Last week, The Washington Post published a blog dissecting the psychological implications for a 12-year-old boy who was banned from his local Pee Wee football league because at 6-foot-1 and 297 pounds, he was too big to play.
We spoke with Children’s National’s Eleanor Mackey, PhD, who said that she was concerned that the child will feel different from other kids his age because of his weight and suggested that they make him part of the team, but avoid tackling positions.
Dr. Mackey says "you don’t want him to feel like he can’t be part of sports, because that’s a perfect way to manage your weight. Make him part of the team. Find a position he can play that would be less risky for the other kids. I would hope that instead of just saying, ‘No, he can’t play,’ there would be a dialogue with this kid and his family, and they would try to do what they can to support him.”
This suggestion spurred a discussion about not being able to limit contact in football because contact is such a huge part of this sport. The article also discusses how these rules are in place to protect children, not to discriminate against heavier athletes.
I wanted to dig a little further into the topic, so I spoke with Children’s sports medicine pediatrician Nailah Coleman, MD, to find out what it really means to be “too big to play.”
“[Weight restrictions] are something we often talk about in the sports world for those who care for pediatric athletes and this is not unique to football, hockey does this as well,” Dr. Coleman said. “Then, there is wrestling, where you can’t play if you’re too thin. So you have to have a certain weight and body fat percentage to participate and that’s for the individual athlete’s safety.”
She said as a bigger athlete, he has increased energy and force, so if he doesn’t learn how to use his body correctly for football, he could injure himself or someone else.
One option for the child would be to play with children who are as big and tall as him, though Dr. Coleman pointed out this can also be risky.
“Playing at a higher level could be bad as well because this athlete may not have the same gross motor, fine motor, social, and mental skills that an older player would have, which could put that younger player at risk,” she said.
So what can the kid do?
“All kids should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. So if we’re saying that this child should be participating in a sport, then we should suggest something that is known to help control weight and size, football is not known to do that,” Dr. Coleman said.
Participating on a team can teach a child how to live a healthy lifestyle, work together to achieve a goal and build friendships. If your child is experiencing a similar situation, talk with your child’s coach or pediatrician about other sports that may be more suitable for them.