I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious
Hundreds of students and their parents sat inside the Aldine Campbell Center in Houston, Texas after the Play Football Family Festival, anticipating the arrival of NFL Legend Tony Gonzalez. The event, hosted by the NFL and USA Football, brought local families together for an evening dedicated to this incredible sport. Kids met some of their favorite legends for photos and autographs, received helmet fittings, and even got hands on with the ball during football clinics led by USA Football Master Trainers. As we approach the Super Bowl this coming weekend, it was an inspirational time where kids were connected with other members of the football community and parents had an opportunity to have real conversations with pros and former athletes to discuss everything from safety and athleticism to the life values this sport instills.
Meeting Tony Gonzalez – How Football Changed His Life
Gonzalez is best known for his position as tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons. But his journey to success was not easy. He recalls that his first experience with football as a high school student was filled with doubt, frustration, and fear. “I was the worst player on the team,” he mused. Ironically, his performance had little to do with his athleticism. “I was a shy, timid, scared kid and you can’t do that when you play football…you can’t do that in life.” For kids and their families looking to play the sport at any level, Gonzalez shared his wisdom. “You have to be aggressive and fearless to play football. You have to be able to communicate, listen, and take directions.” He learned these important life values at a very young age and carried them with him throughout his football career.
As an athlete who currently holds the NFL records for touchdown receptions and total receiving yards, nobody anticipated that his proudest NFL moment was one of failure. It was his second year in the league and he recalled that he dropped 17 footballs…the most in the NFL that year. “It was embarrassing….soul searching.” And yet, Gonzalez still acknowledges it as the best thing that happened to him both as an athlete and a man. “I believe in failure…I believe you have to get it wrong to get it right.” As in many aspects of life, “you’re not going to succeed most of the time.” There will be many setbacks before victory. But that particular season changed everything in his life and he proudly bounced back from what many would have perceived to be a great failure. “The biggest lessons in life are when you lose.”
So what does it take to become a pro football player? “You have to become a master learner,” reinforcing the idea that so much of this game begins in your mind. “The great people I’ve read about…Michael Jordan…Kobe Bryant…they work harder than everyone else on the team.” Gonzalez recalls going to his local bookstore to read about great coaches…great people in history…business leaders. “If you want to learn how to be great, get a book and read about your heroes. Then, work harder than everyone else on the team.” As a former basketball player, Gonzalez looked to athletes in both sports for inspiration and work ethic. He cited the example of Kobe Bryant as a player who would spend three hours working on his skills as an athlete if he had a bad game. “If you want to be great at something, you have to put the time and effort into it. Identify your mistakes and weaknesses and make them strengths.”
USA Football is an organization that exists to support the game, the athletes and the football community through education, coach training, skill building through in-person clinics and more. Football is an incredible game, instilling important life lessons. Here are 5 ways football changes lives.
Physical, Social, and Psychological Benefits of Football
- Football builds character. As Gonzalez noted, the game is one that tests a player both physically and mentally. Discipline, communication, and perseverance are just some of the ways the sports builds a player’s character.
- Football promotes teamwork. Each person on the team has a specific role, and they work together to accomplish one goal. No one athlete can accomplish that goal on their own, thus fostering teamwork aspects of communication, cooperation, and constructive criticism.
- Football encourages mastery. The game requires diligent practice. Consistency and repetition lead to mastery and perfection of their skills.
- Football promotes physical fitness. This sport requires endurance, speed, agility, strength, and hand-eye coordination. The practice required to achieve these physical goals promotes overall fitness.
- Football teaches children to overcome adversity. Gonzalez spent a significant amount of time talking about the role of failure in his success as a player. The game teaches both physical and mental endurance, reinforcing the idea that how you finish is ultimately what matters.
Overcoming Multicultural Barriers
Language, economic status, access, and discrimination are well-known barriers for multicultural children. Here are 4 ways communities can work to overcome multicultural barriers.
- Sports leagues can employ multi-lingual coaches in areas of rich cultural diversity
- Sports leagues can offer scholarships or other subsidized programs so children from low-income families can still participate in sports
- Sports leagues can work to ensure that opportunities to play exist in all communities, irrespective of their economic status
- Sports leagues can provide education to coaches and team leaders regarding cultural sensitivity
As we approach the Super Bowl, NFL Play Football will engage high school football teams and partner with high school bands, student organization leaders and fans to integrate high school football into Super Bowl activities. Through these activities they hope to raise awareness and encourage kids to play football, advocate for safety, and connect the football community. If you are a parent who has a child who plays, or you are looking to get your child involved in the sport, visit USAFootball.com for a wealth of resources.
This content is a paid product endorsement for the NFL and in collaboration with DiMe Media. However, all opinions expressed are my own.