Friday, February 16, 2018

A Good Reason for Playing Football

Why play football? This question is one that every player and coach must be prepared to answer. I don't doubt it's one that parents of football players feel obligated to respond to as well—to their friends, to their co-workers, to themselves! Why should I allow my son (or daughter in small examples) to participate in this game that causes injuries and concussions, that is dangerous and demanding? Perhaps you have considered these questions, among others.
I would like to offer an answer that may sound idealistic and improbable. You might find it lofty and unlikely, but I think it is both worthy and true. My response isn't about how the sport will showcase one's athleticism or serve as a ticket to a college scholarship. My thought has nothing to do with aspirations of the NFL or playing on Monday Night Football. No, my reason that a young person should play football is because the sport will help him (or her) love in a way that few other sports can or will. The love that football can teach is authentic and kind. It can teach a young person to love in the way that Jesus taught us and that Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic says we are called to do.

The author of several books, Matthew Kelly offers a daily video reflection during Lent to remind us of how we ought to live and love. Lent is a season to be more intentional about those practices. Check out the video here
As we talk about this theme of progress, I think it's really important to understand that it doesn't matter how small the progress is, it's the compounding impact of progress every day, every week, every month, that ultimately has a massive impact. 
We live in a culture of "the big." We live in a culture of "the spectacular." We live in a culture of things that are enormous and that sort of thing. And, we live in a culture that despises, in many ways, the little things. And so, no surprise that we live in a culture that, in many ways, despises God, in many ways despises God's way. Because God's way is love. And love's in the details. 
Love's in the little things. Love's doing something every day to demonstrate that we love. That we love the people in our lives, our family and friends. That we love the strangers who cross our path on any given day. That we love. That we've taken on board God's way of life, which is a way of love. 
And yes, there will be moments in our lives where we're called to do something extraordinary. 
But those things are rare. And, we prepare for those moments by doing the little things every day.
I heard his words and I thought of all that is demanded of a football player. In class today, one of my students said, "we train 11 months of the year to play 10 games during which the ball is only in play for approximately 7 minutes total." 
We may think of football as that "culture of the big" but those who play the game know the highlight reel exists for a reason. What makes a team work is "the small progress." These guys know "it's the compounding impact of progress every day;" we don't call it a gridiron for nothing. The weightlifting, the drills, studying the playbook, reviewing film, hitting and pounding, catching, blocking and tackling—every week, every month—of course, it has an impact. Guys get hurt, tired and burnt. No wonder they pursue other sports.

But, something keeps them invested and what that something is in found in the the little what amounts to love. I see this love manifested in the friendship and bond that forms among teammates. I read about this love in what my students have written about their coaches—their mentors, so many who become significant male role models. I have witnessed this truth in the rare moments when these athletes are called to do something extraordinary, be it on the field or off of it. Many football players are FAR from perfect. The sport is not a path toward holiness and yet, I truly believe the selfless and loving acts the game demands are not in vain. The fruits of those efforts extend far beyond the hash marks, sidelines and the end zone. Football, at its best, is a training ground for progress, for getting the details right, for learning to love and being ready for the extraordinary.
I ran this by my students. They got it...and then added, "it's also just really fun to hit people." Hard not to love 'em when they say things like that.

Photo Credits
Lad and leading

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