He walked off the field, a shiny pendant dangled from his neck. A trophy had been earned and added to the display case at school. My son had just finished his last season of high school varsity football. While the semi-final sectional game did not end in his team’s favor, the medal and trophy symbolized the team’s success. This was a lesson to be appreciated later - once the pain of the loss had subsided.

Perhaps it was a bit easier for the younger players who knew they’d be back for another season and another shot at the championship. For seniors, it was a bittersweet end to a special comraderie – a spirt of friendship and community and of being a part of something larger than themselves.

 After five years of junior varsity then varsity football, and as the end sunk in, I was reminded of the multitude of lessons my son and his teammates had learned from their coaches, from one another and from participating in a team sport.

As a young player, my son learned patience – to wait, watch and learn as he earned his spot on the field. He gleaned the skills to listen to and respect the advice of coaches and upper classmen. The ability to welcome and accept constructive criticism while also appreciating positive feedback will benefit him later in life.

With each passing year, my son became increasingly aware of the importance of physical preparation in the off-season and that encouraging others to do the same would benefit the entire team. Players reaped the rewards of their hard work by building endurance and skill in their sport. In life, that same level of dedication and preparedness will prove to be the key to many successes.

To accept defeat and to appreciate the sweet celebration of victories are skills that will better prepare him as he faces life’s inevitable peaks and valleys. In fact, an important lesson learned was to not let a loss defeat him but propel him to work harder to meet the next challenge.

Learning to work as a team composed of different personalities, work ethics, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses will teach him to be more appreciative and accepting of diversity. Understanding the concept of working together to achieve a common goal will help him be a better team player off the field as well as it did while suited up for a game.  

The ability to set personal goals, to learn to be a leader, captain and mentor to others and to never give up despite the numbers on the scoreboard or the ticks on the clock will help him to be an effective leader in life.

Many family and friends were there to cheer my son on during his games over the years. He’s aware these people will continue to support him in his future goals.

Sports seasons are short and intense – an epic journey of victories and losses, and ultimately of growth. Through practice and play, there are many teaching opportunities which will benefit students in all areas of life. The lessons of cooperation, communication, comraderie and sometimes brushing off outside criticism will remain with our youth for a lifetime; the memories created are indelible.

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