Football. The name of the sport itself brings on a flood of emotions. Anyone who has played the game knows what I am talking about. The sport allows people of different sizes, speed, coordination, and skill to be on the same team and serve a purpose. Looking back on my career playing football, I can without a doubt say that the lessons I learned from the game shaped me into the person I am today. Football forms a bond of brotherhood that can never be broken. Football has taken me all over the world. I consider the teammates I have played with my brothers and friends for life. If any of them were to ever reach out for help I would be there in a heartbeat, no matter how long it has been since we’ve talked.
I am recently removed from college, I graduated in 2014, and like many recent graduates can attest to, the real world is no walk in the park. You go from the confines of a set schedule, breaks throughout your entire day and always being around friends to the flip side where once you graduate, that safe haven isn’t there anymore. You may pick up a full time job, have student loans and bills to pay off, and hardly have the opportunity to see close friends anymore. Personally I couldn’t imagine tackling life after college without the lessons I learned from this amazing sport. A few of which I am going to share with you.
Many people may see the word defeat and think it’s an awful word, but hopefully the way I describe it you can see why it’s a positive. Maybe a better phrase I could have used is “Overcoming Adversity” (I’m sure athletes from any sport have heard their coaches use that a million times). I didn’t realize how important the lesson of defeat was until my playing days were over.
To give you some examples, I have experienced a lot of heartbreaking defeats throughout my football career. My senior year of high school I played for a very good team, we had been predicted to win state the whole year. In the semi-finals of the state tournament the score was 14-14, with 3 seconds left in the 4th quarter, the kicker made a 47 yard field goal as the time ran out. Season over. High school career over. My junior year of college, we played a school called Linfield College (if you are reading this and you are from Linfield you guys had an amazing team and were a blast to play), we ended up losing 27-24 in the first round of the playoffs on a turnover on downs in the 4th quarter. My senior year that same team beat us in the 4th quarter on an amazing run by the running back that everyone thought was stuffed in the backfield. Another awful defeat is one I have proof of. When I played football in Finland we had made it to the semifinals. We took the lead 26-21 with 1:03 left in the 4th quarter. They ended up driving the ball down the field to our 5 yard line with 4 seconds left and scoring as the time ran out… It was such a heartbreaking defeat because they called this a touchdown….
Both knees are down and the white line about 2 yards in front of him is the end-zone line! Very tough loss.
It would be great if I could tell all of those same stories with championship rings on my fingers and have a happy ending at the end. Unfortunately, I can’t. What I can say however is after each one of these tough defeats my brothers and I came closer together than ever before. With the exception of the last game of the season, any tough game or loss I have ever been apart of, you learn to fight another day, you learn to move on a face the next challenge ahead with a positive mindset. You learn that you don’t quit or give up if something doesn’t go your way!! The most competitive people I have ever met, and the people I look up to the most are the ones who don’t except this trait.
Does that sound familiar to how we should live our day-to-day lives? I think so. My football coach in college, Scott Westering, would always say “football is a lot like life, but life ought to be more like football.” That couldn’t be truer. How many times have you had someone in your workplace not do what they were supposed to or made a mistake? How much better would the situation be if instead of making them feel defeated you encouraged them and worked with them to ensure that it will be done better next time? I would think it would be a lot better. Maybe the situation applies to you, maybe you make a mistake at work or your boss is on you about something, overcome it and don’t let it get you down! Moral of this segment, life isn’t easy, just like football there will be times when you wont win and feel like you cant- but as long as you keep trying and putting one foot in front of the other you are a winner.
One of the best lessons you can learn in football is how to be a leader. A unique aspect of leadership in football is that you don’t have to be a captain or a senior to be a leader. When I was a senior I expected freshman-juniors to be leaders in different aspects on the team. It was a team effort, not a captain or senior class effort. As a senior in both high school and college I would always encourage freshman, sophomores and juniors to not be afraid to speak up. Another amazing thing about football is you don’t have to be a starter to make an impact on your team and in the game. In college, for every game we had I would have an underclass watch and observe every single rep I did on the field – we called these mental reps, and once I came off the field I would go directly to them and ask for advice, ask them what they are seeing, ask what they think I could be doing different. As a senior I would be asking freshman and sophomores these questions. Throughout the course of a season it was awesome to see my progression as a football player and I owe it a lot to these guys who were selfless and didn’t care that I was starting over them, but wanted me to succeed because they knew it was best for the team. Call me crazy, but I call it developing leaders and giving them an opportunity.
At some point in everyone’s life there has got to be a moment where you give a person an opportunity- I believe opportunity develops leaders. One of my favorite sayings is “the greatest gift you can give someone is an opportunity.” Think about that, how hard is it to simply give someone an opportunity instead of not giving them a chance at all? That statement may sound crazy and I’m sure it could come back to bite me when looking at different areas of workplaces and how detrimental an “opportunity” could be, but hopefully you get the idea of what I am saying. As a younger person it may feel tough sometimes in the “real world” trying to find that opportunity, trying to prove yourself and show people you truly care about them through whatever profession you are in. As a more established person, I encourage you to think how things may have been different or better for you when you were younger and someone gave you a chance to prove yourself. What I have learned in my short time in the workforce is that the opportunities of leadership I gained on the football field have allowed me to be more confident and goal oriented than if I were to have never been in any kind of leadership position at all. Personally, the times when I have had teammates look to me for leadership in a critical moment has definitely transitioned into my career by making me a lot more comfortable when communicating with many different people. I greatly thank football for the lesson of leadership and helping others be leaders as well.
Having Fun/ Importance of Relationships
I saved the best for last. Football has taught me a lot, I could easily list way more than three things but then I would be writing for a very long time. The best thing football taught me was how to truly have fun playing such an aggressive sport. When I think of the fun times and memories I had as a football player, 95% of them came off the field. Another saying my college coach would say is “make treasure chest memories.” The idea is that over time you have had so many fun times with your teammates, your brothers, that you would store these memories into a hypothetical treasure chest and have them their forever. We liked to say “let’s go make some TCM’s (short for treasure chest memories). When I meet up with many of the guys I played football with over the years it’s always such a great time to reminisce on all the fun we had together, and when I really think about it most of those fun times had nothing to do with being on a football field. In college we would have Halloween bowling nights every year, team dinners, hang outs at peoples houses, go on trips together, have snow ball fights when we got snow, and best of all starting every training camp out at the beach on the coast of WA and having a great time and growing closer as a team. Maturing not only as a football player but as a person over the years I realized these are things that truly matter. At the end of the day when you hang up your cleats for good, you are saying goodbye to the game as a player. When you hang up the cleats guess who is still there? Your teammates and all the memories you had.
If you have never thought about football this way I encourage you to give it a try. In my “Defeat” section I spent a good amount of time recapping some very tough losses I have had in my football career. Outside of football, there will still be “losses” in life, but I am now better equipped to handle the ups and downs life has in store. Regardless of anything that happened during the football games it took nothing away from the relationships I had with the people on the team. I would argue that relationships are one of the most important aspects in life. Football taught me to cherish relationships and that no matter what happens, what the score board says, what fans or media has to say, the memories and fun times you have will be there forever. It took me a long time to figure this out, and once I did I became more passionate about the game because I knew that the game was temporary, but the bond I have with my family of teammates will always be there.
Once again, football, I thank you for teaching me how to have fun and preparing me to accept and conquer difficult times in life. I thank you for teaching me how to be a leader within my family, with friends, and at work. Above all, I thank you for teaching me the importance of relationships; to cherish those relationships that I currently have and the one’s I will continue to make.
Here’s to the greatest game in the world,