It’s no secret I love football. I hear a lot of negative talk about the game which meant so much to me and I think at least some of it is warranted, but what it taught me has shaped my life more than anything excluding my faith in Jesus. I’ll admit There can tend to be a macho tough-guy attitude attached to the game and many who play it and coach it, however, I would say the benefits of the game and playing the game as a child and adolescent have far outweighed the downfalls in my own subjective experience.
When I was 9 years old I learned a poem that I recited with my teammates everyday until the end of Middle School. Even though I’ve been out of Middle School for some 15 years I still remember every word of this poem my coach taught me. The poem is honestly precious to me and one of the most raw sources of nostalgia for me. I was a kid being raised by a single-Mom with no brothers so I was craving and needing masculine leadership, and as I look back I know for sure God provided this for me in the football community.
Here is the poem my teammates and I recited from 4th grade onward…
“I am a football player. We are a football team. I work hard everyday to improve. As I improve my team will improve. I am proud of myself, my teammates, and my coaches. I am a football player. We are a football team. We are the Miamisburg Vikings.”
Each day at the end of practice, regardless of how the practice went, how mad we were for losing in a drill, or how full of joy we were that we scored a touchdown, every single player on the team touched the shoulder pads of the player next to him and we recited this together. Each of these 8 sentences taught me something about being a man that I treasure as invaluable for who I am today.
- “I am a football player.” Everybody seeks and needs an identity. I am a Christian and so my identity is found in Christ. I am an adopted Son of the Almighty and all-loving God which is amazing! So, to say these words correctly we should be saying so knowing our ultimate identity is actually as Christ’s ambassadors to our world. The right way of saying these words would be knowing you are a Christ-follower first and a football player second. Of course, I did not play for a Christian football team, and thus this was not included in the poem, however, if I am ever given the opportunity to coach I will use this poem and that will be the one big change I would make to this poem.
- “We are a football team.” One of the most important things I learned at a very young age was that I am not an individual. Yes, I had an individual identity (I was a football player), but I was just one member and together “we were a football team.” If a young person doesn’t learn how to be a role player on a team they will end up incredibly difficult to employ in the long run, they will have trouble in making and sustaining relationships, and they will ostracize themselves from the group.
- “I work hard everyday to improve.” Hard-work is less a mathematical equation and more an art. There are some who learn to work hard at a young age and this carries through life bursting forth like an artist who can’t contain their desire to paint! I’m afraid hard-work is a dying art, but I am so thankful football taught me this. It taught me when I was aching to exert myself more. It taught me when it was the fourth quarter I needed to work harder than the opponent across from me. You know a hard worker when you meet one and my bet is that wasn’t something they learned in adulthood it was instilled in them at a very young age. This sentence also taught me the skill of getting better every single day. Improvement is progressive. Everybody wants to stand at the top of the mountain, but few are able to see the beauty in starting at the bottom and progressively making headway uphill and being able to look back and identify all the terrain they’ve already covered. Again, most people who learn this do so at a very young age.
- “As I improve my team will improve.” A football team is not too different from an orchestra. An orchestra needs every piece working at all times for the tune to be played correctly. A football team needs the left guard to be on the same page as the tight end and the quarterback and if not the play will be disastrous. Football teaches kids the need for improving themselves for the sake of the team. It also teaches a kid that the goal of individual advancement is to advance the cause of the entire team. You don’t improve for the sake of self you improve for something beyond yourself.
- “I am proud of myself, my teammates, and my coaches.” This sentence taught me a number of things. First of all, I learned to take pride in what I did and to have confidence and self-respect. I also learned to be proud of and encourage my teammates. Selfishness breeds self-righteousness which is toxic, but caring about your teammates and encouraging them on a daily basis teaches a kid to always be looking out for the guy next to them. Imagine a right guard who doesn’t know the assignment of the right tackle– they will inevitably miss their block and the result will be a quarterback or runningback on his back, and it would all be because the right guard didn’t care for and look out for his teammate. Instead, taking pride in your teammates means you learn to look out for them, encourage them, and push them to do their jobs and to do their jobs better and better over time. Thirdly, I learned another thing I am afraid our culture is beginning to lose… respect for authority. If you are challenged to say you are proud of your coaches who are in authority over you every single day then you begin to have an attitude which shows you truly are proud of your coaches. Consider how different this is from the thousands of parents who complain about the coach of their kid’s team right in front of the kid on the way home from the game! If you are a parent who does this guess what… Your kid is listening and he is learning from you, and what is he or she learning? They are learning to not be proud of their authority and to indeed undermine their coaches. The football I played taught me the opposite of this! I learned to respect the authority over me and obey them.
- “I am a football player (repeated). We are a football team.” I learned repetition. There is a reason these two things were repeated, because it needed to be drilled down deep into our brains so we realized our place as just one member of a bigger and greater thing as we moved toward our goal, which was winning. It’s important that we learned this didn’t happen overnight, but it happened by repetition. We practiced three-point stances repetitively. I can’t tell you how many snaps I took from my center when I played quarterback. I can’t tell you how many hitting drills I did when I was a linebacker. I can’t tell you how many hand-offs I took in practice when I was a runningback. In our lives we do not get good at anything unless there is repetition. Do you want to teach well? You must do it repetitively. Do you want to preach a sermon well? You must do it repetitively. Do you want to change a tire well? You must do it repetitively. I learned this from football.
- “We are the Miamisburg Vikings.” This might just seem like a a good conclusion to the poem as a whole, but it’s actually more than that. By adding the name of our city this poem pointed us to the reality that we played the game representing more than even just ourselves, but actually our entire community. My HS coaches would later say it like this, “The name on the front is why you don’t have one on the back.” What was important was that we represented our community well when we were on the field… And how did we do that? By playing with all the traits I learned from the rest of the poem and I’m so thankful I learned all this at a very young age playing football.