I’ve spent years watching my children compete in various athletic endeavors. I’ve also enjoyed witnessing the development of their other talents, beyond the field-of-play. Such as their artistic and musical talents, to name only two.
As I reflect on all of these experiences, there is one – more recently at least – that stands out above the others. It stands out because it relates directly to what I do as a pastor and the vision/mission of the church I serve.
You might say that, as a pastor, I am involved in development. More precisely, the development of people. The word I use to characterize this focus is formation. Many images, no doubt, pop into your head when you hear that word.
Let me define the term as I am using it here:
Formation: lasting change that happens over time.
My second-born, Luke, has always loved football. He started begging – yes, begging – Melissa and me to sign him up for football as early as age six. I did everything I could to talk him into playing a different sport.
I introduced him to baseball. He loved it, but he didn’t get to hit anyone.
I challenged him to give track and field a try. Turns out he’s pretty fast, but there’s no real sense of ‘team’ in the sport.
He played lacrosse, quite well I might add, but was quick to say, “Dad, I like lacrosse, but I’m only playing it because there’s no football in the Spring.”
It seems that he has, since I can remember, always wanted to play football.
Now, as a rising Junior on the VBHS Varsity team (our local and highly competitive high school team), he pretty much participates in the sport he loves year-round. This Spring season, however, he’s found himself side-lined due to an injury. He’s suffering from patella tendonitis, which is an injury to the tendon connecting the kneecap to the shinbone.
This type of injury heals through rest and guided rehab. Luke has worked hard all winter to be ready for this moment. Yet, he’s now relegated to rehab as he watches, from the side line, his teammates play the game he loves.
I’ve watched him closely during this season of injury and, as a parent, I’ve paid attention to what’s required to achieve success at this level. As I’ve paid attention, I’ve learned a few things about lasting change.
First of all, achieving lasting change is possible. The road, however, is filled with twists and turns (unexpected injuries) and may not be taking you where you think you are going.
Secondly, achieving lasting change is attainable by means of ordinary day-to-day activities we often take for granted and undervalue.
So, over the next few weeks or months, I am going to explore:
The Ten Things I’ve Learned About Formation While Watching My Son’s High School Football Team.
- Formation (Development) takes time and is not easily measured in the short-run. If you want a birds-eye view of this, then head out to the Vero Beach High School Red and White game next Wednesday evening. This event will feature competition from Freshmen to Seniors, boys and young men of all ages. You’ll see the difference between the grade levels and witness a snapshot of the journey from boyhood to manhood.
- Formation happens best in community. In this case, the team-approach of football provides an excellent example of how we need each other if we are ever going to change.
- Formation happens even when (perhaps especially when) you are hurt, suffering, or in pain. We often think of formation as something that happens only when healthy. This a false assumption. We can be – and often are – formed in the midst of our brokenness and pain.
- Formation happens when we combine a rhythm of work with rest. While the football team works hard, it also takes time off for rest. During the season, the players and coaches often spend time in the film room. This type of rest is what I call reflective-rest. Reflective-rest (as opposed to mere laziness) is vital to any development, of any kind.
- Formation happens when we are captivated by a vision (i.e., the Title game) that’s larger than us. We chase our loves, period. We do what we want to do. These boys spend hours on the field – in the thick of South-Florida summer time – because they dream of playing in the big game and bringing home a title. Formation, quite simply, begins with vision.
- Formation happens in the midst of formal/structured environments (i.e., practices) as well as informal/unstructured environments (i.e., locker rooms, parking lots, IHOP, etc.,). My son works hard (when healthy) doing what the coaches ask of him, on the field. He also plays hard and spends time with his brothers, off the field. Both environments serve to shape and develop him in life-changing ways!
- Formation happens best when we have wise and experienced leaders (i.e., coaching staff) around us. As a parent, I am always on the lookout for the best coaches in the area. I pay attention to our surrounding schools and what’s happening there – just to be sure that I have my son in the best possible environment. As a father, I am more concerned with Luke’s development as a man than I am with his excellence on the football field (though I hope for that as well). And, while I keep my eyes open, I can tell you that I’ve not found a coaching staff better than the one that leads Vero program! Coach Lenny Jankowski and his staff do a fantastic job. I am thankful that my son has men like these around him during these formative years of his life. They are doing far more than teaching them to play a game!
- Formation happens in fits-and-starts. Development is a messy process. You can’t learn it from a textbook. You’ve got to get in there and get your hands dirty. Much like driving a car, formation – in football and life – assumes and excels in a learn-by-doing atmosphere.
- Formation happens through habit development. I’ve watched dozens, maybe hundreds, of practices. I can tell you this – coaches repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat every play, ad nauseam. It’s clear that the staff understands that if the boys are going to win on Friday, it’s because they are working hard on Monday! The goal is for the boys to respond by habit during the game. If they have to think about what they are doing, then it’s already too late.
- Formation happens when we lean into trust and practice submission. The players on the field have to trust their coaches and submit to their directives. If they don’t, they get benched. When they get out of line, they get disciplined by way of a host of grueling drills. If they trust the coaches and submit to the process, then the long term outcome is often pretty amazing.
I do not know how long Luke will be injured. I hope he gets better and gets to play soon. However, whether it takes days, weeks, months, or longer, I will be paying close attention to this team, while I have the chance.
Because, I am a dad who wants to be a part of my kid’s activities, while I can. I am also volunteering, serving on the team’s booster club. I enjoy being involved with the larger community of parents. And, of course, because I think the coaching staff is a great group of men.
But, I will primarily be paying attention because I learn something about formation and how it relates to faith every time I watch a drill, practice, scrimmage, or game.
Stay tuned for more posts exploring this connection between faith and football. The accounts that follow will likely be personal in nature as I intend to relay what I see and highlight those in whom I see it!
Maybe I’ll see you at the field! Go, Vero!
Disrupting to Renew!