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Second season of 'Friday Night Tykes' could have positive impact on youth sports

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The premiere season of Esquire Network’s youth football-focused “Friday Night Tykes” was no doubt an eye-opener for many viewers. But, the controversial reality show appears to have opened a few eyes in the TYFA football hierarchy, including those of one foul-mouthed coach, Marecus Goodloe.

When it began, “Friday Night Tykes” promised to be an exciting, fun look at youth football. However, it did not take more than one viewing for critics to begin calling for the show’s cancellation. Both the coaches and the parents of these Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA) football teams were shown to be over-the-top fanatics about the “careers” of these 8- and 9-year-olds. Parents were shown screaming tacky rants at opposing teams and allowing their children to be pushed to the point of vomiting, running lap after lap in 100+ degree Texas heat. Coaches shouted at players as if they were adults, using profanity and demanding allegiance to football above all else. And, scarily, one coach in particular was shown encouraging his players to hit helmet-to-helmet and play dirty football in order to win.

It was extremely disappointing, to see the inner-workings of TYFA, and to know that more likely than not, this type of coaching and parent participation was going on all over the nation in all of youth sports. But, if there was one bright spot in the “Friday Night Tykes” season, it was that some eyes were opened beyond just those of horrified viewers. One person who truly seemed to have recognized a need for change was Marecus Goodloe, coach of the NE Colts.

Two coaches from the show were suspended after film from the show was reviewed by TYFA: Goodloe and Charles Chavarria, coach of the Junior Broncos. In the recent follow-up episode, Chavarria seemed unapologetic and not comprehending the magnitude of his offenses, which included encouraging his team to hit helmet-to-helmet and to intimidate the other team by intentionally going off-sides to hit players while they were unprepared. Although he did apologize in a written letter as part of his punishment, Chavarria was quick to lay blame on TYFA for not giving coaches a specific set of what they could and could not teach, refusing to accept responsibility for his obvious poor choices and unsportsmanlike conduct. Chavarria has been suspended for the entire 2014 season, spring and fall.

Goodloe, however, not only took full responsibility for his actions, he admitted that he did not like what he saw himself doing when he saw it on the show. The specific scene of the show that got Goodloe suspended for 2014 spring football involved a team chant with f-bombs—shocking when you watch it, and Goodloe appeared genuinely disappointed in himself that it had taken a reality show to bring the full weight of his choices to his attention. Hopefully, when Goodloe returns to coaching, he will be the coach who helped an autistic child make his first touchdown this season, not the f-bomb-dropping fanatic who made such a poor role model for his team.

Ultimately, the most disappointing part of “Friday Night Tykes” was the parents of the players. While no doubt there are positive examples out there, the parents featured on the show were almost caricatures of what a bad youth sports parent should strive to be. So many were obviously trying to live their own failed dreams through their children, and it was truly depressing to watch.

What should be done? Many voices are calling for the cancellation of the show. Well, cancelling the show will not help; it will only put the problems of youth sports back into the darkness. Hopefully, the first season of “Friday Night Tykes” exposure will help TYFA make some real changes in its program, such as greater oversight, better training for coaches, and perhaps even some guidance regarding acceptable behavior of parents and other fans in the stands.

Perhaps a better idea would be for Esquire to continue the show (and it has been renewed for a second season), but move it to a different youth football program in another area of the country. Maybe over the course of several seasons, the show could actually bring a spotlight to the problems no doubt found in various programs throughout the United States. They could eventually circle back to programs previously spotlighted, like TYFA, and see if there has been improvement. But, simply cancelling the show and pretending that nothing happened is not an answer—and it should not be an option.

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