I’ve played sports my entire life and have tried just about everything; heck, I even threw javelin and pole vaulted.
Out of all the sports I’ve tried, I fell in love with one of them: baseball.
I loved the game of baseball (and still do) with all of my heart and I was determined not to let my poor vision stop me from playing. As much as I would have loved to continue playing baseball, the cold hard reality that I couldn’t consistently see the ball stopped me in my tracks. I continued to give baseball my best effort until my vision started to compromise my safety – a few baseballs to the face will put things in perspective.
So as high school approached and sports got more competitive, I shifted my focus to the sport where my performance was least impacted by my visual deficits: football.
Four years of high school football taught me a lot, it gave me some incredible memories and it helped me make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. After high school, although not initially my plan, I ended up walking onto the football team at Bucknell University. Soon after walking onto the team things fell into place… that is, until I eventually took a pretty big hit (you should’ve see the other guy) and noticed a significant loss of vision which ultimately ended my football career.
To this day I miss playing football and I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. While my time playing football came to an unexpected end long before I would have liked, the game taught me more than I could have asked for and my experiences helped shape me into the person I am today.
Football helped make me who I am.
This blog is about some of the lessons I took away from football and how they can be applied to life in general. Before I continue I should note that the following list is not exhaustive – I could write a book about what football (and sports in general) have taught me. Just to help you follow along, here is a rough outline of the remainder of this post.
I will talk about four important lessons that I’ve learned through playing football (commitment/discipline, hard work, being a good teammate, finishing strong). Each lesson will begin with a personal anecdote, followed by the life lesson and summed up with a quote. The fifth lesson (being a better person) will be longer and more in depth than the others and hopefully you’ll understand why. Enjoy!
Football taught me what it means to make a commitment and to be disciplined.
To me, discipline means adhering to a pattern of behavior, a promise or a commitment all the time – especially when you don’t feel like it. Discipline is about creating and honoring a commitment and football is one of the biggest commitments I’ve ever made.
To highlight how football fostered commitment and discipline in my life, I think back to the summers during high school when I worked a full time job as a camp counselor during the day (9am-4pm) and then rode my bike to football summer conditioning workouts (4pm-6pm). I think about how physically and mentally tired I was after work each day and how even though I never initially felt like it, I had to make the conscious decision each and every day to put aside my exhaustion and complete that day’s workout to the best of my ability because that was a commitment I had made long ago.
The discipline and commitment that football taught me translated to every aspect of my life and became part of who I am. Whether it’s a sport, school, a relationship or anything else in life, if it’s importanr to you, commit to it and don’t let anything get in the way of that commitment until you see it through.
Football taught me that hard work always pays off.
I was lucky enough to born with some level of natural athleticism. However, I always worked HARD to earn my spot on the field.
Football taught me, both physically and mentally, what it means to push your limits and work hard. As a freshman I didn’t get much playing time and that was partially my fault – I didn’t work as hard as I could have. I began to work harder and that hard work earned me varsity playing time as a sophomore and a starting spot as a junior. I continued to push myself past all of my preconceived limits, both physical and mental, and it paid dividends. As a senior I earned a starting spot on both offense and defense and my hard work translated to a solid season.
Throughout high school football, my relentless hard work had put me in a position both physically and mentally to attack my goals and get where I wanted to be. That work ethic carried over to all aspects of my life (sports, school, relationships, etc.) and it has become part of who I am. I understand that to many, hard work isn’t appealing, however, even though putting in the hard work is never easy, it always pays off – and that’s a promise.
Football taught me how to be a good teammate.
Being part of a team means working together with a group of people towards a common goal. However, football taught me that being a teammate goes far beyond just working towards a common goal.
Being a good teammate means supporting others. It means picking others up when they’re down and holding others accountable for their actions. It means being honest and giving it your all because you know your teammates have your back.
