From an outsider's perspective, it is hard to understand the social aspect of a sports team. How could a fan know what happens in practice between players and coaches on a day to day basis? There is so much that goes into each and every sports team, and almost one hundred percent of the time, the interactions that occur behind the scenes shape what happens on the field for a team. For me, that was most definitely the case with my senior year football team. Our team was the second team in school history to make it to the state championship (which we sadly lost 29-17), and I wholeheartedly believe that the reason we were so successful was due to our team’s culture and social structure.
Our culture consisted of many different components that brought us closer as a team. There were countless norms for our team that became so routine that they became habitual. For summer practices, every player and all of the coaches wore our maroon practice shorts paired with our practice t shirts sloganed “One at a Time.” We could only wear adidas socks and cleats. When we jogged out to the field, every player and coach had to touch the statue of our schools founder by the gate before entering the field. Once the whistle blew, players were not to take their helmets off from the beginning of practice until the final whistle. This is just a small list of what I would consider our team’s folkways. These were things that we did without question, and if we didn’t abide by them, we would have to pay the price in sprints at the end of practice. Nothing too serious, but nobody wanted to do sprints, so most people followed these rules. On a more serious note, there were rules that resulted in being kicked off of the team. These were our mores. Ferrante states that, “Mores are norms that people define as essential to the well-being of a group” (Ferrante 64). Some of our mores were no drinking and smoking during the season, no cheating in school or getting in fights, and no discrimination against anyone. Breaking any of these rules resulted in being kicked off the team. These were the limits set on our team. Aside from the norms that we became accustomed to, there were many symbols involved in our team’s culture.
As the defensive captain and middle linebacker, it was my job to call the plays for the defense. In order to do this, over the summer I had to spend extra time with my head coach learning the signs to relay to the defense. Because of the loud atmosphere, my coach would make a series of gestures from the sideline, which I would have to translate from the field and tell the defense what the play was. As Ferrante states, “That is, they learn that a wave of the hand means goodbye, that letters of the alphabet can be selected and arranged to make countless words” (Ferrante 33). It was nearly an entire new language I learned from all of the different possible gestures. This communication system made it easy for me to understand my coach, and made it more fluid for us as a team to do what we needed to do.
Another symbol of our team, and by far my favorite, was our attire for game days. Each game day, every coach and player was to wear a shirt and tie to school and on the bus too if it was an away game. According to our coach, the meaning behind wearing a shirt and tie was because he wanted us to treat each game like a business trip. He always told us that the shirt and tie meant we were going to do our business and win, and get out of there after our job was complete. The meaning behind this made us high school kids actually enjoy wearing nice clothes because it made us feel incredibly close when we would walk through the school halls and only football players would be dressed nice while the rest of the school would wish us luck as we walked by. It was the symbol of us being businessmen that really motivated us throughout the day, and when we continuously would win games on friday nights, we knew that we were in fact doing our jobs and taking care of our business.
Aside from the symbols involved with our team, there were many values we shared that had a major impact on our success. To start, our main value was effort. Not just effort in its own, but giving one hundred percent every play because it would be a sin not to. As a catholic private school, religion played a large role in the school community, as well as the football team. Our coach would tell us every day that not using what God gave us to its fullest potential is considered a sin in the eyes of the catholic faith, so if we didn’t give one hundred percent effort, we were letting God’s gifts to us go to waste. Not to be bias, but I’m convinced that we were the hardest working team in the state. We were small, didn’t have very many kids, and were always the underdogs, but because of our effort as a team, we were able to defy the odds. Other core values for our team consisted of the usuals such as respect, integrity, selflessness, etc, but we really valued being tougher than the team we were playing against. Ferrante states that “When Americans view an outstanding athletic feat, they tend to give more credit to an athlete’s innate talent or will to win than to hard work and discipline” (Ferrante 63). Our core value was hard work. It was important for us to know that even if we were outsized and outmanned, we would never give up or get outworked. This value of toughness put a chip on our shoulder that nobody could take away from us, and it lead us to great opportunities as a whole.
