Football is hard

Saturday, under a clear blue sky, in a semi-rural county in Michigan, two teams of 5th- and 6th-grade boys compete in a football game.  Volunteers, the engines of many American activities, coach these 10- and 11-year-old boys.  The coaches teach them not only about football basics, but also about teamwork, competition, courage, and dignity.

The announcer, the "chain gang," and the concession stand workers are volunteers as well.  The football field, on the grounds of a local church next to a cornfield, is grass, which is maintained by volunteers.

The coaches, all dads, give up their weeknight evenings to practice with these boys.  Then, on Saturdays, the dads give up their afternoons when they could be golfing or watching college football on TV.  The men do this out of the love of the game and their love for their sons.

Football coaches are often portrayed in films as mean SOBs.  The head coach of our team is a yeller, but he uses no profanity, makes no mean or cruel comments, and makes no derogatory insults.  Instead, he yells instructions.  Get low!  Use your shoulder pads to tackle, not your arms!  Remember what we learned in practice!  Watch the ball so you don't jump offside!

In the first half, the visitors make little progress, as the home team easily scores 22 points.  As our team walks dejectedly to the sidelines for halftime, their coaches pat them on the helmets and tell them to sit on the grassy sideline and drink some water.  They let the boys rest.  As they rest, the players watch their female classmates perform a cheerleading halftime routine.  At the end of the cheer performance, the football players clap for their classmates.

Only then, as halftime winds down, does the head coach calls the boys into a circle to hear what he has to say.  He berates no one.  He speaks in a soft, encouraging voice meant only for the boys' ears, but spectators nearby can hear.  He says quietly, "Football is hard.  That's why you signed up.  Football is hard.  You know that.  Go out and do your best.  Play hard."

I wish I could write that our visiting team came back and won the game, but this isn't a movie.  The boys did play with spirit and with courage.  The final score was 28-14.  All the boys and their families left the field with their heads high and smiles on their faces.  Thank you, coach.

Barbara Kalbfleisch is retired.  She enjoys photography and is an accredited Shutterstock contributor, specializing in editorial photography.

Image: Pixabay.

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