First Things First: What are they playing for? The real purpose of college football

First Things First: What are they playing for? The real purpose of college football

October 8th, 2017 by Julie Baumgardner in Life Entertainment

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If you happen to be a Tennessee or UTC fan, it has been painful to watch both football teams struggle to even get on the scoreboard. There's usually a lot of armchair quarterbacking and coaching going on anyway, but now it has reached a fever pitch. People are calling for the coaches' jobs and trash-talking team members.

Don't think it is about just these two schools. We could all list coaches who have been fired because of a losing season. One coach commented that it's always interesting when the fate of one's career rests in the hands of 18- to 22-year-olds.

After a weekend of tough losses in college football, this post appeared on Facebook:

"I grew up in a house where my Daddy was born and raised an Alabama boy and my Mama was born and raised a Tennessee girl. We never ever talked trash. Did we have healthy teasing? Sure! But never ugly at all! I also grew up with my Daddy being a referee and was taught to show respect to the umpire or referee and to never EVER run my mouth. What I have found is we have a stadium full of disrespectful people who boo kids, coaches and referees and could care less what anyone thinks.

"I challenge anyone who has ever played a competitive sport to stop and think. Did you ever think, man I can't wait to go out and suck today?! NO! Not once did I ever think that, and I bet there isn't another athlete OR COACH who has either! How about your boss?! How about if you messed up or if your team messed up and people started screaming for your job!? Tonight I hurt for a couple who I met and know are amazing because I know their love for these kids. So scream all you want, but maybe just maybe it might be about more than points on a scoreboard. Maybe it's about a family, a kid who did their best but still isn't good enough but had so much pressure."

This post brings up a really great point: What exactly are these kids doing? Is there more to this picture than winning and the fact that college athletics is big business that brings in money for the school? Every institution of higher learning would probably say their goal is to produce successful leaders and for their athletes to graduate. They understand that very few of their athletes will go on to play professional sports.

It's helpful to know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain where mental control and self-regulation take place isn't fully formed until around age 25. These coaches and their staff are taking kids who are still maturing and not only helping them develop as players but as people. They spend a lot of time making sure team players have access to helpful resources for academics, character development, personal boundaries and decision-making.

Family members of coaches or players on the field also feel the sting of the boos from supposed fans when their family member or their team isn't having a good game. Even some coaches' family members experience ruthless bullying. People talk about players on social media as if they were NFL professionals, when in reality they are 18- to 22-year-olds.

So what exactly is college football or any other collegiate sport really about?

When Kansas State University head coach Bill Snyder took over the football program in 1989, he took over the "worst NCAA Division I football program on planet Earth." The team is now ranked third in the Big 12 Conference. In his book, "They Said It Couldn't Be Done," Snyder outlines how he transformed a losing team into a winning team with his 16 goals for success.

Here's the list:

1. Commitment — To common goals and to being successful.

2. Unselfishness — There is no "I" in team.

3. Unity — Come together as never before.

4. Improve — Every day as a player, person and student.

5. Be tough — Mentally and physically.

6. Self-discipline — Do it right; don't accept less.

7. Great effort.

8. Enthusiasm.

9. Eliminate Mistakes — Don't beat yourself.

10. Never give up.

11. Don't accept losing — If you do so one time, it will be easy to do so for the rest of your life.

12. No self-limitations — Expect more of yourself.

13. Expect to win — And truly believe we will.

14. Consistency — Your very, very best every time.

15. Leadership — Everyone can set an example.

16. Responsibility — You are responsible for your own performance.

Snyder's list is clearly about far more than football — it's about life. It's about helping young men who are playing football to be winners in life, to understand a commitment to something they believe matters and to pursue excellence in their accomplishments.

It's also about helping these men understand what it means to persist against the odds, teaching them how to pick themselves up after making a mistake and carry on, and showing them what it looks like to give their best. This mindset can lead to a life of success off the field, on the job and in all of life's relationships. Some people forget that college football is just a game it should not be what defines these players.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.