Lessons Learned from Football

Sports, and football in particular, are a preoccupation in my life.  I have spent far too many hours huddled in the rain at Autzen Stadium or camped in front of a television set watching a group of young men play a game that will do little to further the progress of humankind.  Most of these hours were only marginally more comfortable than the time I spent hardening my behind in gyms throughout rural Oregon watching my sons wrestle.

I have to justify all this time by finding some redeeming value in the hours I’ve devoted to watching sports, and I think I may have stumbled across a reason while watching the Oregon Ducks dismantle the University of Southern California last week.  Oregon’s coach, Chip Kelly, commented after the game that his team’s performance was a reflection of the quality and intensity of their preparation.  He noted that the team had great practices through the week that prepared them for the big game against the Trojans.

I wonder how many of us prepare with the same intensity for the big events in our lives.  I probably should avoid true confessions in these blogs because I know City Councilors read them on occasion, but I do not put the same effort into preparing for our Council meetings that a college football team invests in its weekly game.  In fairness to myself, I earned a couple of academic degrees, have attended many months of professional training, and worked for more than 35 years in jobs that have helped prepare me for what I do now.  I read a large amount of background material and attend more than a few meetings to be prepared for Council sessions, but all of it lacks the urgency and discipline of preparing for a sports contest.  I guess this may partially explain why successful major college football coaches earn millions of dollars a year while successful city managers don’t.

As humbling as the realization is that I probably don’t work as hard as a college football coach, it is much less of a blow to my pride than the acknowledgement that I almost certainly didn’t prepare as hard to be a parent as I should have.  My formal education consisted of one child psychology course that probably did more harm than good, and most of the rest of my training was the good example of my parents.  Fortunately, my wife prepared better and our children have grown up to be good adults.  The final test, however, will be what they decide to do with me in my dotage.

Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington, once observed that the Battle of Waterloo was won “on the playing fields of Eton.”  He meant, of course, that the habits of preparation and competition developed through sports made his army superior to those he opposed.  I don’t know if he was right or, even if he was, that it justifies our obsession with sports.  I do know I am concentrating a little harder on preparing for important things this week.  My grandson has a wrestling match coming up, and I will be spending some time sitting on hard surfaces to make sure I’m up to the challenge.