Head injuries, namely concussions, are causing parents to rethink their decision of letting their kids play. Given rampant, publicized concussion problems in the NFL, amateur participation has begun to drop. Since 2006, amateur participation has dropped from nearly 11 million athletes to just 9 million in 2011. The recent suicide of Junior Seau has made even more parents question football. While there’s no doubt football that is a barbaric game, football teaches some valuable life lessons that cannot be taught in any other walk of life…

I’ll be honest—both my parents and I were skeptical when I first debated playing football. I was 14 years old and enjoyed a highly successful amateur baseball career. During the fall, I would play on a travel baseball team and a recreational soccer team. An injury from football could potential end any baseball dreams I had. However, most of my friends decided to play—and that was enough for me to give football a chance.

After my first practice, I realized why football is such a great game. Our first practice came in the weight room where everyone was trying to get stronger, bigger, and faster. The older, more experienced players were helping the younger players lift. They were mentoring us. As the summer progressed, we put on the pads and had our first two-a-day practice. During these practices, temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. Guys would cramp up and struggle–but no one was ever left behind. Regardless of the task, everyone made sure no one was left behind. Quitting was never an option.

During practice, relationships formed. I became friends with people who I would never hang out with otherwise. During drills, I had no choice, but to trust my team mates. Without a collective effort, none of us would be successful. If one person failed or missed their assignment, the team would fail. Letting my teammates down was never an option.

While I’m on the topic of two-a-days, a certain bond is formed. Regardless of talent level, everyone earned each other’s respect. Two-a-days are not only a physical struggle–they are a mental struggle. On some mornings, I didn’t want to practice. Hell, I didn’t want to get out of bed. However, that desire to help my teammates kept me going. Those long, hot summer days build character. Those practices turn boys into men. Those practices instilled values and morals that can’t be duplicated elsewhere.

After summer practice ended, an identity was formed. Games began and we enjoyed both success and failure. The pure rush of winning a football game is second to none. As an offensive lineman, it was my duty to make sure I did my job. I had to block for the running backs and protect the quarterback. Those players trusted me to do my job–and I wasn’t going to let them down. While winning was great, losing made everyone that much more hungry.

During my four year football career, I made friendships that will last for the rest of my life. I learned to handle success and overcome failure. I learned to trust people that I barely knew. I have carried those lessons into the classroom and now into my professional career. I wouldn’t be where I am today without football.

Sure, I had my share of injuries and at times hid concussions. I would knock opposing players down and even get knocked down myself. However, picking myself up after every play made me realize that I had become mentally tough. I had earned the respect of my teammates and felt like a more confident person.

Football teaches athletes so many valuable lessons. Team work, dedication, and mental toughness are only a few of those lessons. Sure, the injuries suck, but everyone plays hurt. It’s part of the game. Excuses have no place on the football field and in the game of life.

Someday, I’m sure my son will ask me if he can play football. As a dad, I’ll tell him about the physical complications of playing, but the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks. Football builds character–and more kids should be playing.