As you can see, being a good teammate shares many characteristics of being a good friend and a good person in general. Thanks to football I realize how much teamwork it takes to get through life. Be a good teammate to those around you and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much those same teammates will help you out when you need it most.
Football taught me to play to the whistle and to run through the finish line.
My high school football program was never the biggest, never the fastest, and never the strongest, but we were almost always the best conditioned.
What this meant was that when the fourth quarter came around, when the other team was tired and slowing down, we were still heating up and ready to go. As a result, we were able to finish strong and dominate the game late.
Football has taught me time and time again that it doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish. Whether it’s on the football field or in life, always finish strong. See your commitments through to the end and always give your best effort, no matter how exhausted you may be – it’ll bring out the best in you and inspire others.
While all of these lessons I’ve learned from football have stuck with me thus far throughout life (I know, I know, I’m only 23), there is one concept more than the rest that echoes deep in my core.
Football taught me how to be a better person.
If you’ve ever played football at a competitive level, you know what it’s like to watch film. If you’ve never played football let me break it down for you really quick:
Teams will typically watch film (practices/games) together and coaches use these sessions to dish out praise, but more commonly, to provide constructive criticism. Sitting in a room surrounded by your teammates and coaches, every single mistake is up on the big screen for everyone to see. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Film sessions are constructive in nature but sometimes you simply get ripped apart, in front of your peers nonetheless, and that doesn’t feel good (at all). Through all of my years playing football, despite my fair share of embarrassing moments, I was able to notice a common theme that was threaded throughout each and every film session.
It didn’t matter how much talent you had or how “good” you were. There were only two things that the coaches really cared about:
Did you do your job?
Did you give your best effort?
Knowing that every move I made, every step I took and every breath I breathed would be on film, something inevitably happened… I began to play every play like someone was watching (because they were). Knowing that my play would be put up on the big screen for all to see gave me no excuses. It gave me no choice but to put forth my best effort all of the time because I had to be completely accountable for all of my actions. This accountability made me a better football player, a better teammate and most importantly, a better person. So, I began to think…
If being watched by others (film sessions) made me more accountable for my actions, why couldn’t that same concept carry over to all aspects of my life?
The end of my football career seemed to coincide with the beginning of a more serious spiritual chapter of my life. I began to grow my relationship with God and I became more aware of the fact that God is watching over me always, and ultimately, I am accountable to Him. While my faith plays a large role in my life, this blog post isn’t an attempt to push my religious beliefs on you, in fact, it’s far from it. I want to share my personal experience so that you can gain an appreciation for how a football life lesson translated outside of football to the rest of my life.
Regardless of your spiritual/religious background and whether or not you believe you are being watched, I want to urge you to try your best to live every second of every day as if someone is watching over you. In other words, treat every “play” of every day like it will be part of a film session.
By living life under the true or hypothetical pretense that your actions will be seen by someone else, you can take away all your excuses and hold yourself accountable for your actions. This accountability is important because when you do the “right thing” and give your best effort nobody can ever take anything away from you.
To nobody’s surprise, I’d like to end this blog post with a quote.
Whether or not you believe that your actions will be seen, go out and live a life that you’d be proud to put on film.
Thank you for reading!
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Excellent work as expected out of you Joe. Hopefully you remember our motto from the PAL days, we win together we lose together we get in trouble together and we have fun together. (Remember Rocks?) you and your PAL teammates were such a pleasure to coach. There were never any losing Games in our program….. One team simply had more points than the other when time ran out, that’s all. It’s no surprise that you turned out to be such an exceptional individual, as did all of your teammates each in their own way, in part because of the lessons learned a game of football. Keep up the good work. Very proud of you. Coach Dugan
Thanks so much Coach Dugan! That really means a lot coming from you. Some of my best memories and biggest lessons were from PAL and I’ll never forget how much fun I had. Believe it or not, one of my best memories was when I got the nickname “Rocks” because of the lesson you taught us!
As always an inspiring read! Love you grandson. I am so very proud of the person you have become!
Thank you Nanny!