Statistics show that 70 percent of kids stop playing sports by the age of 13. The Atlanta Falcons are doing their part to change those numbers.
The Falcons hosted a youth coaching clinic in Columbus on Saturday. The camp featured several speakers who discussed how important youth football is and ways to make the most of the experience for the players. The youth coaches in attendance were just as involved throughout the process, sharing their feedback and thoughts as part of a room-wide conversation.
Along with discussions, the camp included teaching fundamentals such as proper tackling technique and how to organize youth practices. For one portion of the event, the attending coaches were split into groups, allowing them to share their experiences with each other.
Former NFL cornerback Chris Owens, who played for the Falcons from 2009 to 2012 and spent seven years in the NFL, said it was an honor to address the coaches in attendance.
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“I get to speak to some guys who really have an important job with our youth,” said Owens, who is now an assistant at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross. “I just want them to understand how to make football fun for these kids. They’re not only developing as football players, but they’re also developing as kids. They’re still growing, so don’t be so hard on them. Let’s not spoil it for them.”
Owens was one of the speakers who addressed the crowd Saturday. He was joined by Falcons director of community relations Chris Millman, long snapper Josh Harris and Dr. Kensa Gunter, a sports psychologist who works with the Falcons.
Millman offered up the statistic about sports participation dropout and followed with several reasons players gave for quitting. He explained that the key to growing this game was in the coaches’ hands, and that doing the right things at the youth level has a trickle-up effect that helps the NFL.
“If you want to have a successful season, count how many players come back to your team the next year,” Millman said.
Harris, who played on the Auburn football team that won the 2010 national championship, might have been one of those kids had it not been for the positive influence of his youth coach.
Harris recalled playing on the 8-year-old Carrollton Eagles and struggling through his first day of practice. In his next practice, his coach encouraged him, telling him what happened last time didn’t matter and there was a new opportunity ahead.
Not long after that, Harris was hooked.
“The first time I had fun playing the game was when I fell in love with it,” Harris said.
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports