Football is all about discipline. And that discipline is required year-round.
Discipline begins before the games do. Off-season conditioning programs demand it.
It takes discipline to get through the off-season and more discipline to get through a season. Spare time is little more than a fantasy during the regular season.
A student-athlete goes to class, goes to team meetings and goes to practice. Study time isn’t just for classes. It’s also part of game preparation since homework includes watching video of your opponent.
Watching video is class work. The practice field is a lab. And every Saturday you take a test.
That’s why I have long contended that players should receive academic credit for playing football. How many other students devote as much work to a class as players do to football?
Near the start of every season, I’m always reminded of the enormous investment student-athletes must make to play football. That investment includes more than time. Participants rarely get a break from the physical nature of the sport.
Practicing basketball and baseball can be challenging, too. But the challenge isn’t comparable to football.
Some football players are more disciplined than others. However, hardly anyone can play the sport without some degree of discipline.
This season will require more discipline than ever. In fact, discipline might be the best weapon we have against the coronavirus pandemic.
You wear a mask. You practice social distancing. You wash your hands often. You avoid crowds. You say “no” to parties. And you don’t let your guard down. Ever.
That’s too much to ask of most college-age men and women. It’s not too much to ask of college football players. Instead, it’s just another opportunity for them to practice the values they have learned from a game they have been playing since childhood.
If Tennessee hopes to successfully maneuver through a 10-game, conference-only schedule against some of the best teams in the country, it will have to maintain discipline 24/7. It must beat the virus if it hopes to overcome an SEC schedule composed of five nationally ranked teams.
Teamwork – another football virtue – will be just as important as discipline. No other sport relies on teamwork any more than football does.
If a wide receiver breaks off his route too soon, a quarterback can look foolish. If a running back picks up the wrong pass rusher, a quarterback can end up on his back.
Going rogue doesn’t go well in football. The offensive line works as a unit. So does the entire defense. Think how many times you have heard a coach say, “We had 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy who didn’t.” That’s all it takes to blow up a play.
In 2010, then-Tennessee coach Derek Dooley selected WNML sports director Jimmy Hyams and me to be coaches for the Orange & White spring game. My duties included delivering a pep talk in the locker room just before my team took the field.
I asked our real coach, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, what he thought I should say. He told me it didn’t matter what I said.
“They will be frothing at the mouth by then,” he said. “They won’t hear a word you say.”
So, I rambled my way through a few sentences and made sure I wasn’t standing between the players and their pathway to the field.
But if I were delivering a pep talk before this season, I really would have something to say.
Players will need to practice their discipline and teamwork in combating the coronavirus just as they need to work together on the field. They can’t afford to slip up. They can’t afford to let a teammate slip up. Their enemy can spread too quickly for that.
And if they succeed in getting through a pandemic season, they will end up being more disciplined, better football players.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns