The Speech I Never Gave
AS A D-III QUARTERBACK WHO WAS A BACKUP EXCEPT FOR TWO GLORIOUS WEEKS...
I knew I wasn't going to go pro in football. But I wouldn’t be where I am in my career if I hadn’t spent four years playing football at Middlebury College. What I learned has propelled my career in an unexpected way.
I intended to make a speech to my football teammates during the last week of my senior season, but I never got to. Six years later, I want to finally tell my teammates why I they felt like family. Here it is:
Football players and coaches often describe their teams as “families”. What’s that all about? What makes a football team more meaningful than a baseball team, or classmates in school, or co-workers, or friends?
When I talk about my football teammates, the tone’s different. I give them a bear-hug when I encounter them in my hometown while other friends and acquaintances get the one-armed awkward hug or just a handshake.
I hug my mom, I hug my dad, I hug my three brothers and my best friends. And I hug my football teammates.
When preseason starts in August, an empty campus greets us and we gather together for lame icebreakers and introductions of the freshman new-arrivals. We practice in the morning, pass the time together watching movies in the day, then practice again at night. We watch film in dark rooms and crack jokes about missed assignments. We shower together. We eat and study together. We heal bruises and rehab shoulders together. We celebrate victories and dance to music in the locker room together. We mourn losses together in silence. We travel hours to away games and stay in hotels together. We play together. We party together. We live together.
It occurred to me that we spend so much time with one another. It’s insane. I spent more time with you guys than I’ve spent with anyone else I’ve ever known in a 4-year span. Girlfriends, moms, dads -- they’re all jealous of the time we spend together.
That’s why we’re a family. That’s why we lunge into the other guy to protect a teammate. That’s why we push ourselves to exhaustion in practice so we don’t let each other down. That’s why 11 guys play so well together on the field.
What we have together is special. I’m not going to forget it after my last game tomorrow. We’re teammates for life – that’s what family is. Let’s win tomorrow and celebrate one more time.
Speeches often have a moral or a lesson. In that sense, mine was less of a speech and more of a toast. I just loved being a part of the Middlebury football family and wanted to tell them what it meant to me.
But since entering the real world, it’s become apparent that football players (and members of college sports teams in general) are masterfully trained in the art of team-building. This soft skill could get you hired. It will make your company operate more smoothly, make it a more fun place to work, and get you promoted.
I worked on Wall Street as a member of three teams in five years. On each of them, I found myself stopping in to my bosses' offices to tell them what I did on the weekend. I sought restaurant advice from them when I visited places that they knew better than me. I surveyed co-workers for the best place to buy a suit. I asked him to grab lunch and her to be my workout partner for kickboxing classes. When the boss felt obliged during holidays to take us out to “holiday drinks” on his tab, I took charge of picking the venue, making sure to select fun and memorable places where my co-workers and I could let loose and be ourselves.
At the side-business I launched with one of my best friends from college, we scaled the company and were successful because my partner, who’s also a former athlete, and I were more than just teammates. We built trust by eating, joking, working out, and doing things together completely outside of the business plan.
I was trying to make my team at work, whether eleven people or just two, feel like my team in football. Thanks to the spirit of team-building I introduced, each of those teams developed strong camaraderie and operated at a high level.
You’ll hear that you should put your athletic participation on the top of your resume because it signals that you’re hard-working and competitive. That’s probably true. But it also means that you like making bonds with people. That you will treat your trade as something more than an obligatory 9-5. That you can foster an atmosphere that turns co-workers into teammates.
Here’s my advice to you (yup, it’s become a speech). When you enter the workforce, be proud of your gregariousness. Be the guy who opens up to people, who laughs, who encourages, and who acts funny sometimes. By showing your teammates your personality and having a desire to learn about theirs, you can make work feel like a family at times.
While training to play on Saturday, you learned a skill that can make a difference Monday-Friday.