Down! Set! Sit Quietly!

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

There was always a quiet period of about 30 to 45 minutes between the time we finished suiting up for a game and the time that we’d gather for our final team meeting before heading out under the lights of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s football stadium.

During that time, a visitor to the school’s locker room would likely have been surprised at the stillness among the 40 or so teenaged boys who normally couldn’t be quiet or sit still for more than five minutes at a time.

It wasn’t so much a time of introspection as it was a time to clear our minds of extraneous thoughts, a time to focus on the task ahead. At the age of 16, I didn’t really know much about meditation, but in retrospect I realize that the quiet period we football players spent prior to game time had a meditative quality to it.

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Looking back today, I realize that little period of time may have been my favorite part about gameday. Sure, it was great to win — and our 1982 team was one of the only ones to go undefeated at NSA — and the excitement of rushing out onto the field before a cheering crowd at the beginning of a game is a feeling that’s hard to describe.

Still, though, that quiet time spent with my friends and teammates is what always comes back to me first when I recall those Friday nights more than 25 years ago. In the stillness that we shared — even more than in the physicality of a game or in the boisterous celebrations that followed — I came to understand the incredible power of minds, hearts and bodies united toward one goal.

Teamwork was built on the practice fields and exercised each week during 60 minutes of play against an opponent. But it was nurtured in the quiet intensity of that locker room in the hours before a game, and I’ve always been proud that our coach understood enough about teenaged boys to realize the importance of requiring us to be at the school and dressed in time to experience the pre-game stillness.

About this time every year, my mind wanders back through the decades, and I recall those days. To focus on them would be somewhat pathetic for a man in his 40s, but to ignore those memories entirely would be to turn my back on an important facet of my past, to deny a primary influence on my character.

Today, as hundreds of teenaged boys in Suffolk get suited up for the first game of the football season — and as parents and fans head to the fields to cheer them on — I envy them for the experience of discovery that lies ahead. And I hope that each of those players will find himself a quiet corner of the locker room or school hallway where he can learn to quiet his mind, focus his thoughts and connect with his teammates. It’s a talent that can far outlast most football careers.