Kids do the darndest things. Yet, while the Twitterverse was momentarily captivated by a teen and his finger-ready smartphone filming of the fast-approaching superstar Justin Timberlake during Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, a more important story for young people was unfolding on the (not) frozen tundra of U.S. Bank Stadium.
What was it? The tenacity and triumph of another superstar, journeyman backup Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.
Indeed, one of the great things about sports is the imparting of important life lessons through the best of times (think Foles and Lindsey Vonn) and the worst of times (think Ryan Lochte and Tiger Woods). And many of those lessons relate directly to one’s character.
In truth, character was in no short supply on both sides of the ball during Super Bowl LII.
But what stood out to many was the MVP performance of an on-again, off-again player who himself admitted that he had considered quitting the game he loved. His perseverance paid off.
And perseverance can be hard to find.
In his 2017 book The Vanishing American Adult – Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, United States Senator Ben Sasse bemoans resistance to “adulting” among some of today’s youth. He states, “We have a bottleneck of young people to help transform from children into productive, responsible men and women. Our problem today is not just that we are failing to foster good character but also that we are failing even to imagine together what success would look like” (Sasse, 2017).
I think we saw it Sunday night.
So what’s the problem? In a 2016 TIME magazine cover story Susanna Schrobsdorff says, “Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Sometimes they’re called spoiled or coddled or helicoptered” (Schrobsdorff, 2016).
What’s the remedy?
It’s resiliency, according to researcher Bonnie Benard. The good news, she says, is that it comes naturally. “We are all born with innate resiliency, with the capacity to develop the traits commonly found in resilient survivors: social competence (responsiveness, cultural flexibility, empathy, caring, communication skills, and a sense of humor); problem-solving (planning, help-seeking, critical and creative thinking); autonomy (sense of identity, self-efficacy, self-awareness, task-mastery, and adaptive distancing from negative messages and conditions); and a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future (goal direction, educational aspirations, optimism, faith, and spiritual connectedness)” (Benard, 2014).
Benard goes on to talk about “protective factors” that hold our young people in good stead, offering, “the term referring to the characteristics of environments that appear to alter – or even reverse – potential negative outcomes and enable individuals to transform adversity and develop resilience despite risk, comprise three broad categories. Caring relationships convey compassion, understanding, respect, and interest, are grounded in listening, and establish safety and basic trust. High expectation messages communicate not only firm guidance, structure, and challenge but, and most importantly, convey a belief in the youth’s innate resilience and look for strengths and assets as opposed to problems and deficits. Lastly, opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution include having opportunities for valued responsibilities, for making decisions, for giving voice and being heard, and for contributing one’s talents to the community” (Benard, 2014).
Similarly, research from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) reveals that critical lessons learned during the formative teenage years, including ones reflecting individual responsibility, personal initiative, sociability, optimism and adaptability, inform character development and a propensity to be of benefit to others (Wallace, 2014).
Adaptability. That brings us back to Nick Foles, now a champion, thanks, in many ways, to character traits that kept him in the game, on the hunt. As he said in an interview after the big game, “‘I think the big thing is don’t be afraid to fail,’ Foles said. ‘In our society today, with Instagram and Twitter, it’s a highlight. It’s all the good things. When you look at it, you have a bad day, you think your life isn’t as good, you’re failing. Failure is a part of life. It’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times, made mistakes. We are all human. We all have weaknesses … I’m not perfect. I’m not Superman. We might be in the NFL and we might have just won the Super Bowl, but we all have daily struggles. That’s where my faith comes in. That’s where my family comes in. I think when you look at a struggle in your life, just know that it’s an opportunity for your character to grow’” (Reyes, 2018).
Nick Foles, defying the odds and demonstrating for young and old alike that failure moves us forward, not backward. A great message for youth.