(Orlando, FL) I stood observantly at the trophy ceremony area watching athletes come up in single formed lines. You could easily distinguish the winners from the losers of the AYF championship games just from noticing the eye black. If the eye black trickled down from the eye to just below the chin (with the aid of tear drops) the youth football team had just lost. I wondered to myself, do these little guys realize the accomplishments they have achieved just to get to Florida.
The AYF championship games were not about winning and losing. There was so much more to this tournament, I could only describe it as a boot camp for a myriad of complex life lessons on character building for all involved. It was about endurance and the will to give 100% effort for four quarters.
Our team watched multiple games as they occurred simultaneously, no quitters, no ‘losers’.
This tournament was just as much about stories than x’s an o’s. Everyone had a story to tell about how their team got to Florida and what it meant to be amongst the best teams in the country. We talked to parents from San Francisco to Massachusetts about the journey, many made sacrifices (some extreme) to get travel down. Some organizations had multiple teams travel down, surely a challenge to overcome. Other parents did not have the means to make it to Florida, but sent their kids to play. The organizations that succeeded in their quest to the Florida championships used a healthy mix of fundraising tactics. Seeking donations, throwing an event/dinner, and bake sales all seemed to work well. The kids got a chance to learn to participate in a national championship tournament, but not without a ton of work first.
Road to the AYF Championships
First step: Winning league championship
Second step: Win regional championship
Third step: Furiously fundraise for the opportunity to play in Florida
Fourth step: Play in championship tournament against the best competition
To say the playoff week is a grind is certainly an understatement. In order to win the national championship, the expectations were to play and win 3 games (in one week). A challenge that fully tested the fortitude of players, coaches and parents. I stood in the midst of the cowbells, horns as screaming parents as they let out for one final time this season, a celebratory burst of cheer all the way to the end (no matter what the score). This cheer was for every cupcake sold, each night driven to practice, and each bandaid affixed on a elbow.