Reflections on youth football, season two

Right after a crushing playoff loss in cold, windy weather, the football coaches of my son’s youth team gathered the kids around for the usual post-game talk.

The season is over now, there’s no getting around it. This is the end.

After 13 weeks of practice six hours a week … after 9 games … after all the team-building that results from good leadership of 25 ten-year-old boys who love football and get along well with each other … here we are now. Done. Over. After all that effort, and all that investment, suddenly, it’s all over.

Some of the coaches got choked up trying to put their intense emotions into words. Just like last year. And listening to them, and watching them, so did I. Just like last year.

And this was a totally different set of coaches from last year.

Two seasons of football, two different sets of coaches, but two identical scenarios at the end of the season: a tough loss, and an emotional message.

Two sets of good people connecting with our young men, doing a wonderful thing for them, and for us. Two sets of dads who throw themselves into coaching with great dedication and desire. with a sincere and earnest wish to teach football to 9- and 10-year-old boys. For nothing. Well, it isn’t really for nothing: the coaches get to spend a little of their own money, and a lot of their own time, energy, and emotion.

Some kids aren’t so lucky, I know, and end up with jerks for coaches, who ruin an entire sport for them forever, but we’ve been lucky enough to go 2-for-2 in the Good Football Coaches category.

The key thing I’ve learned over the last two enjoyable seasons is that football builds bonds like no other sport that I’ve ever seen up close. The investment of time and emotion is so big. SO, so big. And with all that investment comes bonding: boys with other boys, coaches with boys, parents with each other.

It all comes together, slowly, over a period of weeks. At some point, it turns into a team, a real team, where everybody works together for a common goal, without concern about who gets credit.

And it hurts when that finally ends. It hurts a lot. It hurts because you’ve built something real.

There is a very real sense of grief for the end of that bond. Maybe it hurts the adults more than the kids. In fact, I’m pretty sure about that.

And then we drag ourselves back to work, school, or wherever it is we put in our time each day, but we do so as changed people.

We’ve been transformed. Literally, transformed by the power of connecting with other people and working towards a common goal. It’s an amazing and beautiful thing. And I’m pretty sure this is one of the most powerful draws that keeps players coming back to play football, and keeps coaches coming back to coach it, at least in our local youth program.

Football is a great sport outside of all other considerations, but when you add in the teamwork and the life lessons, the character-building, the elevation of team over self, football becomes transcendent.

Someday when I’m old, and Jacob is grown, we’ll talk about the good times we had when he played youth football, and how much we both enjoyed it, and how much we both learned.

Life is mostly about building memories, and it feels good to know you’ve just built another great memory. It feels really, really good.

 

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