The False Start

young, playing and smiling

Mighty might league football:

After I had been officiating for 5 years, the youth organization that I was a part of decided to start a developmental league for players under the age of 8. They called the league the “mighty might league”. In the league the rules were very clear and were quite different from other league rules. Only 9 players would be on offense and defense. No score would kept during the game and coaches would be allowed on the field at all times to help position and teach the young players about the game of football. Other rules that were different about the mighty might league were that the clock would only stop for timeouts, scores and injuries. Also, each quarter was 10 minutes, there was free substitution, there were only 2 referees on the field and penalties were not walked off and were instead used as teaching moments. I felt like this was a great way to introduce young kids to sports and it also gave them a chance to have some fun. Additionally, with the running clock games usually lasted only about 1 hour which was just about the attention span for 5, 6 and 7 year olds. I had the pleasure to referee some of the games in this league and below is one of the best memories that I have from being around these young athletes.

How plays happen:

During one of the first games that I was assigned to referee, I had 2 teams comprised with mostly 5 and 6 year old players. The coaches appeared very young and for the most part when I talked to them they were there to coach their family member. Many of the parents that were in attendance were doing their best to treat this game like a big production which included playing music during the introduction of the players and wearing their team’s colors. Some of the parents even had signs and pom-poms that they were waving! It was such a wonderful atmosphere and as the game progressed, it was incredible to see how the coaches were instructing their players on where to stand and what to do. The coaches on both sides were very patient with the players and for most of the game took the time to help all of the players up from the ground when a tackle was made or when a player just fell. During most of the games that I had the pleasure of officiating at this level plays went something like this. The coach for the offense stands with his players in their huddle and tells the team what to do then, the players break out of the huddle with a very loud clap and the word “break” being screamed from their mouths. It was great to see the competition on the scream and the clap between the 2 teams as each time they broke out of the huddle, they tried to scream louder than their opponent did. After the break from the huddle the coach followed his players up to the ball and helped to get each of them into the correct position and stance. The player who is going to snap the ball spreads his little legs apart as far as he can without falling down and then places both hands on the football. The quarterback bends his back at the waist and then dips his head way down close to the ground to look at the ball between the center’s legs. I assumed that he did this to make sure that he can see that the ball is really there and then, while refusing to place his hands anywhere near the center’s behind starts to yell as loud as he can, “READY, SET, HIKE!” The center snaps the ball which takes about 5 seconds to get to the quarterback more than likely because he has no idea where the quarterback’s hands are and he may feel as though if he snaps the ball too fast he will fall on his face. After the ball finally reaches the quarterback, he turns around and waits for a running back to come to him and grab the football all the while, holding the ball away from his body as an offering for anyone who would like to take it from him! Once the ball finds its way into the hands of the running back, a pile of 18 players moves in unison to a spot on the field for a big pile up and sometimes leads to one or more players getting hurt in some way. Sometimes the screams coming from the bottom of the pile sound like it may be the end for one or more of the players. Regardless, I never saw any player get seriously injured in this league and most of the time after the player went to the sideline they were greeted with a hug from a loved one and were back on the field in a few plays.

False start to music:

During the first half of this particular game, the Bengals came up to the line of scrimmage on offense and the coach spent about 30 seconds getting his players into position and asking them if they knew what to do. For the most part the players on both sides of the ball gave a nod of their head or a thumbs up and the play was ready to be run. Then for some reason music began to play from the sideline of the Bengals and a player on the offensive line for the Bengals stood up and began to dance. In any ordinary football game this action would result in a 5 yard penalty for a false start as no players on offense are allowed to move once they are set unless they are running parallel to the line of scrimmage (going in motion) or they get reset for a full second prior to the ball being snapped. Well, these were 5 and 6 years olds and the “showmanship” came out on both sides of the ball. As I was watching the events unfold, I realized that I was witnessing one great dance-off between players, parents and coaches on both sidelines and a smile came to my face. Now, I would think that for any spectator of this game, it would be tough to abstain from joining in after seeing the smiles on the faces of all of the participants and while I am not a very good dancer, I just had to leave the penalty flag in my pocket, put my hands up in the air and shake what I had!


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