More than a game: Author Stephen M. R. Covey cites valuable lessons of life he learned playing football
Even with superstar players like Kyle Whittingham and Craig Garrett, the Provo Bulldogs had been mediocre during Covey's prep days. But the young men were determined not to have a mediocre senior season.
"As seniors, we were determined we were going to be good," he said. "We really worked hard and we had a great senior year."
The team went 9-1, earned a region title and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the state.
"We won our first-round playoff game, but then we lost in the second round 15-10 to Highland," he said. "We lost on a 50-yard bomb in the last 30 seconds. It was a heartbreaker. We didn't have enough time to come back."
To everyone else, Provo High had overachieved that year. To Covey, it provided another learning opportunity — how to handle disappointment.
"It was really significant," he said of his high school sports experience. "It was a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning and camaraderie, teamwork, brotherhood. It was just a huge part of my life at the time. I was not an extraordinary athlete that could go out and play other sports. I ran track to get better for football."
Covey walked on at BYU and was part of the Cougars' scout team, and while he enjoyed it, he realized very quickly that college football was much different from the high school experience. After he served his mission, he decided his sports career was over and focused on his education.
He walked away with many fond memories and insights as to why team sports in particular are so extraordinary.
"Team sports can teach a person as much about life, or maybe more about life, than even academics," he said. "I'm huge into academics; I believe in it. I have a master's degree and I'm not downplaying academics. But I believe the things you learn from a team sport are as significant as the things you learn in a classroom."
And then he rattles off the lessons he learned on the football field — lessons that have helped him succeed in a very competitive business world.
"You learn discipline. You learn sacrifice. You learn unselfishness. You learn teamwork. You learn independence, to trust people, to rely on them. You learn to collaborate," he said. "I learned hard work and determination. There were so many times I wanted to quit, but I had to stay at it.
"We had fun but we were driven. We felt we were good enough to take state, and the work did not get in the way of the fun. All of it had a broader purpose."
He learned skills as a football player that he still uses as an author and businessman.
"I learned goal-setting, and beginning something with the end in mind," he said. "And I learned that there are things bigger than any one of us. And being part of something bigger is special."
Covey returned from his mission, graduated from BYU and then worked in real-estate development. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and in all of his life's ups and downs, he's never experienced anything quite like he felt when he wore that Provo Bulldog football uniform.
He said his experience has helped him so much away from the field of play that he encourages his children to play some kind of team sport.
So far, they've all taken their father's advice.
"It's where you learn hard work, discipline, preparation," he said. "The best preparation for my mission was football because it made me tough. I'd been through it. It strengthened me.
"I learned collaboration, teamwork, and that's what so much of life is about. In an organization, family, it's about being a team player, learning to play your role and being able to trust others and be trusted."
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