American Football: Is This the Sport for You?

Posted: 22 de May de 2017 in Program Development
Tags: , , , , ,


There are big differences between being “a guy that plays Football” and “a Football player”. Both types can be seen all over the world, more frequently outside of the United States, in countries where the sport is just now getting traction. But how to identify which type are you? Although the signs are all over, that’s an answer that you will only find within yourself.

First, let me get something out of the way. Football can only be a hobby for you if you’re just a fan. It is exciting, it’s a great TV product and watching Football can be very fun. Now, if you want to be on the field, this must become your way of life. If you really want to succeed and be competitive, this sport must be one of your priorities. You need to wake up thinking about Football and go to sleep thinking about Football.

But why can’t Football be a fun thing to do on weekends?

This is a contact sport that may cause severe injury or even death. To treat it as a hobby would be not only stupid but also dangerous. Soccer can be a hobby, or Basketball, or Volleyball… you learn the basic fundamentals, strategies and do it once a week to blow off some steam, get your heart rate up, break a sweat, relieve stress and have fun with your buddies. Unfortunately, you cannot do that in Football.

To begin with, this sport is asking you to do something that goes against any basic self-preservation human instinct: to put on a helmet, shoulder pads and run, at full speed, straight through somebody else, sometimes even bigger than you, also running at full speed. It’s not natural. And that’s why Football is not a sport for everybody.

There are two ways of bypassing this natural and instinctive mechanism of defense:

– One is with adrenaline, making use of another instinctive hack. Yes, our mind has the ability to detect dangerous situations and deploy some mechanisms to make sure we stay alive. However, in moments of extreme adversity or necessity, a discharge of adrenaline in our bloodstream can help us do “unimaginable” things. That’s what happens in situations in which someone lifts a car to rescue a baby trapped underneath or runs into a burning building to rescue somebody else.

Adrenaline plays a big role in Football. However, it is not sustainable. A Football game has an average of something around 120 plays and lasts for over 2,5 hours. You cannot expect to have 120 adrenaline rushes or keeping this effect for the duration of a whole game.

– The other way is to condition your mind to stop interpreting this situation as a threat to your existence. That is called training. That’s how first responders such as firefighters, policemen and rescue crews are able to enter a burning building, dive from helicopters, engage in gunfights and put their life in the line to perform a duty. They extensively practice their techniques every day and train in simulated scenarios until their mind and bodies acquire new instincts, replacing the previous ones of self-preservation.

Football is not much different than that. It consists of a sport that requires you to do things that your body is not programed to do. The only way you are going to be able to perform those actions is if they become instinctive to you. Therefore, just as the first responders, you need to practice your techniques extensively and repeatedly until they can replace your natural instincts and become “second-nature”.

Culture of Football

In the United States, Football is introduced to kids at an early age. The majority of professional athletes started playing when they were 8, 10, 12 years old. At those ages, children are more open to new experiences and don’t have a complete notion of risks. Therefore, their preservation instincts most likely will not keep them from running full speed at another kid of the same age. The more they play, more experience they acquire, and more natural those “uncommon” tasks become.

That’s also the target age where most humans define their personality. They grow up in an environment that prioritizes hard work, discipline and team spirit. They start to understand that it is not possible for one single individual to win a Football game by himself. That develops a sense of unity, of being part of a group and learning to take instructions.

Most American young Football athletes will play until they graduate from High School, around the age of 17. Only those who are exceptional at the sport get the chance to extend their careers and play at the collegiate level as young adults, with fully formed personalities, bodies and a definitive set of self-preservation instincts. However, even at the young age of 20, the majority of the athletes carry 10 to 12 years of experience in Football. That experience is accompanied by skill sets forged during their formative years, both physically and psychologically.

Adult Football Rookies

That is not the reality outside of the United States. Here, Football is something still recent. It is normal for people to have their first contact with the sport in their 20s, or even 30s. That’s why so few of them succeed in the task of transitioning from “a guy who plays Football” into a “Football player”.

It is not just the lack of experience, language barriers or the fact that they need to catch up to years and years of specific terms, techniques and strategies. Those prospective players will need to work extra hard to convince their unconscious mind that Football is not a constant risk to their lives, and that it is actually OK to run at full speed towards a 125-kg person also running at full speed.

