This fall, more than 1 million youth will don pads, buckle up the chin strap, and suit up to play high school football. I used to be one of those kids. At that time, not much else in life mattered.
Now, more than 10 years later, I look back fondly on those memories with my friends and coaches. My stories of thrilling victories get better with time, and the pain of the gut-wrenching defeats has lessened.
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But what I hold especially close to my heart are the lessons I learned that apply to more than just football. The hundreds of hours spent in the weight room and on the field were preparing me for things much bigger and brighter than those Friday night lights.
John Bytheway shares a quote from President Spencer W. Kimball in Sports: Life Lessons from Court, Field, and Gridiron:
“Sports can develop the body in strength and endurance. They can train the spirit to meet difficulties and defeats and successes, teach selflessness and understanding, and develop good sportsmanship and tolerance in participant and spectator.”
And I believe he is right. Here are three crucial gospel principles I learned by playing high school football that helped me develop my testimony.
1. Obedience brings success.
Every game you play has rules. Likewise, the “game” of life has rules. Your success is dependent on how well you obey those rules—if the rules are broken, consequences are given and penalties follow. There was almost nothing more deflating than having a touchdown or big play taken away because of a penalty.
Understanding how to play the game with intense energy while still maintaining discipline wasn’t something that came easy. It came after weeks of showing up on time for 6 AM practice, going to two or three practices a day, and finishing every drill, set, and repetition to the very end.
Learning how to be successful while keeping the rules is a lesson that applies throughout life. It is best to do things the right way and not cut corners, because the momentary satisfaction is hardly ever worth the price.
Preach My Gospel says, “Obedience is the first law of heaven. It is an act of faith. You may sometimes be required to do things you do not completely understand. As you obey, you increase in faith, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, protection, and freedom.”
The blessings of obedience are great. There were times when I wasn’t sure why my coaches had me do certain drills or scheme a certain way. Only to later realize, usually during a game, the reasons why. I found that when I obeyed the council of my coaches I was in the right place at the right time to help my team and make a play.
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2. Diligence isn’t optional.
I spent most of my summer days throughout high school preparing for the upcoming season by running drill after drill and play after play. There were moments when I questioned what it was all for and why we had to keep doing these small things over and over.
What I didn’t understand was that our coaches were working to get us to a point where each drill and play was instinctual, so that we didn’t have to “think” about what to do next. This was only achieved by getting in as many repetitions as possible day after day.
When living the gospel, there are no breaks. We prepare for each day by praying, reading the scriptures, and hearkening to the counsel of the prophet. Victories in these spiritual battles are won by putting forth that steady and consistent effort each day, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”
In sports, you can tell when someone hasn’t been practicing because they aren’t as sharp, and usually struggle when they face a new challenge or stronger opponent. The same is true in the gospel. If we fail to do the little, repetitive, but meaningful tasks each day, we’ll find ourselves distanced from God’s strength and ultimately buckle under the pressure of challenges or temptations that may arise.
3. Action leads to faith.
One year we were opening the season against a school with a reputation for being a powerhouse in the state. Our team, on the other hand, was coming off of a two-win season. I was pretty nervous.
Going into that game, I kept wondering how badly we were going to get crushed. My nerves nearly got the best of me, but I relied but the confidence of my teammates to help me through. They were ready to play and up for the challenge. I followed their lead, buckled my helmet, and charged onto the field. To my surprise, we played well. So well that we won the game. We went on to only lose one game over the next two seasons.
Going into that first game, I’m ashamed to say, I wasn’t confident in my team. I believed we were a good team, but I didn’t know it. Lining up against such a formidable opponent made me question our ability–but the faithful do not retreat. My faith and confidence grew with each play during that game, and at the end of it, I knew we were a great team.
The same goes for living the gospel. At times our testimony may be a little shaky and our confidence in our beliefs not very strong. But if we continue to press forward with faith, continuing to be obedient, staying faithful, and playing the game like we’ve been taught, we will find a strength and a testimony that we didn’t know we had.
Andrew Devey is a contributor to Aggieland Mormons and is currently an agency marketing and social media manager. He graduated from BYU with a degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations. He is also a sports junkie and dessert connoisseur. He is part Texan by marriage, but still longs for Big Sky Country, where he served his mission. He is married to Lisa, and what he loves most is being the father to his son and twin girls.
For more gospel and life lessons about sports, check out John Bytheway's Sports: Life Lessons from Court, Field, and Gridiron, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.