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Athletic Support: When should my son start playing football?
eli cranor
Syndicated sports columnist Eli Cranor

Dear Athletic Support: My son is two years old and will turn three in just a few months. He is obviously too young to be playing competitive sports, but he sure does love the football book we’ve been reading before bed! The book and the constant stream of football games on our television has him reminding his parents that he wants to be the “qwattaback.”

As sweet and innocent as this is, it lead to a conversation between his mom and I about what is the right age to let him start playing. She believes that kids should start playing as soon as possible (if they want to) because, “they’re only kids for so long”. I do see her point, but I also know there are many safety concerns when enrolling kids in a contact sport. While our family is still a few years out from truly having this discussion, I’m curious to know when you would feel comfortable letting a kid join the football team? — Qwattaback’s Dad.

 Dear Qwattaback:

Peyton and Eli Manning both had storied careers as college and NFL quarterbacks. They also didn’t start playing football until they were in the seventh grade.

The reason?

Their dad, Archie Manning, knew a thing or two about football (he was also an NFL quarterback), and Archie didn’t want them learning bad habits.

There’s nothing worse than a bad coach. A bad coach could turn your son off to football before he has time to grow into his body. A bad coach could get your son hurt too.

There are, of course, bad coaches at school-organized level too. But these coaches have at least had to go through extensive training on proper tackling techniques, heat exhaustion, and concussion protocol.

Am I saying you have to wait until seventh grade to start your son in football? No.

I’m just saying you need to trust your son’s coach. You need to ask questions and see what kind of qualifications he has. A peewee coach who never played high school football can still be a great coach as long as he has the correct disposition and proper training.

I scored my first touchdown at nine years old. So, yeah, I started playing football around third grade. I was lucky to have great coaches.

Men I remember to this day and still hold in high esteem: Gary Trammel, Kelly Loop, Ed Kelley, and Finley Cranor.

Yeah, that last one is my dad.

He was an assistant coach for my peewee football team. He, admittedly, didn’t know much about football, but he loved me.

He wanted me to do good and enjoy the game. So he came to practice every day. He helped where he could, and he watched over me. Made sure I was safe. Made sure I was doing my best.

As long as you have a coach who’s doing those things, it doesn’t matter when your son starts football. Everything will work out just fine.

Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to

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