The men are taught by talks and blackboard demonstrations, and then are required to go through field demonstrations at slow speed, so that each one will get an actual visualization as well as theory of each maneuver before he is required to employ his full energy in the finished performance.
It is only in the more vital contests that the degree of intelligence required is fully appreciated, and then only by those who understand the fundamental reasons behind the sudden change in the complexion of a game. In such critical contests each offensive play requires, first, the discovery or creation of a point of weakness in the opposing defense, and, second, the intelligent selection of the play which will best take advantage of that weakness. Each defensive play consists of the proper deployment of the defensive men to meet the offensive formation and then the quick and accurate diagnosis of the play once it is underway, to determine the nature and point of attack in order to meet it successfully. In either case the failure of any one of the eleven individuals in any single play may mean the difference between success and defeat.
This is one of the many reasons why those participating in the game must be willing to submit to the most rigid discipline. Only by such discipline can errors be minimized if not eliminated. Only by such discipline can each man's full attention and physical energy be confined to the particular duty assigned to him for the accomplishment of an ultimate result. Every man cannot run with the ball, nor can every man be allowed his own discretion in choosing the particular territory he prefers to defend. It is a game of individual sacrifice for the general good of the team - the submission to the command of the directing player with an ever present realization that success is dependent upon the perfect performance of each individual.
This necessity for concerted action teaches the individual that accomplishment requires organization and response to intelligent leadership. This is the lesson of team efficiency as opposed to disjointed individual effort, no matter how brilliant. Few people realize that it takes more than a few so-called stars to make a good football team. On the other hand many great football teams have made stars of mediocre individuals.
There is still another form of discipline which is of equal if not greater value to the student of football. It is the intensive discipline of the individual over himself. First, he must learn the comparatively simple rule of self-control. Displays of temper, no matter how provoking the occasion, do no good and generally greatly interfere with the thinking processes of the angered individual. Second, he must learn that few, if any, men ever reach the limit of their development. Most men do not begin to know themselves, their capacity to stand physical fatigue and their power to absorb bodily punishment. Many so-called "quitters" are men who have never been properly taught to make use of the possibilities within themselves. These men have permitted the natural repulsion of the body to punishment to create an atmosphere of fear. They think only of the relief which comes from desisting. By a process of education such an individual can be taught to master this fear by the gradual realization that exhaustion and pain are but temporary, and that recovery therefrom is astoundingly rapid. Following this discovery the individual soon begins to discipline himself by the exercise of his will to bring out latent power. He learns that his body, properly cared for, is something to command rather than to yield to; and soon he is able to measure properly and expend intelligently his full natural physical resources.
The player becomes introspective; then he begins to see also within others - his own teammates and his opponents. He learns to appraise others, to appreciate their weakness and their strength. In short, he has made a great stride in the understanding of human nature.
The game contains many other valuable experiences for the individual. He learns the necessity of hard, untiring effort to secure skill and perfection of performance. He gains the confidence to assume full responsibilities, and the ability to work unaffected in the presence of large audiences. The intelligent player soon learns to take victory modestly, to accept defeat gracefully, and to analyze these victories and defeats for the ascertainment of the real underlying causes. In short the game provides unlimited opportunity for self development, not only along physical lines, but also in creating powers of imagination and resourcefulness.
Furthermore, there are certain team attributes that are peculiarly emphasized in this sport. Football is essentially a game of team evolutions and team accomplishments. In no other sport is it so fundamentally essential to develop in a team a spirit of brotherly love and loyalty, and to gather the players together by a bond of sympathy which will enable them to respond readily and unitedly to the pyschology of the occasion.
More recently the increasing interest in the game has aroused the criticism that important inter-collegiate contests have become great "public spectacles," with an intimation that they are not altogether healthy for the college or for the public. It is difficult to formulate any definite reply because of the somewhat intangible nature of the criticism.
Those who attend these week-end "spectacles" are undergraduates, graduates, and the public at large. The undergraduate generally acts as escort to parents, friends, or girl acquaintances; and after the game spends the evening in some healthy form of entertainment. That undergraduate who has spent the afternoon out of doors, feeling almost as keenly as the players themselves the pangs of defeat or the joys of victory, and has spent the evening in the companionship of his friends or relatives, is far better off than the undergraduate who, on Saturdays when there is no game to hold him, starts out in search of some sort of amusement which may be much less wholesome.
Again, on what other occasion do hearts beat in such unison and such common impulses move the crowd? What is more effective to quicken in the veins of the undergraduate a deep and lasting loyalty to his Alma Mater and to develop a spirit of kinship among men who, in the classroom, have gazed at each other almost as strangers? In other words, the game of football is itself an institution, molding what is spoken of in American universities as "college spirit."
It is hardly necessary to point out what the game means to the graduate, whether he is able to attend in person or learn of its results by telegraphic or newspaper reports.
Is there any graduate who does not hear with a thrill of pride of the achievements of his university team? To see the team play and to talk about the team and the players makes a graduate young again, and furnishes a relaxation to his tired mind and a stimulation to his discouraged soul that sends him back to his work a better and a stronger man.
There is nothing which brings the thoughts of the average graduate back to his college and keeps him in touch with his Alma Mater quite so much as the football season. It is hard to believe that this participation in the "public spectacle" prevents a man from following with keen interest the educational progress and the scientific achievements of his college. If they are obscured to any degree it is only because the newspaper notoriety given to the game for the moment has been perhaps disproportionate.
As for the public at large, is it possible that their attendance at the game or their reading of the results in the daily newspapers is productive of some baneful influence? On the contrary it would seem that what is good for the undergraduate or the graduate must also be good for the public, because after all the only difference is one of fortune and not of breed. Certainly no greater opportunity presents itself for the wholesale teaching of good sportsmanship and of gentlemanly conduct.
In this connection we may refer again to organized cheering. This queer collegiate form of expression at one time threatened to outgrow its usefulness. The imaginative and resourceful undergraduate developed it almost to the point of abuse. A movement for its abolition resulted. But clearer minds discerned its possibilities and guided its course into sounder channels until it is now recognized as a most effective means of stimulating good sportsmanship. Through organized cheering new ideals have been conveyed to the spectator, such as the impropriety of applauding when an opponent is penalized or a player injured, or of attempting to confuse the players or prevent them from giving or hearing their signals. In short, in spite of the tremendous enthusiasm and partisanship of a football audience, that same crowd, perhaps ninety thousand in all, has come to typify all that is best and most sportsmanlike in American athletic gatherings.
In conclusion, football is inherently an American game and essentially a college game. In it we find most of the red-blooded ideals which we are proud to believe are particularly American. If by reason of the strenuosity of the game, evils now and then crop out, let us patiently trust that they will soon be ironed away; and if by reason of the intense enthusiasm of the spectators the game assumes a position of exaggerated importance, let us rest assured that under intelligent guidance sooner or later it will reach its proper level. But in the meantime, let us not in a criticism of the superficialities of the game overlook those things which make it so distinctly worth while.