This post was written in partnership with Football Matters. All opinions and experiences are the author’s own.
Here in Texas, people say that “football is king” because it has such a wide sphere of
influence on entire communities. It is the sport with the greatest number of participants, welcoming players of all sizes and shapes, often with little cost to parents because schools provide the majority of their teams’ equipment. It creates opportunities for other students and groups to get involved too, including athletic trainers, managers, marching band members, cheerleaders, and dance teams. It fosters team spirit and brings families together, whether it is once a week under the bright lights of a stadium or to cheer on their favorite professional team at a neighborhood potluck. All of this was true 30 years ago, when I remember watching football after church with our friends, and it is still true today.
When I married my husband many years ago, I knew that football was going to be part of our lives. In the beginning, he worked at a large high school, and now he serves as the athletic director at the middle-school level. It seems like everyone in our lives understands that our entire family shifts in the fall to revolve around football. Our middle child plays flag football two days per week; we have middle-school games on Wednesdays; high-school games on Fridays; college games to cheer for on Saturdays; and tons of pro teams to shout at on TV on Sundays and Mondays….so, yeah. Call me on Tuesdays, maybe?
I will honestly admit that I could not keep going in this cycle if I didn’t feel like my husband’s job is more than just a job. Football is just the tool that coaches like my husband utilize to train good young men. They teach them to be at their physical best, of course, but I am going to let you in on a little secret: I think that the true goal of good coaches is to teach their players these three things that will last a lifetime.
The first is grit. The first bit of every football season is tough because players have to learn to push through difficulties. Being part of a team sport means understanding that you play a role in the success or failure of the whole collective body. Football is an opportunity to learn to put your teammates ahead of yourself by playing the position asked of you, following the directives of your coach, and giving your best effort every time. While not every player gets to be the starting quarterback, it teaches young men to keep showing up every day with the right attitude even if the wins don’t come easy. I want to be proud in the future when my sons have confidence in themselves to keep going and persevere through tough circumstances, and I know football will play a part in that.
Secondly, football gives players accountability. More than just having to maintain good grades, being part of the team means that players are expected to show up and lock in. Their effort can change the tone of the weight room, their leadership can change the outcome of a game, and their presence can change the course of the season. Having a team to be accountable to, can motivate them to make better choices, stay out of trouble, and surround themselves with positive people. No matter what future career path they may choose, having a strong sense of self-discipline and honoring your commitment are traits that will always serve them well.
Finally, football gives players a sense of belonging. When they have shown their teammates that they have their backs, they can create lifelong bonds. They may have to walk alongside another player through some difficult life circumstances or even have to lean on their friends through their own struggles. I have seen teams come together to celebrate and to grieve, to congratulate and to cry. It is truly an honor for my coach husband to see his players go on to succeed in life because he takes such pride in them. Friends may come and go in different stages of life, but when young men earn the trust and respect of their peers, their circle tends to stay together. At a time when teens can often struggle to find their place and balance the pressures of school, the football field may be the perfect place for them. As technology evolves to improve the game, new generations will continue the football tradition. Who knows? They may even decide to become a coach later in life and pass along the same wisdom to the next generation!
When I thought back on all that football has meant to our family, I had to reach out to a very special coach’s wife that I have known and admired for many years. Her name is Shana Wetzel, and her husband is currently part of Baylor University’s coaching staff (sic ’em, Bears!). The Wetzels have been involved in coaching football at every level and now even have sons of their own who play. She reminded me of all the great things that she has seen football do:
“A boy will listen to his coach with more dedication than his father and mother. The coach is in the trenches with his players: walking the halls, understanding the complexity of being a teenager at that school. The coaches can relate through a game both adults and young people equally love and push the players as no parent or teacher can. The coaches can instill a sense of pride, commitment, work ethic, and daily good habits better than anyone else at that stage of a boy’s life. Coaches can use positive peer pressure to encourage the respect of women, dedication to scholastic success, and [growth of] positive self-esteem. The fact that men and boys can come together to strive for victory in all of these areas, not just a win on the scoreboard, is something miraculous. Friday night lights will always hold a special place in our family. We had three boys [who] would not have had the same upbringing without the game of football.”
From my own football family, we sincerely hope that you can find the perfect opportunity for your family to be part of a football community too. We would love to hear your stories of how your own kids have learned important life lessons through the game. I will see you on the sidelines!