Concord-Carlisle Pop Warner football players go through drills during practice.
Boston Globe—Getty Images
September 18, 2014 7:00 AM EDT
Jon Butler is the executive director of Pop Warner.

In stadiums and playgrounds across the country each day in the fall, young people embrace the finesse and the physical journey of football, the contact with a purpose and the joy of hauling in a pass in the back of the end zone. Ours is a game that has nurtured millions of young men and women. Because football is more than a great sport, it is a classroom. It teaches a variety of positive attributes – character, loyalty, discipline, teamwork, physical fitness and leadership among others.

It may be why General Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, credits football for getting him into West Point, and cites leadership and fitness as the two qualities most sought after in military recruits. Nothing teaches those attributes like football and team sports.

The hard work and teamwork have instilled character and an appreciation of working as a unit. We have so many great sports for our young people but football is the sport in which teamwork is essential to success. In basketball, a coach can run an isolation play for her star player. In baseball, an ace means the rest of the team can relax and ride that pitcher’s arm to victory. But in football, if all eleven players don’t do their jobs on every play it will be a long day.

There is a bond in pushing yourself as you and your teammates go through the same exhausting practices in the most physical of games. The athletic demands improve your physical fitness and the joined experience cements a loyalty.

Football also teaches both physical and mental resilience. As Vince Lombardi put it, “In football, you’re going to get knocked down. It’s what you do next that matters.”

It is no coincidence that one of the highest correlations of corporate chief executives is that they played team sports. They learned to work together to overcome obstacles, how to deal with different personalities within the team and the gratification of succeeding with teammates.

Football is not just a game; it also helps instill these traits into our youth. All of these aspects guide them towards being the leaders of tomorrow.

Jon Butler is the executive director of Pop Warner.

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