“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
As I watch my son, a high school sophomore, run onto the field, I can’t help but think about how exciting my first years of playing football were for me. As I privately reminisce on the sidelines, shoulder-to-shoulder with other parents, I inevitably find myself going straight to the one thought we all invariably have when we think back to earlier times in our lives – if I had only known then what I know now.
That is something I need my son to understand today.
After the game, we will talk. He will tell me about his game and I will listen. Although I played in the NFL for fifteen years, he doesn’t really need my take on his game as much as he needs my support as his father. This is his time to play. Through good coaching and by his own accord, he will learn about his strengths and weaknesses as a player. He will grow and improve with each game; with each year that he plays football, he will get better. Secretly, I am hoping he will grow to love the game of football as much as I do, but if he doesn’t, that will be okay.
However it goes, I will be proud of him.
As we drive home, I will tell him how amazing his life is right now. I will urge him to pay attention, look around, and notice how many opportunities he has available to him. As a high school student, he is surrounded by educators who are eager to teach him about the world. Dedicated teachers stand ready to help him develop his talents and find his passion in life.
I will remind him how fortunate he is to have so much at his fingertips. Anything is possible. It’s all there for him and all he has to do is reach out and grab it.
As a young student-athlete, he gets another chance to learn every day, a chance to discover and grow. Being the best student he can be, right now, will enable him to lead the best possible life, every day of his life.
That’s what I want him to understand today; at this moment.
Whether he is out on the field or in the classroom – I hope that he will make the most of this period of time in his life.
On his own, he must come to realize that his education is his top priority.
Sometimes we forget what a high school education is supposed to be about, especially when we are so involved in a sports program such as football. It’s easy to flip our priorities and put sports first and academic achievement second. After all, a good game offers both the parent and the player the proverbial win; the instant gratification of victory. And, then there is that shot at playing college football and going on to play for the NFL. It’s exhilarating – a dream in the making.
In contrast, committing to excellence in your studies is a very different goal. A much quieter quest, for sure.
Hitting the books doesn’t quite conjure up the kind of gripping live action that sports can – and does – provide for us. Frankly, getting good grades is a slow and steady climb – a learning marathon that requires long hours of studying. There are no fans in the stands cheering you on as you study for a math test. In fact, sometimes it can take quite a while before you see any points on the board at all. You may even grow impatient and a little weary waiting to reap the rewards for your dedication and hard work.
But those rewards will come; and when they do, it will all be worth it.
“If only” will never come to mind, and will instead be superseded by the overwhelming sense of accomplishment found within the “I did it” moment of the student-athlete who wisely knows how to make the most of now.
Later, as we head home, that is exactly what I will tell my son.
Troy Vincent, VP of NFL Player Engagement and a perennial All-Pro during a 15-year NFL career, remains dedicated to his mission of engaging and enabling players to become better citizens and lifelong learners. He is committed to revolutionizing players’ professional and personal growth with guidance, support, and resources before, during, and after their NFL experience.