06/26/2014 at 11:00 AM EDT
On a football field near San Antonio, Brannon Smith gives an intense pep talk to the Tri-County Titans, the team he has coached for three years.
"Show what you're made of," he barks. "Get your mind right! Don't walk off that field saying, 'I could have done better.'"
His enthusiasm inspires the team.
As a PEOPLE reporter looks on, the players bound to their feet, forming a circle as they chant, "One, two, three, win!"
It's what one would expect of a take-no-prisoners Texas football team.
But the Tri-County Titans aren't burly teenagers. They're elementary school kids playing for the Texas Youth Football Association, a group of leagues whose youngest members playing tackle are 6 years old.
Fiercely competitive and decidedly anti-coddling, the TYFA's hardcore tackling philosophy has thrust the players into the national spotlight.
Earlier this year, the league was profiled on Friday Night Tykes, a reality show airing on the Esquire Network.
The show, which will tape its second season later this year, portrays the kiddie-sports teams at their best – and worst.
PEOPLE sat in on several games and practices, and spoke with coach Smith about the controversial league.
For much more on the controversy surrounding TYFA, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE Magazine