What’s Important Now – Rob Williams – Medium
How High School Football Taught Me Resilience
The military and team sports, especially American football, always seem to go hand in hand. Whether its television announcer’s commenting on the battles in the “trenches,” or the quarterback launching an air attack, the references are common. To me, team sports and especially my experience playing high school football prepared me to succeed in the Army in a way nothing ever could have. Through my experience in high school, I learned the importance of resiliency. The coaches didn’t know it at the time, or perhaps they did, but how they taught us to be resilient in the face of failure and difficulties pays dividends for any adult, but especially for me as I dealt with tragedy and loss through three deployments and an incomplete career.
I was fortunate to have phenomenal coaches during my time playing organized sports in school. The football coaching staff at Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Washington in 1999 was excellent. Every one of them instilled a strong work ethic and the spirit of teamwork that follows me to this day. They also inspired in me a lifetime interest in fitness and continued participation in team sports, namely rugby, later in life. More than that though, was the lessons they instilled in resilience.
We carried a sticker on the front of the helmet of every player — W.I.N. Situated between the two screws holding the facemask above the eyes, it may seem an ode to Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” It meant so much more than the sum of the letters. The acronym stood for “What’s Important Now?” The meaning was simple, no matter what happened, whatever egregious mistake you just made, however terrible of a feeling you have, it doesn’t matter, what matters is what happens next. Through this, we were taught to focus on was the moment, to not dwell on the past, but to look forward. This mantra carried through into my life, and I have consistently thought of it when facing my own adversity.
This lesson stayed with me as I enlisted in the Army in June 2000. Little did I know that the lessons learned from sport, reinforced through military training, would have life and death consequences not three years later as I led my own team on daily combat missions in Iraq.
W.I.N. mattered as much on the battlefield as it did on the gridiron. When something tragic would happen, or even something small that maybe didn’t go the way we planned, I would remind my team, my soldiers, “What’s Important Now?” I carried this lesson with me again twice in Afghanistan while leading larger and larger groups.
I returned to the mantra after making the most egregious mistake of my life, in late 2014. The lessons I learned as a high school football player allowed me to pick myself up and reinvent myself despite this major setback and I am proud to say that despite leaving the Army two and a half years shy of retirement, I am well on my way to an advanced degree in history. I will never forget my own history- where I came from and what I have learned along the way.
Sport, then, is a microcosm of life, the trials and tribulations learned as children and young adults on the sporting fields consistently pay dividends later. No matter their chosen vocation, the lessons imparted through sport will follow the next generation of young adults as they pursue excellence.