**Terminally ill university professor on achieving your childhood dreams. His thoughts on value of football at 8:16
Football is an amazing sport and some rightly say that it is the ultimate team sport. There is a spot on the roster/field for every type of athlete. Each position is unique and the fun thing about them is the development curve as players become not only bigger, stronger and faster, but more technically savvy along the way. Further, development within the unique scheme that each team deploys is key to being one’s best. When this occurs, the TEAM begins to shine.
I have coached a bit of football the past twenty six years or so. Along the way, I have observed that the vast, vast majority of young people who play the game, usually play their last down of ball at the conclusion of their varsity and midget careers. I have also noted that the a great number of the very best high school football players that take the field year to year in our program and those of our competitors fall into this category. I will say this again for the sake of clarity, many of the very best high school football players in BC, never play another down of football past grade 12.
Who are these guys? Well, for starts, they are amazing fellas. There is no cookie cutter profile for this athlete, but there sure is a set of commonalities to them. They have first and foremost, a passion for the zen and spirit of the game. Everything they do is basically a commentary on this first trait. These great players go through the process: They lift, run, skip and do all they can to prepare their bodies for the challenges of practices and games. They support their teammates first and foremost by maximizing their own point of effort. They unselfishly learn and play the positions that support the team the best. They make the “big time” where “they are”. In so doing, they raise the bar for all who around them and not just the other players. Their coaches, in the presence of such greatness, have to bring their best game to each and every practice/training session or risk dishonoring the gift before them. Again, the bar rises.
Where do they come from? Well hec, they come from every type of family and background you can imagine. They come from across the socio-economic spectrum and from places where football tradition is rich or poor. Many do not show-up for the first practice of their career as standouts in any sense of the word. They all have their own reason for being at that beginning. At that point, the adults and more experienced players have a big say in how that desire is fed, watered, encouraged, challenged and ultimately developed. It is within that context that loyalty, toughness, desire and selflessness flourish, always undergrid by TEAM for it is far better to celebrate great accomplishments with one’s friends than to stand alone. The physical component only nears its potential with, and not separate from, this complex football stew.
These guys are the leaders on any given team. The one’s truly followed. They are followed because of what they represent in the moment, the hour, the day, the week, the month, the season and so forth. It is very likely that their private and public lives follow a similar pattern. The exceptional teams have their share of these fellas and as imitation is one of the highest forms of flattery, these groups of young men that “rise above” are usually a reflection the leadership within the roster.
I said earlier, that most players, and the majority of the great ones, do not play football after high school. Why? Well, there are plenty of reasons. Genetics have a huge say. It is a Darwinian game with traits like size, agility, speed and strength being huge selecting factors. As the financial stakes rise at the next level for both the athlete and the host organization, DNA surely has its say. Add to this great character, academics and financial access and you get a kid with a good shot at the collegiate level. It begins with DNA and that is the one factor at present for which there is no “getting around”. Without going into great detail, the genetic lottery is a great separator in terms of access to playing at the next level. This is what makes “the lure”, a kid with all the God Given athleticism, but lacking the character traits previously described, one of the toughest things to witness as a coach or fan of the game. I however, digress.
Another factor for lack of continuation is that as mentioned, these great high school players, with their work-ethic, character and innate leadership abilities, have an almost unlimited horizon of opportunity beyond high school football. High school football surely brought out these characteristics and the body of work along the way, developed them for the great things ahead. All of them leave with an appreciation for the game and some come back to coach or have their sons play down the line. The pads however, will not be strapped on again.
What is the point of this conversation thus begun? The point is that at the provincial level, we may be missing the big picture. Worse, we may be allowing the game to drift into a progress trap of sorts. Here is some general thinking points:
The game comes first, the game, the game, the game! The game is a TEAM game, Team! Team! Team! The best games are played between collections of players that form the best Teams. If the game becomes about individuals and elites, it is no longer the game. It becomes a platform for individual self-aggrandizement and deification. The elites held high in the spotlight on the backs of the faceless, striving many. In short,” me” gets hyped at every turn and “we” is an orphan. What is being taught about the nature of the game of football?
Leaders have a huge role to play here and what leaders emphasize sure enough, takes root. This is surely the case with emphasis placed on the galaxy of provincial all-star teams here in BC. What exactly is being accomplished here? How is the game being promoted at the grass roots level? How are existing programs at every high school benefitting from this? What is this doing in terms of growing football? Assuming there is a finite amount of time and energy within the provincial organization, what percentage of it is being spend running combines, ID camps and taking select groups off to foreign locales for one or two games? On top of this is the money. How much time is spent fundraising? At ID camps, families are having to come up with sixty bucks a head just to test. At weekend tryouts even more dollars and it’s especially expensive when travel and lodging are taken into account. Again, for what exactly? The fee pyramid it would seem, is structured to support the end game, which is a very limited number of folks taking a long and expensive trip to participate in a game or two that does exactly what for grassroots, g. 4-12 football in British Columbia.
Could these significant expenditures financially and again in terms of energy, be spent more efficiently growing the game of football in BC? Is the promotion of “elites” a neutral thing or is it at the expense of the greater body of athletes/programs as a whole? Ultimately, what is the mission here? Are we growing, improving and promoting the game of amateur football or are we here to feed the next level? The argument cannot be made that there is a whole lot of development taking place on these all-star teams. The vast majority of the development takes place at the home program.
The current provincial emphasis feels, well, misguided. The same dollars could be spent running regional skills and development camps. Referee clinics could be piggybacked on top of these camps. Coaching certification, trainer certification and concussion certification as well could be piggy backed on the regional development camps. Would not a far greater group of people and programs benefit from this? The overall quality of the game would go up as would participation. Ultimately, as the player pool increases along with the quality of the game, coaching, refereeing etc. so would the pool of “elite” athletes.
Lastly, the best is the best. The next level finds the guys with the gene pool/academics/economics. If they can’t do that, they ain’t worth a lick or deserving of the title “coach”. Our provincial organization does not need to insert itself at such great time and expense into that hunt. There is something else at play here…..