By Coach Mike Gurley
Excitement is in the air as high school football quickly approaches. College football and the NFL will follow soon after. Communities throughout the nation will be filled with adrenaline as each school tries to answer “yes” to the question of whether this will be the year. There will be new helmets and uniforms shining under the Friday night lights, cheerleaders dancing, bands playing, children running and laughing, parents sitting proudly in their seats watching their child in uniform, hot dogs being cooked, popcorn popping, and community support at its highest. The agenda is simple: WIN! However, as you watch the games this fall, I hope all fans will take some time from their cheering to see that the games go way beyond the scoreboard. There is more to the game than the game itself.
Football, like all other sports, teaches many life lessons to young people that won’t be reflected on a team’s win/loss record. I have coached for more than 25 years and I can promise you that sports is a wonderful way for young people to practice the biggest game of them all – the game of life. I have had teams that won it all and teams that struggled to the finish line. I know that the lessons learned by players could not be taught anywhere else. John Wooden, the great basketball coach at UCLA, liked to say, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” That simple phrase describes how, during a young player’s journey, valuable life lessons occur that become the ingredients to help mold values and character. As stated earlier, the goal of all teams is to win. But every step on the journey to a victory helps our young people grow, grow up, and become adults.
I have always said that sports is a great way to practice the game of life. During a season, a player on any team will have a chance to use the right qualities and overcome the wrong attributes to help their team be a success. When children play sports, they learn to win. But, more importantly, they learn to lose. They also learn how to be the best they can be and they learn to adapt their skills to help the team when they are not. They learn what it is like to be a star and they learn how to be a substitute when their skills are not as good as another’s. They learn to play a role and execute a game plan that the coach puts in because winning teams must be on the same page during a game. Players find things they are good at and they find things that take work. All those things face us as adults, but our young people are dealing with it for the first time. Luckily, in a sports setting, the highs and lows of competition won’t affect their future.
If a young person learns to handle situations maturely and intellectually, those same young people are going to become good mommas and daddies, good employees, good friends, good husbands and wives, and good people who will make their communities stronger by their presence. They will learn all the traits and qualities that a person will need to be a productive, positive member of society. As fans, you see the final product from the assembly line. Coaches see the journey and the work that is required of all members of a team. They help players develop time management skills, discipline to do the work, dedication to a common cause, pride in their work, understanding of the fundamentals, focus on the job they have, intensity to be ready to play, integrity to do things right and to be a good sport, unity and bonding of a team, endurance to see a goal achieved, and the skills needed to be the best they can be.
Coaching staffs play a big role in helping their children develop. It is important that all parents stay positive with their child even if the child is not a star! Any bitterness and anger that parents display in front of their children will delay the development of their child. Parents, you may not be happy that “Junior” isn’t the starting quarterback, but you can make it a positive experience for him or her by encouraging them, supporting the team, being positive about their role, and letting your child stand on their own two feet as they practice the game of life on their football teams. Instead of raising a bitter, excuse-making child, you will have a strong-minded, problem-solving child who will be a success in the game of life.
I love sports. It helped take a young, skinny, unsure kid like myself and help me become a man. My dad came to all my games, but he insisted that I handle my own business. He didn’t talk to the coach, he didn’t bad mouth my teammates who played in front of me, and he always wanted me to keep working because he felt it would make me better. He was right! I loved it so much that I made it my career. Like all teachers, I wish I made more money, but I have never regretted the decision I made to be a teacher and coach. It taught me to work for what I want, to find a ladder for every wall I encountered, to get up when I got knocked down, and to feel good about myself. I learned what it takes to make it in this great big world!
All those Jackets, Dragons, Black Knights, Spartans, Eagles, Bulldogs, and Panthers are itching to play that first game and hear the roar of their fans as they try to lead their team to victory. Every team is going to be the best it can be to win the game! But don’t forget there is more to it. Sports can help your child grow up and be a productive citizen. Enjoy that. Celebrate that. What you will find then is that everyone will be a winner. Success does have destinations, but isn’t it exciting to know that your child will benefit on the journey because they played high school sports? There is more to the game than the game.