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COMMENTARY: High school athletics remains a gateway to lifelong lessons

Our Vinnie Vinzetta imparts his experience of how a lone season of competitive sports helped shape him, and how it might help others kids too.

SAN ANTONIO — My lone season of competitive football in life was in fifth grade. That was in the 80s. I’m that old. 

And it’s amazing to me – though on the other hand, not really – how often I still use all the lessons I learned in that one season. 

There’s no question my competitive spirit was born from competing in athletics, even basketball, which was not my best skillset back in the day.

I was the starting halfback on the fifth grade football team, and not the biggest guy. Small, in fact. But I remember trying so hard to beat the kids across from me; I kept the legs moving until either breaking through or getting thrown down; I remember my face clutching, my muscles tensing up, giving it everything possible to the whistle. 

Born with that edge? Maybe, but I’m not gonna claim that. Maybe it was learned through the competitive spirit of team sports? That’s what I’m always gonna tell myself. And that’s why I’ll promote the amazing thing that athletics is.

I’m smart enough to realize that not every child is athletically inclined. Some kids flourish within academic clubs, like me. Some kids blossom with music, like me. And some kids, the vast majority of which will never play at the collegiate level – while even fewer enter the ranks of professional sports – thrive with competitive athletics, like me. I’d be willing to bet that there are countless doctors, lawyers and high-ranking United State military officers, and countless other professionals, who all played sports.

I’m telling you: It can work wonders with kids. The values, morals, ethics and leadership lessons sports teach can’t really be measured. Being part of the team and helping the team succeed can help shape every future aspect of life. My faith, family, desire and everything good inside my heart is, in part, derived from what sports taught me.

It's somewhat crazy, too, that I’m writing this, because I’m the first one to have problems with youth sports. I’m always concerned about the concept of winning being prioritized over the idea of learning to do it right. There’s a very fine line that we have to walk in that arena with kiddos before high school, in my opinion. 

This country, though, is all about winning—and I do get that. The point being that team sports can work wonders with kids during those most important developmental years. And it can also, and these are my honest feelings, keep kids out of trouble. That statement I’m always gonna stand behind. And, again, youth sports, middle school and high school sports are absolutely not for everyone. But I’m that guy that can see the positive results. I’ve seen the path that participating in sports can put young people on. The vast majority of the time, it’s the right path.

How many dads? How many moms? How many adults living successful lives right now would agree with me? I’m guessing most of you would. So, I’m throwing out the idea. Call it a suggestion as the next school year approaches. You know what’s best for your kids. Some kids don’t need sports, and some kids don’t like sports, and there’s nothing in the world wrong with that. 

All I can tell you is what athletics did for me: I’d like to think that I’ve been basically disciplined in life with structure and career. The simple idea that I’ve chosen to work hard, give back to my community, promote positivity and obey the law. So take one from me, your ol' pal VinDog. Playing sports during those "growing up" years can potentially make all the difference in the world. I’ll never deny that, and often I’ll understand in quiet moments that today’s success was planted years ago.

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