For the last few months, I’ve been working with a very talented group of people to produce a 10-part documentary series for the new Esquire Network “Friday Night Tykes.”
“With exclusive access to the 8 to 9 year-old Rookies division of the Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA), this 10-part docuseries follows five teams on and off the field during the 2013 season.”
The first two episodes will air back-to-back on Tuesday, January 14, at 9 pm ET.
To be clear, Friday Night Tykes is a documentary series not a “reality show.” A reality show is a misnomer, a manufactured work of fiction wrapped in a cheap production package. For Friday Night Tykes, a documentary field crew was embedded for five months in San Antonio following five teams and filming practices and games from preseason to the state championship. There were no multiple takes of produced tension or artificial conflict. There are no writers on staff. Everybody on the series worked really hard to portray the events as they occurred.
I’m thrilled that NBC, the parent company of Esquire, is promoting the show heavily. There are posters all over NYC subways and promos on Monday Night Football. The show tackles (forgive the pun) a particularly difficult issue of youth sports, striking a balance between pushing our kids to succeed and knowing when to stop.
Parents encourage their children to play sports for lots of reasons: to build self confidence, to work within a team, or to understand what it means to win and lose. One could argue that the philosophy of TYFA is a reaction against the culture of coddling our youth, where everybody gets a trophy regardless of winning or losing. As a former high school athlete myself, I can relate. I embrace hard work and competition. I understand that in the real world you don’t get a prize for merely making an effort; rewards come from quantifiable results. Nonetheless, the central question of Friday Night Tykes is about the definition of success and how the featured parents and coaches interpret it. Is the game about winning at all costs?
I expected a lot of press (Forbes, The New York Times, LA Times) about the show and around these issues, made particularly timely with the increase of head injuries in football. Preliminary articles have either criticized the show for exploiting children, or praised it for exposing another side to youth sports. Once the show airs, I’ll be curious to see how the larger audience reacts. If it makes you uncomfortable, maybe ask yourself why.