Team Sports. Why it’s So Much More Than Just a Game. The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat Explained.

Oh the ache of defeat still weighs on me.  A little like walking through marshmallows….softly yet strenuously, you know?

It’s not easy being a  fan.  Especially as a parent.  All the energy of shouting out encouragement or standing to cheer….repeating “c’mon, c’mon c’mon!”, urging players to “go! get going!”…..watching your friends and family holding their breath, clenching their fists…the long walk back to the car after a loss like last night’s.  I’m kidding about it not being easy.  It’s natural.  I love it, every little bit of it.  Even the heartbreakers….the ones that leave you replaying “if only’s” over and over in your mind.

But it’s not about me….and this is not about “everyone should win” or “kids shouldn’t have to experience loss” or “the coach shoulda….” or anything like that.

No.

In stark contrast to blaming or making excuses, or letting the crushing defeat define the game…..I feel it quite necessary to highlight and pay homage to the players efforts and accomplishments, their senses of pride and esteem, the feelings of unity and victory for while it was theirs, the time, energy and effort the entire coaching staff put forth, and to reiterate why sport is so critical to emotional, mental, psychological, cognitive, physical, and social health and development. Tack on communication skills, self-esteem, inclusiveness, strengths and skills development, empathy, empowerment of self and others, passion, and persistence to that list, and there are still factors that I am forgetting to mention.  It matters.

The Paris District High School Jr. Boys Football team dressed and convened on their home field for 6:15 pm last night, to mentally and physically prepare for their game against Assumption College.  Coach Fergus and the coaching staff led the boys through the motions of first playoff game preparations, and as a team, they piled onto the school bus shuttle, to take to the Gretzky field for the 8:00 kickoff. (something about those Friday nights under the lights games…..you know what I mean…..it’s an awesome and exhilarating setting)

field_t640

But the preparations didn’t all begin there, just a few hours back.  It began over 6 months ago, when Coach was putting the call out to players to begin their mental and physical training regimen. It was when he encouraged the boys to recruit their friends to join the team.  Back when 15 year old boys, with all the other things going on in their worlds, decided to make the commitment to be a part of the team. That was the players.  Coach Fergus had already put in 6 months of planning and preparation prior….time, heart and soul.  It matters.

Commitment it absolutely was.  Throughout the entire summer, Coach would be at the school twice a week for a few hours in the morning to prepare the boys for training camp and for the season ahead.  It was a time of bonding, guidance, teaching, training and conversation.  It was laughing and ribbing each other, encouragement and fun.  It mattered.

coach

Training camp was a full 5 day week, the last week of the summer before school commenced for another year.  Scheduled for close to 8 hours a day, you had better be ready for it.  It was gonna knock you out and prove to you what you’ve been told all along……why you had better get in shape kid!

trainingcamp

This year, we were hesitant to look forward to a season due to the threat of losing extra-curriculars (I’ll leave that alone……for now) In spite of this, Coach Fergus and coaches in other leagues, had prepared a backup plan to be sure the boys wouldn’t miss out entirely. They wanted them to play ball….and this matters.

Training camp is rigorous.  I know how much of a battle it is to motivate a 15 year old boy to simply put his clean clothes in his dresser, or the dirty ones in the hamper….a corner of the room at least!  But my son, along with the other members of the team truly worked like the field bound draft horses of bygone days, during the camp. Drills preceded drills, and followed others.  Pushups and burpees while sweating, and in pain, and gasping for breath…..(You shouldn’t have left the first day of your training regimen to begin today, kid)

trainingcamp2

The dirt and the blood and the rain…..the blazing sun, humidity, and sweat.  It was awesome.  It was perseverance, resilience and motivation in pure action.  It was commitment and challenge and goals in mind.  Planted and set to take shape.

The weeks went by.  10 hours a week at practice. 4 hours for each game.  This, along with school, part-time jobs and all the *&%^ parents expected from them, made for busy and active teenaged boys.  This really matters.

Awesome.

The regular season saw the newest team to the league (Paris had only brought football back to the high school 6 years ago, after a 50 odd year hiatus) win 1 game against Pauline Johnson.

*Important to note.  The JR team is compiled of grade 9 and 10 boys, obviously, the 10s with a year of experience, the 9s with none.  The team works together, hopefully synchronizing with each other, and works to become a skilled unit in a matter of months.  The following year, the now grade 10s move on to SR. ball and last year’s JRs are now the experienced players welcoming and trying to mesh with brand new students, friends and players.  A SR player this year, told me last night that his last year of JR was the most fun he’s had as part of the football team.  He was looking forward to next year already, when that group from a year ago would reconvene to collaborate skills and experience to give it their all for a brand new season.  This matters.

A matter of months is an extremely limited amount of time to take kids who do not even know each other, encourage making connections on and off the field, have them develop individual skills and then sync those skills to work as a unit.  This takes coaches and assistants who not only know the game inside out, but who understand the minds of teens (enigmas!), how to motivate, inspire and bring out the best in each and every one of them, and then skillfully blend it all together to form the unit. The offence, the defence and the team as a whole.  This matters.

For what?  All for the love of the game, the consideration of skills development, getting kids involved, and active….and all on a volunteer basis.  Do not knock it until you’ve actually done it.

Seriously. Don’t.

Blank slate….and the playoffs begin.

Before the boys even had their equipment on, (remembering the months of preparation), hours before the game, they were planning what and when to eat (Mom, what’s for dinner?), making use of their time (I have 3 hours after school to do nothing), and although I’m sure many didn’t show it, (or mean to, anyhow)….you can be sure that their insides were buzzing and twisting with anticipation and excitement.

