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Discipline: lessons from football

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- This past Friday night, high school football teams predicted to roll over their crosstown rivals came up short, there were numerous surprises on Saturday when top-25 teams were crushed, and previously winless teams beat playoff contenders on Sunday. I watched some teams gain long yardage on some plays and score on others, only to be called back due to holding, offsides, or other penalties and the penalized teams ended up losing the game. The losing teams had star athletes with individual honors, destined to compete "at the next level," while the press lauded winning teams with phrases of "well coached" and "more disciplined."

I remember well the days of extra pain when our team missed blocks, had excessive penalties, lost momentum with turnovers, or tackled poorly. If it was me, I expected a coach or two, along with my fellow players, in my face "helping me" along with the Monday film review replaying my bad play over and over again. Three lessons became clear - and those who didn't get them usually weren't on the field the next week:

1) We could never cut corners in our preparation and had to obey the rules of the game and those of our coaches;

2) We counted on each other for success and played as a team no matter how good we were individually; and

3) We had to play our positions to the best of our abilities - on every play - whether a game or practice. Teams that let those things slide never had winning records.

We took those lessons with us long after we hung up our cleats. As I boil them down, they could all be summed up with the word "discipline" which originates from the Latin root discere "to learn." Individually, those football lessons above now look a lot like integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do. How many problems have you seen during your service that resulted from one of our brothers or sisters in arms not following through on one of these core values? When you saw a problem, what did you do about it?

Discipline is not just the stuff of commanders, senior officers, and senior NCOs. Discipline is the bed-rock on what separates our profession from all others and enables the public trust of the military as custodians of lethal force. Every Airman must have the self-discipline to know and uphold Air Force guidance and the courage to correct fellow Airmen who don't.

Each time you walk by a problem, you are setting (knowingly or un-knowingly) a lower than acceptable standard of performance. The best and most remembered lessons are those when your teammates are in your face reminding you what the standard is, how they must be up-held, what you did that violates the standard, and how you should correct your behavior. By stepping in, they are saying they care about you, your mission, and that they will help you become the very best you can be.

The lessons of football are important to remember, but in our Air Force the stakes are always much higher. As General Patton once said, "The prize for a game is nothing. The prize for this war is the greatest of all prizes - freedom."