Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Growing up in New England, football was never a big deal. I played my freshman year of high school. I remember the coaches coming to recruit us while we were in 8th grade. I was among the tallest in my class, so somehow I was marked, but I think they just wanted players. Like most teachers or coaches, they probably figured that they could train and mold players as long as they could get them there. But New England isn't football country, despite the Patriots. If anything, hockey is the sport, and my family had neither the time or money to be able to afford hockey as an option for my brother and me.

When I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2004, I stepped into a world where football was bigger. Of course, it was nothing compared to the deep south like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and other states where they take their football as seriously as they do their church going. I remember being exposed to just how serious football was when my band played at a camp in Texas. The rivalry between Aggies and Longhorns was made readily apparent to me when I saw these elementary school age kids going up to each other saying, "Aggies suck!" and "Longhorns suck!" to each other. I knew that I had stepped into another world.

After hearing a friend talk about how he and his wife had recently gotten hooked into watching the TV series "Friday Night Lights," I decided to watch the movie that the show was based upon. There were so many disturbing images and themes in the movie that could easily be translated to any other sport. Parents living vicariously through their children. Townspeople desperately wanting to relive the former glory of a championship gone by. Athletes who put their everything into a game only to have it dashed when an injury ends their season and career.

What is our obsession with sports? How is it that we are driven towards such fanaticism? I have had people poke fun at me regarding my lack of enthusiasm for football. I have had people joke about my adopted college basketball team of choice, adopted because my college's sport of renown was wrestling. We get caught up in the hype of the moment. Our days can rise and fall with a win or loss. as a Red Sox fan, I can equally understand and appreciate this. But why all the hype?

My parents never put a lot of pressure on me. Neither of them had ever really excelled in anything extraordinary. The most pressure that I was ever under was self-induced. It wasn't put there by expectations from anyone other than myself. I'm not saying that my parents didn't want me to do my very best, they always told me that, but if they knew that I had done the best that I could, they would not complain. They would simply ask me that question, "Was it the best you could do?" If I answered with an affirmative, that was the end of the issue.

In my repeat watching of "Friday Night Lights," I took particular notice of the coach's speech before the 2nd half of the state championship game. He emphasized their relationship with their families, friends, and teammates. He said that the most important thing was looking in each other's eyes and being able to say that you had done the best that you could. Sometimes the other team is just better. It's not that God was smiling more on them that day than he was on your team. It's not that a series of curses prevented your team from losing the game. Sometimes the best that we have is not as good as the best that someone else has to offer.

Does that sound defeatist? Does it mean that we are losers? I don't think so. Sure, there are times when heart and determination can rise above pure talent and skill, but I would venture to guess that part of the reason that heart and determination can rise above is because they come from a place of humility. Pure talent and skill have more of a tendency to lead to arrogance, pompousness, and cockiness, which will eventually lead to downfall. Talent and skill can focus us more on the individual than on the team. Heart and determination is caught and spread like a wildfire, if everyone catches them than the momentum that results can be unstoppable.

I don't know what my kids will be good at. I'm not sure that they will have any natural athletic ability or even a desire to play. I don't want to be the dad who lives vicariously through his children. I don't want to push my children to a place where passion and love for a sport is replaced with frustration and resentment. The minute that it stops being fun is the minute that they should probably not be playing.

In the grand scheme of things, championships can live in history. They can be the things from which legends are spun. We've all experienced at least one of these in our lifetime. But what happens to the champions when the lights go down? Where are they when all the fans have gone home? What happens when their names are simply etched into plaques or monuments? Do they continually try to live up to their former glory?

Sometime in the future, my kids will probably want to take their turn at playing sports. I can only hope and pray that I can be as encouraging and supportive to them as my parents were with me. Despite what some may think, the idea that winning isn't everything, but the only thing, doesn't teach us too many life lessons. After all, some of the greatest successes have followed some of the greatest failures. Would those successes have ever been possible had they not been preceded by those failures?


  1. I wish all of the parents who BLAST me for cutting their child (as if I did it for some personal vendetta against their kid and/or their whole family) could read and learn from this article.

  2. I played on my middle school's inaugural girls' softball team. One afternoon, we were playing one of the toughest teams in the league. Many of our "star" players opted out of the game--fear of loss/their own arrogance. The rest of us went out on the field just hoping to make it through the 6 innings.

    Humility and the spark of "Yes, WE can (even without them)" brought us the sweetest victory of the year. Our team ended up 3rd in the league, and you would have thought we had taken it all. Those are the moments you remember and that become a part of your future makeup.

    So much opportunity in sports to learn about life, if the folks guiding the kids can see the big picture of what they're involved with. As with so many things, we seem to forget that it's about the people....