I miss a lot of things from my days on the football field, but I sure don’t miss the grind of football practice. If it was January-June, I was lifting weights several times a week and getting ready for the upcoming season. If it was July-November, I was practicing for 3 hours every day but Sunday, preparing for Friday night lights. Looking back at my football career, I remember Friday nights fondly. Tackle Tuesday? Not so much.
Tackle Tuesday was notorious for being a difficult practice, replete with Oklahoma drills, bear crawls, hamburger drills, suicide runs, and board drills. The best way to describe it to someone unfamiliar with football is that we beat the stew out of one another for about three hours every Tuesday. A necessary but grueling weekly ritual. When we weren’t hitting one another for a brief moment, we were conditioning. Several less-motivated teammates would be consistently “hurt” on Tuesday, yet somehow be miraculously healed by Thursday.
Alas, I digress. I learned many a life lesson on those fall Tuesday nights, but none more important than this: the team is more important than the individual. Every rep, every snap, you must be the best player you can be. Each time you aren’t, you are cheating your coaches and teammates. Even in an inglorious position like offensive guard, if you don’t perform your best, then the team cannot succeed. It is the same in life; each time you give less than your best, you are cheating your employer, your spouse, your kids, and most importantly, your God. What glorifies God is for you to give your best effort in everything you do, on and off the sports field.
A second lesson is this: maximize the gifts and abilities you were given; don’t try to be someone else. As my dad, David Prince, always says, “Be yourself…surrendered to Christ.” Even when you work as hard as humanly possible, some things just aren’t going to happen the way you want them to happen. Sports has a unique way of humbling you when you think too highly of yourself. Try as I might, I was never going to be the starting quarterback on my high school football team. I was never going to be first in the 100-meter dash. I was never going to be elite at any position. You don’t always get everything you want. It is a good reminder that the Lord has given you specific gifts and abilities; maximize those gifts to his glory.
A final lesson that sports taught me was perseverance through difficulty. I distinctly remember the day I got cut from the high school baseball team; I was devastated. This was completely my fault. I hadn’t worked hard enough in the offseason to refine my fielding skills. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at that point, as I had played baseball every single year since I was four years old. I began to let that situation define me and permeate my life, before I realized the futility in that endeavor. When I make mistakes, my natural tendency is to dwell on them and complain about the circumstances. Sports taught me to take ownership of things that didn’t quite go my way, and take the necessary steps to change or improve. My favorite football coach talks about embracing the process. When you encounter difficult circumstances in both sports and life, don’t whine and complain. Persevere and become stronger, realizing that God is in control of your circumstances.
If my parents had not led me to play sports, I know I would not be the young man I am today. Three months from now, I’ll be marrying my wonderful fiancée, Kaelyn (who is 19-years-old). I am a 20-year-old college sophomore. Marriage isn’t the path most people choose today at our age. What emboldened me to take this daunting step? Sports played a formative and vital role in preparing me to make this kind of decision. My parents had me in sports from the time I was four years old. Baseball, football, basketball, track, wrestling, and even soccer (and my dad doesn’t even like soccer): I played it all. My mom and dad, knowing that sports expose character, used sports to show me where I struggled and needed to change. It helped me learn to work on a team and to sacrificially labor in the pursuit of shared shared goals. In other words, how to be myself, surrendered to Christ, which means expecting tough times and being prepared to persevere and learn from them.
I have learned choosing the easiest path isn’t always the best path. While sports weren’t always easy, they taught me more than I will ever be able to articulate. They helped shape me into the man that I am. They taught me life lessons that continue to help me as I attend college, work a job, and prepare to get married three months hence. Sports were a mechanism by which my parents were able to prepare me for this very moment. From what my mentors tell me, marriage is so rewarding but at times so very difficult. I will need to employ the characteristics I learned in the sports arena; teamwork, humility, and perseverance, to navigate through the difficult times my wife and I are bound to encounter.
Sports exposed my character flaws, and my parents took full advantage of that window into my heart and life, to better to mold and shape me into the Christian man I have become. The road wasn’t always comfortable or easy, but I am a better man because of it. I have plenty more to learn, but I have no doubt that what I learned while playing sports will benefit me on the journey.
Tackle Tuesday, I guess you weren’t so bad after all.