistant Head Coach Aaron Silverman. He said children are taught to use their arms and legs to wrap players up and not use their helmets.

“Our particular team had zero concussions and zero injuries and we were still able to put together an undefeated season and win the championship,” Silverman said.

The coaches said parents shouldn’t wait to let their kids play until high school.

“These kids aren’t crushing each other,” Lasker said. “They’re not big enough or fast enough or strong enough, but they’re learning techniques so when they do get older they can protect themselves and play the game right.”

And the coaches said the benefits extend beyond the field where kids learn about accountability and teamwork.

“If you’re not sure, bring your kid out, let ‘em try it. See how it goes for the first few weeks,” Silverman said.

The deadline to enroll for the T-birds is July 29. Practice starts on July 30. The organization runs a camp through August before the regular season begins in September.

“Eevery kid that has tried august camp has stayed on through the season,” Schramm added. “I’d say it’s one of the safety sports out there right now.”

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