I remember the elevated levels of all that my heart and soul possessed, even before a T-ball game. For a competitor, the thrill of the challenge, and the innate need to be better than you were yesterday, drives the way you think, act, and feel…..leading up to, and during the game. Working with your peers to challenge your opponents and show them how much work you’ve put in, is indescribable.  To be part of the winning team that week validates everything that everyone has worked for.

You’ve seen Rudy, right?  Lucas? The Longest Yard? Friday Night Lights? Do you remember Remember the Titans? It may be just me, but aside from all movies based on dogs or horses,…nothing gets me bawling, gives me more goosebumps, or inspires me anywhere near what a sports themed movie does.

The underdog, the unlikely hero, camaraderie, inspiration, role models, challenge, excitement, fear, team, hard work, balance, earning your spot, motivation, anticipation, overcoming barriers, race relations and acceptance of others, victory, defeat….(slo-mo dramatic effects at all the right times)…..the list goes on and on and on.  It all matters.

These are so many of life’s most important lessons, skills, considerations, thoughts and feelings…and they occur all at once.  Individually at first, they combine as a whole, the sum of all parts…the team.  With today’s technology, we can even rewind and rewatch those slo-mo moments.

Like this one….pretzel

After a lead, in which the end result basically hinged on whether or not Assumption made a field goal……it was good……and those movie moments were made.  The time ran down and…

Right in front of us, over the chain link fence….under the lights and the stars….the crisp fall air stood still….among parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and friends…..

…..the plethora of feelings I mentioned earlier….you know, the ones which begin before the game and then sustain you throughout the competition…..those….that combination…it falls down with a thud.  It falls down on the ground before you feel it rising in your guts, and through your chest……to swelling in your throat……

The stands erupted.  Some fans roared and celebrated their team’s comeback….while the others just simply hung their heads.  It was not entirely because of the result.  It was not in shame, nor regret….or defeat or anger.

It was because we had seen the entire team celebrating from the sidelines, on into the field. They shouted and cheered and encouraged their mates.  We had seen them engaged in each other and their own individual positional roles.  We had cheered and hollered and pumped our fists in the air, from the grandstands across from them…..in sync with them.

We had seen them score touchdowns, and scramble to get possession of that sneaky, snake-like football.  We watched as the coaches jumped up and down….completely lost in the thrill and excitement of witnessing excellent plays executed by their team.  The team was wholeheartedly connected, from the sidelines to the field and beyond into the grandstands.

We felt it in our guts, vicariously through our kids.  The crushing blow of defeat.  I imagine it hit as hard as being tackled……I don’t know…only the kids could say.

It was so bittersweet.  Seeing the feelings reflected in other parent’s eyes, while Assumption players and fans celebrated their comeback.  We could not possibly, and did not forget or allow the victories that Paris had experienced……so many times in the game…to be overshadowed by the end result.  It was just so difficult to deal with the extreme contradiction of feelings and emotions.

Enter where many might say that “it’s just a game”.

I know that in contrast to many of life’s issues and experiences, winning or losing a football, or any sort of game definitely does not, and should not take precedence.

But that’s not the point of my message.

The point is to see beyond the win, or the loss, the score or statistics.  It is to see and acknowledge the multitude of factors which go into each and every game and season, that a team prepares for.  It is to consider the life lessons and skills, which are fostered and developed….as individuals, and as a team.

It is to wonder and realize why your child chose to make such a commitment, to be the part of a team.  It is taking note of the time, energy, effort and perseverance of your kids and their coaches.  It is realizing that many of the kids struggle to overcome feelings of self-doubt, or low self-esteem….to put their bodies and their minds and their coveted reputations on the line.

It is seeing them challenge themselves and others, and learn how to acknowledge and support their own strengths as well as those of their teammates.  It is about them having role models to look up to and learn from, and learning how to become mentors and role models themselves.

It is suffering and pain and frustration……..and having the mental and physical resilience to go out and do it all over again.  To just keep trying.

It’s learning how to lose…..how to win graciously…..and to realize that no matter your position…..”it ain’t over until it’s over”.

It matters kid.  All of it really, really matters.

That is why it is not just a game.

For some, it’s all they have socially, recreationally, mentally, physically, or supportively. For others, it’s what they go on to do, and be, and continue to strive for.  It’s truly not just a game.

It’s growing up.  It’s becoming the best you can be.  It’s learning life’s real lessons, for better…and for worse.  In wins and in losses.

Thank you to the entire coaching and support staff of P.D.H.S. Panthers JR and SR Football.  Your time, dedication, consideration and effort should never…and has not gone unnoticed, or unappreciated.  Thank you.

Thank you to the parents and grandparents and friends and neighbours who drove their kids to and from practices and games, and who cheered and hollered and loved it right to the end.  Thank you to the photographers and videographers who immortalized plays, passion and the Panthers in action.

Thank you to the fans, for your enthusiasm and dedication to your teams.

Lastly, thank you Paris JR Panthers.  WOW!  What a game.  You gave us so many reasons to shout and holler and feel so proud of you.  We understand your heartache, those of us who only had to get you there, but see so much more than that.  You are the ones who put in the work, pushed your bodies and minds to the limit, and laid it all out on the line.  Your efforts most certainly did not go unnoticed.  Thank you for demonstrating what Paris Panthers are capable of……a force to be reckoned with, boys.

What a game, what a night, what a story.

C’mon Panthers 2016……

If you would like more information about P.D.H.S. Panthers Football, contact              Coach Steve Fergus directly at juniorfootball.pdhs@gmail.com

Stay up to date with all Paris High athletic news on Twitter https://twitter.com/pdhsathletics

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