Week 6 in a series of posts inspired by a family holiday through the southern states of the USA.
In Atlanta, GA, just next to the Olympic Park which celebrates the city's hosting of the 1996 Olympic games, you can find the College Football Hall of Fame. Most people in the UK are familiar with the NFL, the professional American Football league, which plays the bulk of its games on Sundays through the Autumn and Winter, which is widely televised on Sky Sports and which reaches its crescendo with the SuperBowl in early February, but far fewer are familiar with the college game, largely because it's harder to find ways to watch it on this side of the pond. But in the USA and particularly in the South, college football is king! The biggest NFL arena, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (home of my beloved New York Giants and their crosstown rivals the New York Jets) has 82,500 seats. Contrast that to college football, where there are eight stadia with a capacity of over 100,000 (the biggest - Michigan's 'Big House' - holds 107,601 spectators!) and fourteen with capacities bigger than that of MetLife. Nebraska's Memorial Stadium holds over 85,000 fans and has been sold out for every single home game since JFK was the President!
That should give you some idea of the scale of the sport. The first college game took place in 1868 between Rutgers and the institution which became Princeton, whereas professional football didn't start until 1892 and the first NFL game wasn't until 1920. College ball is deeply embedded into the culture of the USA and particularly the South where many of the most successful and storied teams are based.
On our second day in Atlanta, after visiting World of Coke, Cathryn and Harper decided that the College Football HoF was not the way they wanted to spend several hours, so we split up and they headed to the aquarium. That gave me a couple of uninterrupted hours to immerse myself in the history of the game and see some amazing artefacts, watch some footage and read the stories that make the sport such a compelling watch. It was a midweek morning, so the Hall was lovely and quiet too!
Upon my arrival in the building, I was faced with a wall, three stories high, covered with helmets of 775 college football teams from across the US. It makes quite the impact! I then headed to the top floor to work down from there and was presented with a series of display cases showing some of the beautiful trophies that the teams strive to win each season. Impressive stuff! On the wall, behind these trophies, however, was a painting which caught my eye. It shows two college football players standing on a football field in the foreground, with a third figure in military fatigues behind them, all looking up at the American flag. It bears the following quote:
“On the fields of friendly strife Are sown the seeds That upon other fields, on other days Will bear the fruits of victory.”
The quote comes from General Douglas MacArthur who, after becoming the most decorated US soldier in the first world war, was assigned as the Superintendent of the US Military Academy where he oversaw a number of reforms, including instituting intramural sports. He made sports and the celebration of athletic achievement, especially in football, a centrepiece of the Army’s culture. During his tenure, he wrote the words on the image and had them installed outside the West Point Gymnasium.
I love the quote! Obviously it has clear connections to the sport I love and coach, but it's more than that. There's a stoicism to it. Every challenge that we are faced with has, within it, lessons which will prepare us for other challenges in the future. The 'fields of friendly strife' can be sports fields, but they can be the workplace, or things we do with our family, or activities any other sphere of our lives. Anywhere where we move out of our comfort zones and do difficult things. Those challenges have value, far beyond that which we can see in the moment.
This week I was delivering a programme for change managers in a large global bank and they had a guest speaker from the business who spoke really candidly about her own experiences in the bank and in her rise from being a part of broader change teams, to leading change projects and programmes, to running change teams and departments. She was excellent and she didn't shy away from that fact that the roles that the delegates currently do and especially those that they aspire to are fraught with challenges. What she also did was to perfectly articulate the spirit of the quote, without having heard it. Her early career challenges took place on those friendly fields. She struggled and strove and pushed herself to find her way. How to do the job. How to behave when things go wrong. How to build her network. How to build her profile. Every setback taught her lessons and built her resilience. And later on in her career, in more senior roles, or outside of work in her personal life, she stood on those other fields and bore the fruits of victory, planted in her early career.
Take some time to look at your life right now - your work life, your family life, your hobbies and passions. Where you're bearing fruit, what were the seeds you sowed in the past which were responsible for that? What difficult things did you do in the past in order to steel yourself for the challenges you're now facing?
And then think about the future. None of us can know for sure what lies ahead but without fail, all of us will face tough times and hardships. What seeds are you sewing today, what steps are you taking outside of your comfort zone, to make sure that you will bear the fruits of victory, further on up the road?