At a time when kids can get into trouble by exploring the world around them.. I’ve always said that I love what football is teaching my son. He’s by no means the biggest kid, so he has learned courage and heart are the most important things to have on any playing field. His coaches have instilled the importance of practice, hard work and honesty. They’ve stressed every season that nothing worthwhile in life is easy. And the song “Boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney is right on target when it comes to the team mentality. These boys have forged a special bond and would do anything for each other. Yep, football is about more than wins and losses… It’s full of life lessons that will help these boys become productive citizens.
But this weekend I learned… Not all teams are created equal and that football alone wont help these boys become better people. The recipe for success is in the details.
We took our 11 and 12 year olds to Texas this weekend for a football tournament. I remember tennis tournaments when I was my son’s age and they were so much fun: team building, horse play and hard work, all rolled into one. The tournament appeared to be a good one – we had to gather birth certificates, pictures and progress reports in order to play.
We arrived early, turned in our documentation and weighed in. Then waited.. And waited… And waited. Five minutes before game time, a van pulled up and unloaded boys. I have no idea whether they turned in paperwork or weighed in…I just saw a blur of turquoise as our opponents pulled on jerseys and ran straight to the coin toss. That’s when our parents and players alike gasped.
These boys were HUGE. And not just one of them…but ALL of them. My only thought: Who cared about checking birth certificates, I wanted to see their DRIVERS LICENSES!! Our players came back from the coin toss with eyes as big a saucers… And parents looked much the same way in the stands. There is NO WAY these boys were 11 or 12 years old!
Our coaches asked about birth certificates and more importantly wanted to know if these other boys weighed in. The whole point behind checking weights is to keep the boys safe. You don’t want to have a 200+ pound kid taking out a 100 pounder… Pretty much the situation we were facing. The refs, the tournament leaders and the other team shrugged and say “play ball”. What?! The other team had mustaches and chest hair, for goodness sake!
It only got worse from there. The other team played dirty. There was more laundry (flags) on the field than I’ve seen in a long time. And every time our courageous boys went down, the other team would laugh… Loud. How could they take pleasure in beating up kids obviously so much smaller than them? To top it off, they were saying words to our kids that made my blood boil. It wasn’t your typical trash football talk… No, these were words I’m not even sure the FCC has heard! Winning isn’t everything… But what happened to the rules, discipline and moral character in football?
The final straw? A player on the other team picked up one of our boys carrying the ball and body slammed him to the ground! You heard me right! The football game had moved from the gutter to the world wrestling federation! Our head coach called the game and demanded birth certificates.
But the bigger picture became clear to me as we waited on the paperwork. The other team– lead by their coaches– walked over to our side pretending to shake hands (mocking what teams do at the end of the game). Then, while I was picking up water bottles and trash, one of the coaches went out of his way to tell me we were whiny babies and he couldn’t believe we were questioning their integrity. Hmmmm.. sounds like the coaches were teaching their boys plenty.
But turns out… the bullying and the bad sportsmanship were only the beginning. As we suspected, the boys were NOT 11 and 12 and the other team had to forfeit. As they left, one of the other team’s coaches was overheard saying, “Son, why did you ADMIT to being 14?!” (Might I say.. He was one of the FEW younger looking players on that team!!)
It was this weekend that I realized… it’s not football that’s helping my Hubby and me raise our children. Instead, it is the village we surround ourselves with that reenforces, redirects or undermines our efforts. We truly are a product of our surroundings. If you can win by cheating, bullying and breaking rules– whether it’s in football, soccer or tiddlywinks– why bother ever trying to do the right thing?
My prayers are with those boys we played today. I hope someone somewhere helps them to play fair and square in the game of life. In the meantime, I’m so thankful that our boys saw first hand that cheating isn’t fair and doing the right thing DOES pay off. What our boys learned this weekend will stay with them forever. Girlfriends, there are plenty of hard knocks in life but let’s not lose track of the fact that the biggest lessons are definitely in the details.
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