There is much more value to be gained from playing high school football than winning championships. Winning is the measurement of accomplishing goals; however, the value of playing football goes far beyond gridiron success. There are valuable lessons that players can learn in the process of a season. While winning has its importance in the competitive realm of high school football, the life lessons that can be learned from playing this game are of more value than titles, championships, and trophies.
Some would argue that winning a championship is the measure of a successful program, and success is predicated by superior athleticism, talent, and financial support. Let’s face it, people want to associate themselves with winning, and high school football isn’t any different. The identities of entire communities live or die with the success of local football programs. It is much easier to fundraise in a community with a winning football team because those programs can show tangible accomplishments. Establishing a winning program feeds on its success continuing the trend of winning; however, is winning the most important aspect of high school football?
The essence of team sport is very well represented in the game of football. A team is a collection of individuals striving towards a common goal. In life, there is a great deal of importance placed on being triumphant. In the arena of athletic competition, it takes mentorship from dedicated coaches to direct a team forward; however, one should not lose sight of the real value of playing this sport. In an interview with Dave Humphers, head football coach at Nevada Union High School, located in Northern California, he indicates: “As coaches our job is to teach these young athletes how to become responsible young men… let’s face it, most of our players aren’t going to play beyond this level so what we are really teaching them has more to do with life than football.”
Most teams in high school don’t end their season with championships. So why strive for such mighty goals? Goal setting (winning championships) gives an importance to playing a game that for its own sake has no intrinsic value. Setting goals challenging the individual is paramount to exposing the valuable lessons that can be learned. This is the real benefit of playing this sport, because it empowers people to create a value from within. Competing is an evolving process that produces improvement, and without it a team could not measure its progress; however, the value of competing is not always in winning. Risking failure is a necessary component for growth to occur. It is through the experience of losing that one can be exposed to the more subtle lessons in life. Bill Walsh, former head coach of the World Champion San Francisco 49ers, writes about what can be gained from defeat in his book: Finding the winning edge. “You must have a level of self-assurance that has been molded by defeat, has overcome obstacles…and has engendered a sober, steel-like toughness… that will take on anything, yet survive and win” (24). In my experience the teams that I have had the most success with had extreme challenges. Through those experiences an individual learns how to succeed.
Players can learn a lifetime of lessons in a single season, and as a coach I feel obligated to seek out these opportunities. Walsh writes: “These beliefs – values such as respect, loyalty, responsibility, self-discipline and cooperation – should be an integral part of your philosophy” (35). In my thirteen years as a coach I have experienced the success of winning championships, but the most satisfying experience comes in the opportunities to mentor. The real value of this sport is played out in the hardships, trials, and tribulations that one faces throughout the season. It is how one can guide a player through these challenges that is satisfying and brings value to this game. Walsh asserts the ability to teach is one of the utmost qualities a coach should possess and writes: “Teach and reinforce to you players the attitudes and values you believe are important in football and in life” (35). Qualities such as a good work ethic, learning how to set and achieve goals, and understanding the importance of working together selflessly towards a common goal are all important ingredients that bring value to ones life. The importance of trust is something that is continually tested, and the value of keeping your word even when it seems impossible is something that will bring a lifetime of success. As a coach, I encourage my players to respect and care for each other, and the friendships that are established are for life.
Football fosters the process of learning important and necessary lessons for living a successful and fulfilling life. Coaching provides one with an opportunity to contribute to society. I’m not naïve and I know the value of winning, but I have also learned that winning isn’t everything, and it is not the only thing. It is how much one can give of oneself that really makes football a special game for both coaches and players.
Humphers, Dave. Personal interview. 11 December 2006.
Walsh, Bill. Finding the Winning Edge. Illinois: Sports Publishing Inc., 1998.