Football, Formation, and Faith: Formation Happens Best in the Context of Community.
“On a team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.” — Bill Belichick
We’ve often heard the saying, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
And, true while that may be, most communal endeavors – ones that contribute to lasting change – drink from a deeper well.
Team, or teamwork, is like the water that pours from the tap.
The reservoir below the surface is something more closely aligned with the experience of family.
Or, as a football player might express, “a brotherhood.”
The team that performs as a unit on the field, accomplishing the individual tasks in a way that supports the entire team’s goal, is birthed from relationships built over time by the bands of brotherhood.
Achievement Connected to Teamwork
As any athlete worth his/her salt will tell you, when looking back on their career, their achievements on the field can be credited, in large part, to the family or team that provided both the context and the challenge in which they could blossom and grow – over time – into the athlete and person they have become.
In a church and culture seemingly bent on worshipping at the altar of autonomy and individualism, perhaps we should reconsider the ramifications family involvement and commitment, particularly in relationships to formation.
As I’ve said in previous posts, Formation- lasting change over time -takes place within the context of community.
As I’ve observed my son and the football teams on which he has played, four characteristics have emerged as dominant realities that, when experienced, lead to lasting change within the context of community.
- Devotion to Your Brothers.
- Desire to Grow.
- Dependence on Your Coaches and Teammates
- Delight in Your Role.
These teamwork qualities on the ball field display an excellent picture of how we need each other if we are ever going to change.
In recent years my son has expressed a growing interest in playing football at the college level. When pushed to verbalize the qualities within football that make him want to play for years to come, one of the first answers he gives is brotherhood. There are, of course, many others – others such as the strategies of the game, the hard-pounding hits that come with the sport, and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than himself. Yet, the root of the tree is the sense of brotherhood and the devotion to the unit the sport encourages.
I’ve seen this in action hundreds of times. From the battle on the field to the friendships off the field, football is, if nothing more, a fraternity at heart. From the war-chant to the water-cooler, coaches instill brotherhood and companionship at nearly every level.
If this sense of brotherhood doesn’t extend beyond the field then the team typically gets no further than the regular season – which is often one riddled with losses.
My son spends inordinate amounts of time with his teammates. This is particularly true during the season. They not only practice together, they eat together, lift weights together, hit the beach together, fish together, etc.
The Ties that Bind
In all of these moments, they are forming bonds of brotherhood and experiencing a devotion to one another that, typically, encourages them to hold each other accountable as they both encourage and challenge one another.
Over time, this devotion to one another begins to change each of them, for better or worse. And, even though they all must, at some point, beat out their brother if they are going to play under the Friday Night Lights, they always, always (in my experience) hope the best for one another and long for the success of the team.
I’ve seen this in notable ways during this season of mild but quite pervasive injury to my son’s knee.
Months ago, Luke began making strides in the weight room and experiencing success on the field during the seven-on-seven league in which he was involved. During this time, he was around football players for nearly 5–7 hours per day. As his strength and skill increased, so did his joy on the field and influence in the locker room.
Then, one day, after a particularly rigorous squat work out, he came up gimpy, unable to put much weight on his left knee. After a process of examination and evaluation from coaches, friends, and orthopedists, Luke was diagnosed with Patella Tendonitis. This injury heals only with the restorative cocktail of rest, time, patience, and rehab.
When One Hurts, We All Feel
This was a blow to Luke during a particularly busy time of the pre-season season. During this time, however, the team – his brothers – have become even more relevant and Luke has depended upon the family structures more than ever.
When the team practices Luke is, for the most part, on the sideline, watching. Longing for his moment to step up and wishing the best for his brothers and team. When the team is in the weight room, Luke is in rehab, working with the trainer, strengthening his knee and the muscles surrounding the injury.
Luke’s football family has also remained close to him off the field during this time. He continues to spend time with them eating and at play and they are often encouraging him to be patient, work hard, and stay positive.
Luke isn’t happy with the injury but the sense of team has not diminished in his eyes because of the injury. If anything, it’s only grown larger and more vital.
That’s what team does.
That’s what devotion causes – a brotherhood in which change takes place in the frustratingly painful seasons of life as well as in the wonderfully exhilarating moments!
Belichick is correct, at least in part. It’s not the strength of the individual player but the strength of the team that ultimately determines success.
However, anyone who has been around football for any amount of time will tell you that the strength of the team rests in the strength of the bonds developed within and among the individuals players on that team.
That’s why my son calls it a brotherhood.
That’s why the church calls it a family.
Yes, Luke wants to be well.
Yes, Luke wants to beat out his brothers when the moment comes.
But through it all, Luke wants to be devoted to his brothers. It’s from this place of devotion that desire, dependence, and delight are birthed. It’s within the context of team (family) that these are nurtured.
Devotion, desire, dependence, and delight all quite wonderfully merge in a sport many consider brutal. Perhaps that’s because at the core of our culture, we are individualists and cannot fathom the depths of brotherhood my son experiences on a daily basis.
Disrupting to Renew!