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You can teach your child to play football even if you’re not an NFL star yourself! All you need is the desire and a fairly good understanding of the game and its rules.
Boys and girls alike enjoy playing football, but if the thought of having your child get tackled by 4 or 5 other kids makes you cringe, you may prefer they start with flag or touch football until they gain some size and knowledge of the game.
Whether learning to play tackle or flag football you can help your child by teaching them the basics of throwing and catching, slowly incorporating the rules of play. The basics of the game are briefly outlined here.
The object of the game is to score more points than the opposing team within a set time of “four quarters” by taking the ball over the opponents “end zone”. There are several ways to score points: by touchdown (6 points), field goal (3 points), two-point conversion (2 points), extra point (1 point) and safety (2 points).
Different player “positions” have different jobs, but all players on the team work together to advance the ball down the field. For each ten yards “gained”, the team is awarded another chance to continue advancing. Teams are given four “downs’ to accomplish this. They keep “possession” of the ball as long as they continue to advance at least ten yards by the end of the fourth down. The opposing team meanwhile is trying to prevent this in order to gain possession of the ball and advance toward the opposite goal line to score. Typically, possession of the ball goes back and forth between teams several times each “half”.
This brief description should get you stated. Position names and roles as well as more specific rule and game description can be found by checking out the resources below.
Even very young children get excited about football. Buying a Nerf football is a safe way to start learning to throw and catch. Because of the unique shape of the ball, throwing and catching is not as easy as it looks!
The football is generally thrown “overhand”. Start with catching by standing very close to your child and holding the ball lengthwise with fingertips aligned with the ball’s laces, thumb supporting the underside of the ball. Gently throw the ball so that your child can successfully catch the ball at about waist or chest height. As you both gain ease with throwing and catching, you can gradually expand the distance between you. Keep practices short and more like play.
Probably the best way to introduce your preschooler to the basics of the game is to go watch a local children’s team play. Your child will very quickly pick up the object of the game with a few explanations from you.
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Young school children can benefit from playing on a team. By joining a local kids’ team they will learn and practice specific skills useful for play as well as learn the basic rules of the game. Even more importantly, they will learn how to work as part of a team and to accept the direction of a coach.
How can you help? Back up the coach by letting him or her do their job. Practice specific drills and skills at home (there are some helpful sites listed below). Take your child to football games so they can see older children or adults executing the skills they are learning and playing the specific “positions”. The rules will start to become clear to them as they experience the game as a player and as a spectator.
Flag and touch football are excellent alternatives for kids this age. The rules are basically the same, but play is less rough and injuries less likely. As with any sport, there is always some risk of injury, but the benefits gained by playing a team sport like football usually outweigh the risks involved.
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Older children, if they’ve played as part of a team, will be familiar with the rules of play and the basics of the game. If your child genuinely has a passion for the game, encourage their participation by making sure they have opportunities to play.
Girls at this age may continue to be very interested in playing. As long as protective equipment is worn, there is no reason to discourage them. Girls are often skilled players and excellent strategists, making them valuable team members.
Going to a semi-pro or pro game is an effective way to inspire your child and show them the finer points of play. The whole family will enjoy supporting “their” team.
The teamwork involved in American football can build and test character and give you and your child material for discussion and many opportunities for you to support their developing sense of self. Being a good listener after practice or a game will be far more meaningful to your youngster than your advice or correction. Go easy and stay positive!
Football camp in the summer, a Sunday afternoon game on the television, or informal practice in the backyard can provide your child with extra time with the game. Football is one of those sports you can really fall in love with. If your child seems drawn to the game, do what you can to support them.
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