By Darcy McRae
Youth football players in Sudbury are set for another season of gridiron fun. The Joe MacDonald Youth Football League will begin practices Aug. 18, and once again promises to provide young players with the fundamentals and encouragement they will need to enjoy the sport of football.
Coaches for the eight teams taking part in the league this year got together recently to discuss the philosophy they will use when their squads take to the field.
John Larsen, the Joe MacDonald Youth Football LeagueÂ?s director of player safety and development headed the meeting. He said all the coaches agreed that the top priority will be making sure the kids have fun.
Â?ItÂ?s really about generating enjoyment in the sport. We want the kids to recognize what they can achieve by working hard.
Â?WeÂ?re looking at focusing on getting the kids to work together with their teammates and develop the camaraderie that a team sport creates,Â? said Larsen. Skill development is important, but itÂ?s secondary to the enjoyment of the game, he added.
The Joe MacDonald Youth Football League is open to players between the ages of 10 and 15. Two divisions (ages 10-12 and ages 13-15) are set up with four teams each, and each team carries a maximum of 18 players. Every squad in the circuit plays six regular season games as well as a pair of playoff matches. The league plays reduced man football, with each team putting eight players on the field at one time instead of the usual 12, and plays on a slightly narrower and shorter field.
Larsen explains that the league tinkers with the rule book to make the sport appealing to young participants.
Â?We vary the rules a little bit to make it more inclusive for all the players. We make sure everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball,Â? said Larsen.
Â?It can be a pretty high scoring game at this level, and we try to encourage that because kids donÂ?t want to play when the score is 0-0.Â?
The league has had a great influence on the high school football scene in Sudbury since being formed in 1994. He pointed out that not only has the number of high school teams suiting up for football increased, but the skill level the players demonstrate on the field has also risen.
Since 1994 the high school league has grown from three teams to seven.
Â?WeÂ?re not going to take all the credit for that, but we know thereÂ?s a lot of kids who played football in our league that have moved on to the high school league,Â? said Larsen.
Â?Most people you talk to would say the skill level in the high school league has increased. Before kids were starting to play football at 10 or 11 years old, their first exposure to playing football with equipment on was probably not until they were 14 or 15. Right now they can start playing at age 10, and play for nine years before they leave high school.Â?
The Joe MacDonald Youth Football League is named after the late Joe MacDonald, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 1993.
MacDonald played high school and senior football in Sudbury, and was very involved with kids in the area. League play for this season will begin Sept. 2.