One mom on the surprising aspects of team culture on the football field
| 3 min read
I am the first to admit, I was resistant when my 3rd grader expressed interest in youth football. Having lived through it with my brothers and friends, I had made up my mind about the culture of the sport. The rough play, tough guy talk, and macho mentality just seemed stale and uninteresting to me in 2022.
I felt, as parents, we should be doing better – leaning into activities for our growing boys that helped to promote empathy, understanding, and dare I say, softness. And to me, it felt like football did the complete opposite.
But because my husband’s passion for the game almost exceeds that of Nick Saban, and because my son was showing such persistent interest, I gave in. And two years later, I am so glad I did.
Because, come to find out, football can create a culture of respect, unity, and friendship in the most incredibly special way. Perhaps it is because the commitment is so great – practicing and playing together upwards of 10 hours a week. Or maybe it is the grind. Either way, the bond that is created, even at the flag level where my 7-year-old plays, seems uniquely irreplicable.
I saw it first at practice, when the weekly effort award was handed out to one particular player. I have seen similar scenes before at this age level – at the end of sports camp or school years, when someone is singled out for their achievements. Non-recipients are typically quick to clap for their recognized peer, but there is a visible disappointment amongst the group. Nothing sinister, just a natural and understandable level of sadness and jealousy.
So as I anxiously awaited the announcement, bracing for expected disappointment, I was shocked to see the response. All 30+plus boys sprung to their feet the moment their teammates’ name was revealed. They charged at him, jumping in unison as they pounded their hands on his pads, chanting his name. Smiles lit up the dark field, as bystanders watched the celebration. Wow – how wrong I was.
And then at the first game – when one player fumbled the ball in a crucial moment, making it seemingly impossible for his teammates not to feel wildly frustrated and resentful. But instead, they rallied around him like a corner crew in a heavy-weight title prize fight. Their actions spoke volumes, as they obviously cared more about their teammates mental well-being than any missed touchdown opportunity.
And now I see it at home week after week as my son updates me on the successes of his teammates, showing a genuine interest in their progress and improvement. And when asked about his own efforts, there is little talk of personal accolades and a lot of talk about friendships made and bonds created with kids from all sides of town and walks of life.
So when I begin to feel frustrated with some of the traditional football hoorah, I remember the faces of the 34 3rd graders who did not earn the week’s achievement award. The smiles that took up their entire faces as they celebrated their teammate. One for all and all for one. And I think we could all use a little more of that.