It was autumn and the weather changed. The leaves switched from green to yellow and orange and the winds moved from warm to cool. The mornings showed frost on the grass and above all things, it was football season.
The ground was hard and the toes were cold. I was small and played in what was called the pee wee league. My helmet was bigger than my shoulders and my pads were too big as well.
I was no stranger to sports because sports was an important topic in my home. My Father was a coach. He was an athlete when he was younger. My brother was well-known in town for his time on the football field.
Perhaps I lacked skills and the same talent. I lacked coordination and size but I still remember the early morning practice before the game. I remember the cold air and the empty stands and the bleachers before the parents came to the field.
I can remember the smoke from the cold air as it cloaked my breath. We started with workouts and calisthenics. We did up-down drills, which is when we lined up in rows and ran in place with our arms outstretched. The coach would then blow the whistle and we’d hit the floor, chest down and jump back up into our positions of running in place. I remember the laps around the field too.
I remember the team . . .
There was no “My kind” or “Your kind” or anything like that. Not at all. There was only a team of kids. There was an offense and a defense. There were positions called starters and second string. But either way, there was a flow to the game.
There was an honest synergy between us or a sense of unit cohesion. Each player who filled a position was responsible for their job. Should the position to either side falter, then one would pick up where the other left off to prevent the opposing team from scoring upon us.
What an amazing lesson for a young boy to have: to learn how to be part of a team and to understand who to turn to, who to depend on, who to block for and who to win with.
I think of the time I played on a basketball team. I think about the inner politics of who to pass to and who could make the shot. Although this was not the best time for me, I still learned.
I think of this in relation to life.
Understanding your team and your circle of influence is the same as understanding and utilizing the strengths of your body. Same as the field comes with lessons, life comes with lessons. Same as your teammates speak to you, so does your body. We need to listen because these are the lessons that teach us when to go for it or block.
As a boy, my Father used to tell me that competitive sports is a good preparation for life. This teaches about the benefits of competition.
This teaches us how to work with others and how to rise up and overcome a loss. Or in life’s case, this teaches us to rise up and overcome adversity.
My lessons were not as glorious on the ball field. I was not the star athlete or regarded the way my brother was. But I did learn what happens when I quit or give up. I found out first hand what happens when I forfeit or fail to compete.
I had to learn my own secret of endurance. I had to find out where my talents shined and how to connect my gifts to create an incredible picture that outshined the glare from any trophy of any championship game.
By the way, the idea that everybody gets a trophy is not helpful in future life. No one gets ahead by giving in or giving way to their fears.
The workplace is filled with competition. There are interviews. There are supervision meetings and year-end reviews. There are people chasing the same dime and fighting for the same position. Be advised that this is life. This is also why my Father believed that sports is a great introduction to teach us how life works.
He would tell me:
You need to be resilient. You need perseverance and tenacity. You need drive and determination to make it across that goal line. But more, you need to understand what it means to be tested; this way, you’re not afraid. This way, you know what your body can do.
This way, intimidation is not a factor and simply because something is standing in your way, this doesn’t mean that you can’t break through.
In this regard, my Father believed that the lessons of competitiveness taught us how to turn obstacles into opportunities. This is how we turn problems into possibilities.
How else would you know what you can achieve if you weren’t pushed to achieve it?
How else could you learn about the secrets of your endurance if you never exercised your strengths to their limits.
There will be times when the game is tough.
It will hurt. But you will heal.
The last thing anyone wants in life is the idea of regret.
“We have to leave it all out there on the field,” he’d say.
Our lessons of socialization teach us people skills. My Father believed that people need to understand who to share their field with. He believed in the benefits of choosing the right team.
Don’t cheat. No cheap shots. Just play.
Give the game everything you’ve got because this is life.
How you do one thing is how you do all things. There is no replay. There are no do overs. You might get second chances. You might get a third or fourth or maybe more. But the lessons we learn through competition teach us the angles and the plays to score and achieve our victories.
“Never forget this.”
My Father favored the word “Sticktoitiveness.”
This is what keeps us moving. This is what connects us to the motivational issue of life and whether we are hanging on by a handful or by a thread, our sticktoitiveness keeps us in the game, no matter what.
Life is not without challenges. Life happens.
However, so long as life will happen — so will we.
The idea of training the thought machine to coexist without the ability to overcome is the same as running from adversity or fearing intimidation.
Competition and resilience teach us that intimidation is real and adversity happens. But we are equally as real and, at our best, we are equally capable and we are equally intimidating.
More importantly, competition can be a healthy habit. This promotes our resilience and teaches us to get back up, no matter how hard life hits or knocks us down.
This also exposes the dangerous habit of quitting, and how the more we quit, the more accustomed we become to give in before we even try.
My Father once told me, “Anything can happen, any given Sunday.”
This was his way of teaching me that the underdog should never be counted out; therefore, I should never count myself out.
When all else fails and when it seems like the odds are stacked against you, the idea is to face it straight on, focus and when the whistle blows and the game starts, give them everything you have.
I am more of a spectator than an athlete. I never had the talent or much of the physical ability. But athlete or not, I do understand what it’s like to be down on the scoreboard and need to come back. I know what it’s like to dig deep and produce instead of quit or give way.
I don’t mind the underdog status. It reminds me that any given Sunday, anything can happen — all I need to do is “Not quit.”
Something else I learned: Loss is not a failure.
Quitting on the other hand, giving in or giving up is the only failure known to us.
“So don’t quit.”
Otherwise, it becomes a habit . . .