When you are reading this, a couple of huge football games will be over. Huge. Enormous.

You can say that Alcoa-Maryville and Heritage-William Blount are just single games in a 10-game season but they mean more. Much more. Those games are not just “another game.” They mean something.

And that’s good. It’s good to play in games that mean something to you. Those games get your attention. They should get your best effort. And they give you life lessons that you can hopefully take with you when you’re through playing.

Coaches will speak about it being “just another game,” but the kids don’t buy that. This is the one game that they really want to win. I don’t think they would trade a state title for a win in this game but it is close.

We will know the outcomes of those games by now but this isn’t about winning and losing at all. It’s about participating.

Engraved on a monument at West Point is this quote from General Douglas MacArthur: “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields, will bear the fruits of victory.”

I believe that is an eternal truth and that is one reason why playing sports while growing up is so important. Life lessons are learned on our playing fields.

President Teddy Roosevelt said “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”

In games such as these, we do keep score. There is a winner and a loser. Our games require the structure of keeping score. I was never a fan of not keeping score, even for children’s games. There may not be a scoreboard but the kids would always know the score.

Too often, we glorify “winners” and look down on all others as “losers.” I am here to tell you that just because you end up on the short side of the scoreboard, not all are losers.

Coaches will talk about “paying the price” and “giving it all you’ve got.” That’s what it’s all about. Success is built on the practice field. Games are the measuring stick for our preparation, effort, and skills.

In any game, if you can truly say to yourself, that is my best effort, then it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says. Oh sure, we all want to come out on top. It’s what we work for. It’s what we dream of.

But the outcome of a single game does not decide who we are and what we are made of. Did you get better? Were you prepared? Did you do the little things like eat right, properly hydrate, listen to your coaches?

The discipline that it takes to do the little things is one of the greatest things you can take away from sports—one of the great lessons that you get from competing. To know that you worked hard at something and became the best you that you can be…that’s what it’s all about.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Blount Memorial Hospital’s Total Rehabilitation. Write to Joe at joeblackdpt@gmail.com.

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