More than a game: Author Stephen M. R. Covey cites valuable lessons of life he learned playing football

Published: Monday, June 18 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Stephen M. R. Covey throws a football around with his sons Christian Covey and Britain Covey outside of their home in Provo on Thursday, June 14, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is the first in a weekly series of stories that examine the influence participating in youth and high school sports had on the lives of successful people.

PROVO — When his friends were collapsing under the pressure of college final exams, Stephen M. R. Covey was confident he could push through it.

When he was suffering in the sweltering Paraguay heat as a young missionary, he knew the fatigue wouldn't defeat him.

Covey was sure that not only would he survive — but that he'd also succeed. He was certain because, as a teenage boy, he'd done something so difficult, so challenging that it provided him with confidence that has sustained him throughout his adult life.

Covey played high school football.

"I don't remember every test I took or even every teacher I had," said Covey, who is the co-founder and CEO of CoveyLink Worldwide and a best-selling author and motivational speaker. "But I remember every pass I caught in every game of my senior year. I could give you the score of every game my senior year. ... It is what gave me the capacity to do difficult things because I had done them before."

Covey graduated in 1980 from Provo High, where he played wide receiver and defensive back for the Bulldogs.

"I loved the competitive nature of it," he said of why he chose football.

The third child and oldest son of Stephen R. and Sandra Covey, he grew up playing in a park near his home where young boys gathered to have pick-up games.

"It was sort of the frontier back then," he said laughing. "They didn't have the knowledge they have now about fitness and workouts. They didn't let us drink water or take breaks. You just had to be tough. Being thirsty was part of the conditioning. It was really grueling."

It was so grueling Covey said he considered giving up the sport more than once — most often during two-a-days.

"Many times I wanted to quit, but I wasn't going to," he said. "Football at the time was the old mentality of command and control. Coaches would scream at you all they wanted; they could grab you, and they did."

He recalls incidents where star players were "humbled" by vocal coaches. The mantra was "work hard" and the result was a committed group of players.

Covey said he wasn't as athletically gifted as some of his siblings. But what he lacked in skill, he made up for with effort. It seemed his sacrifices had finally paid off when he earned varsity time his junior year.

"My junior year I'd earned a position in the rotation," he said, a smile spreading across his face. "I was going to bring in the plays every other play. I was alternating with a senior, who was a captain."

Provo's first game that season was against rival Orem.

"I went to block a guy and the guy knocks me down, and I broke my arm," Covey said. "I played one play my junior year. ... It was quite an ordeal just playing one play after working so hard to earn that position. It was extremely disappointing. I loved football; I breathed football, and I really worked hard."

Football had taught him to not tolerate self-pity, so he funneled his competitive desire into debate.

"I enjoyed it and it filled the gap," said Covey. "My father had done it. I knew I needed something to fill that void. I wasn't good at basketball. I learned a lot in debate — how to think, analyze, speak, to make arguments and to respond."

When his arm had healed, he went back to preparing himself for what would be his last season of football.

"We (his teammates) worked really hard and we were very committed," he said. "This is back when they didn't have summer workouts, but we had our own."

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