It’s a natural thing. Any person older than 25 will tell you that they don’t heal as quickly as they would when they were 15. The longer it takes for your body to recover, the less you will be inclined to engage in risky activities – or, in other words, you are getting old. Also, most of the non-American athletes will play Football as amateurs, while juggling studies, families and careers. It is one thing to have a sprained ankle when you are 16 and miss 4 weeks of Football but still being able to carry on with your normal life. Another one is to sprain an ankle when you are 26 and depend on your ability to walk to perform your job and put food on your family’s table.

There’s a reason why Football is a highly compensated professional activity in the States and why most of the Division 1 College players receive academic scholarships. At competitive levels, this sport will demand the majority of your time, dedication and attention. It takes years and years of training and study to be able to perform at a high level in such a complex activity. To do that as an amateur means to put in the same hard work and dedication of the professionals, but without expecting any compensation.

Not a hobby, a volunteer activity

That’s why you cannot approach Football as a hobby. By definition, hobby is an activity that one performs in his/her free time in order to obtain pleasure or relaxation. It is impossible to be a competitive “Football player” only on your free time, to have some pleasure and relaxation. Instead of saying that someone plays Football as a hobby, it would be more accurate to say that he plays Football as a volunteer.

Yes, it is an amazing sport that can give you a lot of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. But if you really want to be competitive, the majority of time will not be pleasing, much less relaxing. You’ll need to be at the gym at least 5 days a week, even when feeling sore or sick. You will need to study, watch film and learn to play with an strategical mindset. You will have to put up with coaches demanding you to do some drill over and over again. You will have to run when you don’t want to run, be quiet when you don’t want to be quiet, speak when you don’t want to speak.

You will have to volunteer your time and put the greater good of the team ahead of your personal good. You will have to spend money, sacrifice time with your loved ones, wake up earlier and go to sleep later. You will be given a specific task and will be expected to perform it perfectly, even when everybody else fails to do the same. You will have to work just as hard as your teammates, even knowing that only 11 can be on the field at the same time. You have to do all of the above without expecting anything in return. It’s a full-time job, but without pay.

More importantly: you will need to do everything I just listed and even more, to the best of your abilities, and even so, YOU WILL LOSE GAMES. Then, feeling hurt, tired and disappointed, you will have to get up the next day and do everything all over again, but better, harder, stronger and more intensive than you did before.

It’s about the trip, not about the destination

Football is a very ungrateful thing: it will take all you give, without having to give you anything in return. That’s why if you’re in it just to win games, you will never be a great Football player. You will be frustrated and you will quit. Success is just a consequence of your hard work, and it will always be proportional to the amount of investment you put in.

You need to love working out at the gym. You need to love to be at practice. You need to love the sensation of defeating the man in front of you. You need to love to sweat, get dirty, be exhausted. You need to love the sensation of having sore muscles and bruises all over your body when you shower after a practice. You need to love the stink of your cleats, shoulder pads, helmet and gloves. You need to love the smell of grass, the taste of your mouthguard. You need to love to watch games and love your favorite team. You need to love to play Madden. You need to love to be with your teammates and the long bus rides. You need to love to be at the field early on game day. You need to love the heat in the locker room while coach is addressing the team. You need to love your teammate as a brother.

Only after you love all of the above, you are then allowed to love to win.

But still, you need to hate losing more than you love winning. That’s what will ultimately drive you to start all over again and, maybe – only maybe – someday become a great Football player, not just a guy who plays Football.

So… how do you know?
  • If you do not enjoy the process, you are wasting your time, your teammate’s time, your coaches’ time and your family’s time.
  • If you are not excited about having practice, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you don’t think you need to learn more, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you think it’s all your teammate’s fault when your team loses – or the coaches’ fault, or the referees’ fault –, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you think you deserve individual recognition when your team succeeds and if you can only be motivated by personal achievements, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you don’t think about Football all the time, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you don’t find time to go to the gym, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you smoke, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you can’t go at least a week without a beer, this is not the sport for you.
  • If you can’t shut your mouth and take instructions from somebody, this is not the sport for you.

Important: I’m not defending that Football cannot be played at a competitive level by amateur athletes outside of the United States. I’m simply saying that it is not for everybody.

