“Football and Missions,” New Era, Nov. 2004, 26
We were as tough as they come. In just a couple of weeks my friends and I would be graduating from eighth grade and be on our way to high school. One day during music time toward the end of that year, the teacher thrilled the boys by announcing that the high school freshman football coach was coming to talk to those interested in trying out for the team in the fall. Gladly, every boy in class joined the mass exodus into the gym.
We sat noisily on the floor, poking and jabbing each other when this mountain of a man walked in. He squared off, faced us, and said, “Men, if you want to play high school football, there are a few things I want you to do.” He outlined some basic conditioning techniques and cautioned us against eating too much candy and drinking too much soda pop. He told us to run every day and ride our bikes as often as possible. He even suggested we lift weights and find jobs that required discipline, strength, and stamina. He talked of the fun and thrill we could get by playing and winning but reminded us that the opponents were out to win as well.
As you might guess, the coach’s counsel went unheeded. We ate candy, goofed off, and took full advantage of a leisurely summer. Before we were ready, the summer was over and a letter came advising us where and when to pick up our football gear. On a hot August afternoon a rough-looking group of kids appeared at the gym door.
When all the equipment was issued, we were ordered onto the field, where the coach had us warm up by knocking shoulder pads with each other. We were then assigned positions according to size and where we happened to be standing. We were taught a few plays, which we practiced for about 30 minutes. By then we were all hot and tired.
The coach then blew his whistle and lined us up on the goal line. We expected a short pep talk before we headed for the welcome cool of the showers. We were mistaken. The coach said, “When I blow the whistle, run full speed to the 20-yard line, and line up there.” I didn’t see much sense in that, but we all obeyed. At the 20, he blew the whistle again and had us run back to the goal line. Now things were beginning to get ridiculous. Why would he want us to just run back and forth?
On the second sprint from the goal line to the 20, several of my friends ran to the sidelines, ripped off their helmets and began throwing up. I guess the combination of heat, physical exertion, and the poor shape we were in had taken its toll. On the way back from the 20 to the goal line, several more dropped out. Back to the 20 we went, only this time I started feeling sick. On my way back downfield to the goal line, I dropped out and joined my friends. The coach finally called us all together and rather sternly chewed us out for not taking seriously his challenge to prepare. He finished his speech by informing us that we would meet at 6:00 a.m. the next morning for a three-hour workout and more wind sprints. Several players assured the coach they wouldn’t be there. They walked to the locker room and turned in their gear.
True to the coach’s word, we started practice at 6:00 a.m. It wasn’t nearly so hot, but the wind sprints made a bunch of us sick all over again. When the coach announced another practice at 4:30 that afternoon, another half dozen guys quit.
The 4:30 practice was terrible. My muscles were sore. I even had soreness where I didn’t know I had muscles. By the next morning almost half the team had dropped out. But after a week the soreness was gone, the practices started to be fun, and the anticipation of the first game increased our excitement. By the end of the season we determined that the coach was right. Football was fun.
Later, as a mission president, I thought back on those experiences the same way I think about mission preparation. Too many young men and young women think all they have to do is show up and they will be prepared to serve a mission.
Every month we went through one of the most enjoyable rituals you could imagine. My wife, my assistants, and I would go to the airport and welcome to the mission a new group of missionaries from the Missionary Training Center. They varied in size and shape, but they all shared one thing in common—they were excitedly scared.
Many had waited a lifetime for that very moment. Others had only recently decided to serve. Some were well prepared, while others were woefully unprepared. In my first interview with them, I always asked how the missionaries felt. The nervous energy and excitement filled the air with electricity. They sensed that more diligent preparation would have been very helpful.
A mission will be a wonderful experience if you are prepared to serve. Start today preparing by doing what missionaries do. What a shame to be unprepared when it is your time to “play.” How grateful you will be if you have taken your preparation time seriously. Think what an honor it is to be on the Lord’s team during the last minutes of the fourth quarter of the greatest game ever played.
You can find other articles on this topic, such as “Preparing for Missionary Service” (Ensign, May 2003) by Elder Daryl H. Garn, in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org.