In order to experience all of the ups and downs of the football team, I first had to commit to the long, difficult, and painful season. The way someone is “socialized” into the team takes some time. Being a freshman is not easy, especially on the football team. The freshmen have to set up the meetings before practice, set up the equipment for practice on the field, clean off the field, and do all of the dirty work for the rest of the team. That’s just how it works. It's almost like a way of paying dues to be apart of something special. Doing all of the chores for the team is how a freshman earns his respect. Everyone has to do it as a freshman, so the seniors expect everyone to go through what they had to do. I’ll never forget my freshman year because it was definitely the hardest in regards of football, but it pays off, and once sophomore year starts, all of that respect is received. The only way all of this works, though, is through the social structure of the team as a whole.
There are many different statuses that play differing roles, all of which combine to produce a team that works like a well oiled machine. These different statuses and roles are what organize our team and allow us to each have an individual job. Some of the statuses I held my senior year were being one of the two team captains, playing middle linebacker, and playing offensive line. Each of these statuses I held had a differing role which contributed to different aspects of the team. As team captain, my role was to set a good example for the rest of the team, take control in high pressure situations, and to keep everyone in check during practice, games, and even off of the field. My roles for playing middle linebacker included calling the plays for the defense, filling my assigned gap for the play that was called, and to tackle whoever had the ball. When I played on offense, my roles were to block my man, not let the quarterback get hit, and to help up my teammates after they were tackled. All of these roles contributed to different areas of our team’s identity, but they all had an impact in their own ways. The statuses I held were achieved because I wasn’t given any of them. Achieved statuses come, “through some combination of personal choice, effort, and ability” Ferrante states (Ferrante 127). I had to work hard and put in many hours to achieve the statues I held my senior year.
Other statuses for our team included the head coach, assistant coaches, managers, and fans. Each assistant coach had a position that they specialized in, so there was one or more coaches for every position on the field. This meant that each assistant coach had his own respective role. The quarterback coach’s role was to train the quarterbacks, teach them new techniques, and teach the plays and routes to the quarterback. As for the rest of the position coaches, it was the same. Each position coach’s role was critical to the finished product. The assistant coaches get very little credit, but that’s just from the outsider perspective. Everyone involved in the team knows how much the assistant coaches contribute. The person who gets most of the credit, and rightfully so I believe, is the head coach. Our head coach was Mic Roessler, a massive, powerful, captivating, and intimidating figure. He is known across the state for his coaching success, and his passionate and motivating presence. His status goes beyond that of a regular football coach.
I would consider his identity as a coach has become a master status. Everyday he would tell us that football is his life besides family and faith, and it seems that everywhere he goes and everything he does involves football. His popularity among the state raises his status to a master status. The roles he takes for our team include motivating us every day, teaching us the plays, giving us life lessons during speeches, working with the offense, calling the plays, playing a father figure to the team, and many more. He is what brings the entire body of work together, and he makes sure that everything is going according to plan. His nickname around the school is “The Boss” because of the way he composes himself, and the success he has had with the school on and off the field. His master status was achieved, not ascribed, because he earned all of the respect he has as a football coach through years of hard work and sacrifice. The differing statuses and roles help to keep the team organized because if it weren’t for all of the different roles, we would never have been able to get anything done during practice or games. Our coach definitely experienced role strain with us. He would tell us not to talk to the refs and not to get in fights, but sometimes he would blow up on the refs and get into huge fights with other coaches or refs, even though he preaches the opposite. While it goes against his word, we as a team understand that he can’t be perfect, and we know that whenever he does go against his word it is for the betterment of the team.
Even in something as chaotic and dangerous as football, there is so much value in social structure and culture. While many people only see the touchdowns and celebrations, there is such an underlying importance in the way everything is organized and created in the time that isn’t a Friday night game. Football is a sport filled with commoradory, relationships, learning, and trust. Without all of the time and effort put in by each person involved on the team, none of it works in the end. The reason my team had such a great season my senior year came down to how we connected as friends, how we loved each other off the field, and how we organized our culture into a positive and productive culture.
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