Does Jim Harbaugh have a point about kids playing soccer and football?

ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 01: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on prior to the Michigan Football Spring Game on April 1, 2016 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 01: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on prior to the Michigan Football Spring Game on April 1, 2016 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Credit: Gregory Shamus

Credit: Gregory Shamus

Finally, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has decided to use his advanced trolling skills for good.

"I always encourage youngsters in America to play soccer," Harbaugh told reporters in Ann Arbor. "I think every American boy should play soccer till the eighth grade, then they should play football – American football."

So there you have it. One of our country’s most influential sports figures confirms soccer is good enough for America’s youth… until they’re old enough to upgrade to the more advanced, modern version.

Sounds about right to me…

OK, OK, soccer fans — calm down. I’m just jerking your chain (mostly).

In all seriousness, this is an interesting take. I'm not sure where I stand on it yet.

I am under the impression this is already the athletics progression for many boys, though the age they make the switch varies.

I started playing organized football when I was in fourth grade. A few kids at my small school started earlier. Some others waited until junior high, including our eventual starting quarterback for two of my varsity seasons.

I have to admit I found peewee football pretty intimidating — more so than I expected — but I muddled through. If we're being honest, I don’t remember it being that much fun at the time, but it was certainly a learning experience. I'm glad I did it, and not just because I scored my only touchdown in fifth grade before growing into a lineman. There was a valuable foundation established even then.

In a town were football was king, I just wanted so badly to play I was willing to put up with just about anything to finally be able to do so.

(This is not to insinuate we did anything I’d consider cruel or unusual then or now. Of course there was a lot of running and the usual banging into each other, but nothing out of the ordinary.)

There are those who say kids who play early will get the fundamentals down and therefore be safer later. I don't really buy that, but it's plausible. It doesn't take very long to learn the basics of blocking and tackling, and how you do it changes as your body grows as well.

Getting used to the sheer physicality does take time, though not three years.

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I've heard suggestions kids who start playing too early might get burned out. Or they could have a bad experience, perhaps from a coach with less training than ones at higher levels, and quit before they reach high school. There’s probably some merit to that. I'm sure it’s a phenomenon in every sport -- probably any extracurricular activity.

Some research has indicated the effects of trauma on brains younger than 12 is more serious than on those that age or older.

Maybe that's the tiebreaker.

I don't regret playing before junior high, but I'm not sure I got enough out of peewee football to justify that risk if it is later confirmed there’s a significant difference at that age.

(Note the man who discovered CTE advises against heading in soccer and full checking in hockey before age 14.)

I am certain playing football through high school was an experience that changed me forever for the better. I still believe the benefits outweigh the risks, but those two or three extra years probably aren't going to be necessary in the end.

Not that I am offering advice for parents now. Everyone has to make their own decision based on what they know and how they feel.

Although I’m not sure yet when I would let a child of mine begin playing (I won’t have to decide for at least a few years), I have no issues with anyone who has kids on peewee teams now.

Maybe getting the right experience early on really is a benefit. I’m sure it varies from child to child, and it’s a personal choice for each family regardless.

But it’s also one worth discussing with as many people as possible, both for the sake of the players and the game itself.

What do you think?

I'm interested to hear from parents, coaches and other experts. Email me at

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