You love it. All of it. Baseball, football and your truest love, basketball. You are a natural at everything you have done, and even at this young age, you dream of getting a scholarship and playing in college. Nobody wants this more for you than I do, believe me. But I have to tell you that this dream of yours is not going to be easy. See, there are a lot of things that kids your age don’t realize that makes this dream harder to achieve than you know. My goal is to provide you with a little insight on what is inevitably in front of you if you want to play sports beyond high school.
Having Fun Isn’t First
I want this to be fun for you. The entire process. Youth sports, high school, and eventually college itself. What I am going to say might come as a shock, but there a ton of people who are already lying to you. They say that having fun is the only thing that matters. They will manipulate the rules, adjust the game itself, and attempt to alter how we do things to make things “fun.”
As your father, and as a person who has made a career out of athletics, having fun is near the bottom of the list of my priorities for you.
You will come to realize that the best part of sports is being a member of a team. Having an important role in that team and being a contributor to winning or losing will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. It transcends fun. Fun is for birthday parties, swimming pools, and playgrounds. Sports are designed to have a winner and a loser. It’s why you play. It’s why you practice as hard as you do. It’s why your coaches push you as hard as they do. Winning is why we drive as hard as we do because it’s the only thing that matters. If we aren’t going to keep score, then what is the point of playing a sport? We can play catch out front, shoot hoops out back, or take grounders in the driveway. But if you are going to be a member of a team, winning is the priority.
You will find aspects of the game that are fun for you, but there will be a lot that simply is not fun. There will be days that you will hate it. Days you won’t want to get up and practice. Teammates you can’t stand. And all of that is okay because there will also be pieces of the experience that will be the greatest joys of your life.
For me, it was training in the weight room. I loved it. Lifting was, and still is, one of the things that make my heart beat. Playing sports provided that opportunity. To be honest, I didn’t love playing football. Ever. But being a part of a team, having a reason to train hard for the opportunity to win championships; that is why I played.
It’s Not Going to Be Easy
Playing sports is tough. You have no idea the amount of time that you will have to invest in getting better at your chosen sport. The hours of endless practice are absolutely necessary for you and your team to get where they need to be to win. And that is just the beginning.
The good ones, your favorites like Steph Curry, Tom Brady, and Buster Posey put in more practice than what their team demands. Once they leave the training facility, their own practice time begins. You will have to do the same things. Most people don’t realize that no matter how good you think you are and how good your team is if you want to be great, you will need to do more and more away from your team. It’s the natural process of your heroes. If you want to be like them, you will have to be self-motivated and find ways to improve all on your own.
I know this from the teams that I work with. Because of the limited amount of time I’m allowed to train them, I have to write workouts that not only help the team move forward but also fit into a tight time window. It’s the absolute most I can squeeze into my allotted time, but I can assure you, my athletes need to do more if they want to be great. Even with your workouts, you will probably need to add something, somewhere to push yourself that extra little bit to set yourself apart.
You Will Never Be More Important Than Your Team
The fastest way to kill the momentum of a team is to have individuals care more about their own success than that of their team. You will never be bigger than your team. Selfishness, individuality, and a “me attitude” is the surest way to fracture something good.
Your coaches have forgotten more about your sport than you could possibly know, so if you think you know more than them, you are dead wrong. Your coaches are not only managing dozens of players, but they also have a plan. This plan must be orchestrated in a very particular way, and all of you athletes have a role to play to make the plan work. The minute one of you goes rogue and begins to go off script, the more likely that coach’s plan begins to fail.
I see this in my area all the time. Do you know how many 18-year-olds think they know more about weight training than I do?
For example, my summer programs here are voluntary. You know how much they mean to me, and how important it is that our football guys are here in large numbers doing our program. We have worked for about nine months now to get to where we are, and we are about to complete my plan for our success this coming season.
Yet, I have one defensive player who is here in town but has decided to train on his own, by himself, rather than do what his team is doing. He’s convinced himself that he knows better than I do what is best for him. The problem is until he went to do his own thing, he was part of a very specific weight training system that builds on itself. We are in the last of six phases for the offseason, one that might be the most critical in bringing all of the pieces together. He is going to miss that piece, which will derail the progress of the other pieces before it. He will also be the most likely guy to suffer a significant injury during training camp this fall. And I will be sure to remind him of the choice he made leading to his own demise. He made his bed, so now he will get to sleep in it.
Every decision you make, you must put yourself last. You must ask yourself if your choices are for the benefit of the team, or for you. If the answer is not “the team,” go the other direction. We used to have a mantra with one of the teams I coached a few years ago that was simple and poetic but said everything we needed to ensure success: The team, the team, the team.
Relationships Matter Most
Look at the people I surround myself with, my friends, the guys who were in my wedding. Almost everyone I hold most important in my life outside of family are individuals who have been brought to me from my time in sports. As a player or as a coach, the folks I miss the most, think about the most during the holidays, the folks I want to be with if I can’t be with you, your sisters, or your mom are all folks who came to me through being part of the team.
Besides the relationships that are forged by soldiers on deployment, there are no stronger lifelong bonds than those forged playing sports. And on a much smaller scale than our heroes in the military, these relationships form during the hard times. The early morning runs, the grueling offseason workouts, or in the middle of a tight game, looking across the huddle at faces you would die for. Those are the folks you will find during your athletic career. Those are the ones who will be at your wedding, who you will share 4th of July barbecues with, and the ones you will turn to when times get hard, long after you playing career has ended.
Nothing excites your mom and me more than how much you love to play sports. I promise to support you in every phase of this journey, without undue pressure to play at all. I want you to love to play, and I never want to be a source of negativity to your experience. But I do want you to know the reality of taking on this life. Love your teammates. Appreciate the grind. And just win, baby.