Facebook and Instagram MVPs

Let’s be honest: Football gear looks extremely cool. You put that stuff on and it’s like you’re in a TV series, a movie or something. And the more exposure the sport gets, more it becomes a trend. So a bunch of people jump on the bandwagon just because they want to stand out from their friends on social networks and show that they do something “unique”, a sport that’s not common in the country. However, it’s only the minority of people that joins a Football team because they truly love the sport and the values that it promotes.

Those guys are just posing as Football players, and they are a disservice to the growth of the sport. But the hard-working players, who are serious about the game, must be the ones to identify the posers and either convince them to put in the same kind of effort of make them quit. Because this is not the sport for them. At least if you want to be competitive.

There’s a bunch of people who enjoy the sport but either can’t or won’t put in the same effort to be competitive. They end up forming recreational teams, and that’s totally OK. Only then it becomes a hobby, because they only practice on their free time, to achieve some pleasure and relaxation. However, if you want to do that, you can’t expect to compete and win consistently, or to develop as a program – much less hire professional coaches and import athletes.

Changing a culture

The task is difficult, but not impossible. There are examples of successful competitive teams outside of the United States that rely mostly on amateur, local athletes. But those teams succeeded in changing the mentality of it’s members and, ultimately, changing the culture of the organization. I guarantee that, if you look into it, those teams will have a core of at least 25 players who are really serious about Football. “Posers” don’t stand a chance to hang around those core guys, and they either get pushed out or they get on board and start being serious too. So that’s how the players’ mentality can influence the future of a team.

However, it is more efficient when that culture change comes from the top and is promoted by the organization itself. Off the field, a team must be ran to be competitive, and no model better for that then a business model. It is necessary to have an organized plan, management structure, designated positions and tasks, with everybody working towards a common goal. With that in place, a team can offer structure and benefits for it’s players and can require them to comply with certain rules. “Posers” will not agree to those rules and will not stick around, but core players who are serious about the sport will stay and develop. It will take a lot of effort and time, but the results – when they appear – will be sustainable.

Time is the most valuable thing in Football, because it is the common ingredient in all aspects of a program, from the management to the athletic side. If it takes time to condition an athlete to overcome his preservation instincts, it will also take time to build a team. Miracles don’t happen in one season, and every plan in Football must be focused on the long term.

“So what’s the point?”

Aside from Football, I’m personally interested in mountaineering, trekking and rock climbing, so I’ve heard countless people saying “what’s the point of climbing a mountain?” or “why would you risk your life doing such a thing?”, and the general answer among people really active in those sports is that there is no reasonable explanation. I believe that the same thing applies to American Football outside the United States: you will not get rich doing it, you will not get recognition doing it and most likely you will not make a career out of it, but still you need to put in so much effort, against all odds.

I still don’t have an answer to why I’m so crazy about Football. I think it’s just for the feeling of seeing how far your hard work and sacrifice can take you.

As for you, you need to ask yourself the same question. “Why do you invest so much to play something like American Football?”

If you have a quick, short and objective explanation…

…maybe this is not the sport for you.

  1. Coach Ciaran O'Sullivan H.C. Ireland says:

    This is an insightful and comprehensive perspective on our sport and the people who drive it forward and sadly those who hold it back. It should be drafted as a code of conduct or contract between coaches, players and the game of football itself, which too many people feel owes them something. I would remove the reference to Madden myself, personal experience of weekend warriors misusing it.

    Thanks Coach


    • Matheus Dias says:

      Thanks for the kind words, coach. I see your point with the Madden reference and it can indeed be a double-edged sword. It just baffles me when some so-called players never had any contact with the video game, which can be an interesting basic introduction to the sport if used correctly. Cheers!


  2. Great Article Coach Dias. I will give this to my tem to read.
    Coach Anderson


  3. Mark Pagett says:

    I’m reading this as if they’re my own words, preach coach preach! Every single word is the truth!


  4. gridironstrong says:

    Really great read! As a therapist working with teams I can really understand how much of a balancing act the game can be i.e. injuries vs jobs, and the rehabilitation of these. Perhaps a competitive game is too much of a risk past college ball?

    One I will be sharing with my teams!


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