With all of this talk lately about football being too dangerous, and those who play being entitled, spoiled athletes who’ve been coddled simply because they can throw a football, I thought I’d talk about one of the positives of the sport. The fact is most kids who play football don’t make it any further than high school. The game itself is under more scrutiny than ever because of the potential for head injuries, yet football continues to be America’s favorite sport. Why? Well at the college and pro level, it’s pretty obvious that the aggressive, fast paced nature of the sport has something to do with it. But what makes younger kids play? What makes parents allow their kids to play such a potentially dangerous and heavily scrutinized sport? I think there’s a pretty obvious reason that doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s because the sport helps to build character. Now listen, l think all can help build character, particularly team sports. In my opinion though, there are a few things that make football different. Here are my top 5 reasons that football helps builds character:
1. The Time Of Year The Game Is Played
For kids, football is played at about the most difficult time imaginable. The beginning of the school year. As kids try to transition to at minimum a new grade and sometimes a new school, they are also tasked with the pressure of two or three a day practices usually in extreme heat along with the stress of academics at the beginning of the school year. Let me be clear, football is A LOT tougher to play in extreme heat than in cold weather, particularly practices. Simply getting through camp for two weeks before the first game is something most kids couldn’t manage comfortably.
2. The Competition
Football teams have more players per team than any other team sport as well as having the shortest season. This usually means intense competition for playing time. When kids are in direct, physical competition on a daily basis, it can lead to some pretty uncomfortable moments like ending up on your back in the middle of the field after being run over by one of your friends. And…it also hurts. Just getting off the ground is always a challenge. Then, when the positions are filled and you’re one of the starters, you have to play well in games and in practice to keep your spot. When you aren’t a starter, you have to continue to practice hard without the promise of ever playing. You’re competing in a very physical manner, against a lot of guys, with a limited amount of games. Stress.
3. The Structure
Individually, you knock down your teammate in practice. Then you get knocked down by your teammate in practice. Rinse, repeat. In one on one drills and in scrimmages. No fighting, no anger…for the most part, just focus.
As a team, think about it. 22 kids attacking each other aggressively for about 8 seconds at a time. After each play, a whistle blows, the kids stop and go back to the huddle. They calm down quickly, get specific instructions and go back for the next 8 seconds of aggression. Repeat about 100-120 times per game. Think about it.
4. The Discipline
You ever try to get 85 kids to be good students, to come to practice everyday, to get along with each other and to perform football related tasks, in sync, that admittedly I don’t completely understand. Ok then.
5. The Tangible Intangibles
A couple of scenarios.
- The quarterback throws a pass to his star receiver to win the game. The 2 get mobbed and walk off like heroes. The real heroes may be the offensive line, who made sure that play was executed by providing perfect pass protection. The offensive line receives very little attention for this but are always willing to do it. That requires something.
- That certain kid who hasn’t played a meaningful down in a game, but never misses a practice and always finishes in front in conditioning drills. He does his best in practice everyday to prepare his team for the upcoming game even though he knows he’ll likely not play. He never quits the team although most kids would under those circumstances. There is one kid like that on every team, every year.
These are my top 5. I can’t promise you that these character builders will get your kids to the NFL, but I can promise that they will prepare them for a better life.
I’m going into my 17th season of coaching football at either the youth or high school level. Here are my top 5 coaching tips for football, but that I think apply to every team sport:
1. Connect with your players.
Getting to know your players and letting them get to know you helps each of you find the motivators that will bring out the best in the player and the coach. Sharing your experience as a player can help as well to give your player that assurance that you know what he or she may be thinking or feeling in situations common to the sport.
2. Choose team leaders wisely.
Make sure your captains are leaders and fit the mold of the team. Not by ability or star power but by ability to lead by example. A captain should be able to represent you with the team but also be able to be their collective voice with you. Empower them. Choose the number based on how many kids fit the profile. If there’s only 1, then 1 it is. If there are none to begin the season, then use that as a goal throughout the year.
3. Be yourself.
Kids see through the fake persona. If they think you’re faking, they may not trust you. Once the trust goes its tough to get them back. Be real, be honest and admit mistakes. All mistakes are team mistakes.
4. Set tangilble team goals.
Set measurable goals for practice, games and for the season. Use statistics. Kids love statistics. Talk about goals weekly and attach them to helmet awards and weekly captainships. The dog days of the season move faster when the team has goals to reach.
5. Empower your assistants.
Your position coaches have mini teams themselves. Empowering them is a good way to pound your message in with a different voice. Empowering assistants encourages them to keep the ideas flowing and more ideas…better than less ideas. If you respect your assistants, the kids will too.
Did you notice that there was nothing about x’s and o’s? Exactly.