My 12-year-old son never played football before until this year. He didn’t have an interest. He didn’t like the pain. This year, though, something changed. He’s the top sacker so far for the Jr. Varsity (the 7th Grade team). He’s got the size and learned to play the game well enough that the coaches let him play on the Varsity team (8th Grade). He got a great tackle last night against an opposing Varsity player. He loves his coaches (this is the linchpin). He loves the game. He loves his teammates. And he’s even joked that maybe he could play football or basketball in college. (When my son jokes, it’s always a hidden test of the water on a serious subject.)
Though an idealist, I’m also a pragmatist. Other kids on the team have played since they were in little league travel teams. I know my son is a hard worker. Teachers have positively commented on his “work ethic”, which is kind of interesting to me since we’re talking about a 12-year-old. But to me, I’m thinking he is maybe six years behind on the game. Haven’t we all seen the YouTube videos of incredible 8-year-old athletic prodigies?
Howie Long is a former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders NFL defensive end with eight Pro Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win, and current actor and studio analyst for Fox Sports Networks’ NFL broadcasts. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He says everything in his life he owes to the hard work and discipline required to be a successful athlete. We all know that kids like Howie Long grew up playing football.
Howie Long didn’t even SEE his first football game until he was 14-years-old. My son is 12.
Which made me think: is my son really six years behind his teammates, after all? In his first year, hasn’t he already sacked more quarterbacks than his fellow Jr. Varsity players? Didn’t his incredible and supportive coach just point out last week to the other players that my son is someone who takes the game seriously: does what he’s told, listens, learns the plays? My son came home beaming that day. He’s got clever coaches. And that made me think about the people who’ve made a difference in my life.
So when my son comes home from football practice today, I’ll greet him with a different mind-set. I’ve always told him he could do whatever he wanted to do, but at heart, do I believe it? Is it because I don’t see him as who he is today? At Killer Nashville, an international writers’ conference I founded, I tell people it is never too late to become writers (or too early). I’ve inspired hundreds of writers and connected them with industry professionals, kick starting their publishing careers. But maybe I—and possibly all of us, especially us parents—should look around at the people we associate with closely on a daily basis (especially our kids and spouses) and take out the bias. Maybe if we daily looked at others with fresh eyes—if we took an example from my son’s incredible and inspiring coaches—and saw everyone for their potential, not his or her past performances, track record, or preferences, then those around us might surprise us. And it’s not just me: one of my son’s older relatives said last night, “I didn’t know he even liked football.” Another parent and former teacher of my son said snarkingly with a smirk, “Is he going to stick with it? I know last year he didn’t like it.” Neither of these (relative or past teacher) actually see the guy now on the field tossing around players carrying the ball. Thank goodness for the belief of my son’s coaches. If age is only a state of mind, then passion is the only thing that matters. It’s never too late or too early to strap on a helmet and pads. Sometimes, you know, the people who are closest to us are the ones we don’t see the clearest.
And from a dad’s perspective, an athletic scholarship wouldn’t be all that bad either. But that’s several years away. Who knows who my son will become by then. I just hope I’m smart enough to encourage him in whatever he does.
Take a long look at your kids, your spouse, your loved ones, your employees, your co-workers, all those closest around you as though you were seeing them for the very first time. Because they are not the same people they were five-minutes ago. Maybe we should all be coaches and encouragers. This is what Jr. Varsity football has taught me so far.
Here’s to encouraging those around us and seeing them as they are right now.