THE 8 BEST THINGS I LEARNED FROM PLAYING FOOTBALL

As we embrace the fall season in full, I have noticed my soon to be four-year-old son has taken a very strong interest in football. As a fanatic myself, I have welcomed this with much joy. We watch the Giants together, play for hours in the backyard, make up games with my old Starting LineUp figures (those were the best) and eat nachos. Sometimes we’ll play diving football on the couch while watching football. Trying to get an energetic kid to just sit and watch the game is almost impossible.

Regardless, we’ve gotten to the point where he asks, “Dad when can I start playing football?” I try to sneak around the question by telling him, “we are already playing football,” with his replica Giants helmet, jersey and Nike’s.

I don’t think so. Nice try. “The real football,” he says.

It gets me thinking. It’s a big question in today’s society and I know plenty of parents who will not let their kid play football due to health and safety concerns. There’s no question it’s a violent and aggressive game. And I respect their opinion. There’s a valid argument there. But I feel there are more precautions in place now than when I played. And that being the case, if my son truly wants to play, it would be hypocritical for me to say no and deprive him.

So I think about my ten years of playing football and what it means to me now. Some elements, honestly don’t mean much at all. Others are some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned and still carry with me in everything I do. If my son decides to play football or any sport for that matter, I would hope he would learn and takeaway some of the same things I did. It’s more of a trophy than an actual trophy — or jacket or newspaper article or any other tangible accolade.

Here are the eight best things I learned in playing youth and high school football.

The Meaning of Hard Work

There’s no better feeling than working tirelessly for something you really want and then accomplishing it. Especially if you are an underdog. You learn to enjoy the struggle. It makes the reward that much sweeter. The most valuable lesson from this piece is that once you subscribe to dedicating yourself and putting in whatever it takes, it becomes the only way you know.

If I didn’t put hours upon hours into the weight room, film room, running on the track at 6am and catching passes with my father way past sundown, I would have never even made the team let alone play a down.

The Importance of Exercise

I suppose it only helped that I enjoyed working out from an early age. It just makes you feel good in every way, physically and mentally. It’s very rare that you eat a salad for lunch and think afterwards…”I wish I didn’t eat that, the ingredients were too healthy.” It’s the same for exercising. As hard as it is to actually get going, you never regret it. Even the post-day soreness can feel good.

My biggest takeback here is that I simply saw it work. Bench pressing translated to warding off blockers, those evil squats served as the foundation for each tackle and that puke-inducing sprint circuit would lead to an extra five yards when the play should’ve been over. Of course working out the right way builds muscle, endurance, speed and strength, but just as important it builds a routine and a healthy lifestyle. To the point where, if you don’t do, you don’t feel right.

Being Punctual

My coach’s moto was … “if you ain’t 15 minutes early, you’re a half an hour late.” It doesn’t even make sense, but you get the point. You especially get it if you weren’t 15 minutes early and then had to run suicide sprints for the 30 minutes that were late.

Discipline

With discipline comes dedication and sacrifice. Try telling a 17 year old they can’t go see Pearl Jam in concert because they have a varsity game the next morning, or that they can’t eat cheeseburger mac and cheese for lunch, or … that they can’t be sexually active the night before a game because it makes your legs week (is that BS even true??). Anyway, it all comes with the territory. Even if it has no effect, it shows commitment.

The Impact of a Coach

You only remember the coaches you hated and the coaches you loved. Those you hated will always have a top spot on your “list.” Usually because they treated you like shit, thought nothing of you or both. Those you loved you will always respect and be thankful for. They molded a part of who you are and served as mentor whether you realize it or not.

I’ll always appreciate Coach Simonetti believing in me and giving me a shot when not many others would.

Your Stats Don’t Really Matter

Most of the hotshots who were the high school football stars, had all the girls wearing their jersey’s and flexed their necks on the poster took a turn for the worse at some point. All of sudden life wasn’t so easy. Nor was it delivered on a silver platter. Self-entitlement is fucking nonsense. How many touchdowns you score may inflate your stats and be a driver to great a prom night. If your exceptional, it may even help get you into college, but more times than not it ends there. Right Uncle Rico?! — Who gets it?

The real value is what you learned from it. What it means to you and the memories you made.