Pardon the Facebook-post nature of this blog. I’ll get to the point, but do to one of those life moments, humor me for a moment.

Happy back to school week! I wish all of you with children returning to school the best as the morning rush and afternoon homework struggles resume.

For many of us, the back to school routine actually started a few weeks ago with training that is required of the fall sports athletes.

I have a son starting high school. He decided to play JV football. Now, this is not the first time he’s expressed a desire to play football. Three years ago, he went out for a youth football team as a 11-year-old. Two practices in, he broke his arm. Frankly, I hoped he would never play again.

I played football from the time I was nine years old through my freshman year of college. I was a blue-collar kid from Massachusetts, and playing football was what blue-collar kids from Massachusetts did. Growing up in New England, the game of football, in a lot of communities, is frowned upon. Concussions, ugly injuries, and the preconceived notion that those who play are meatheads and somewhat dim are fairly prevalent. As someone with a Rocky Balboa-ish face, I was certainly picked on for being a football player.

It’s not going to happen to my kids, I told myself. I’m not going to encourage the game. Other than my unhealthy obsession and man-crush on Tom Brady, I would not encourage my boys to even follow football. I decided that my wife and I are going to raise our boys to use their heads, not their brawn.

Nevertheless, 14 years of autumn Sundays (and God willing many more decades to come) of watching that superhuman of a man, Tom Brady, on TV, my oldest son’s desire to play football grew, and we reluctantly acquiesced, allowing him to play for the JV team as a freshman.

He started practice, weight training, and conditioning two months ago in the oppressive South Carolina heat. He never once complained. His pudgy, cute, lovable, teddy bear body began to transform into a sturdy young man. His confidence grew, albeit sometimes too much for my liking, developing a penchant for talking back and arguing. Then the helmet and pads were donned a couple weeks ago, and I thought, this will do it. The bumps, bruises and sore muscles will take their toll. And of course, we won’t allow him to quit, but he won’t decide to play next year, and he’ll just stick to golf. Well, that didn’t happen. He came home and said, “Ya know, dad? Hitting people is kind of fun. You don’t really feel it.” Well, shit, I thought.

My next opportunity was school. Surely, once school started, the daily 6:00am wake up calls to make it on time to his new school combined with the required study hall immediately after school followed by the 5-8 pm practice will do it. That will discourage him. He’ll stay safe. No more threat of broken bones or hurt feelings. After that first day, when we got home at 8:45pm, I asked him how his first day of school went. At that moment, he reminded me of why sports exist and why they are so popular. Why people live and die with “their” teams and why we, as human beings, are drawn to play sports.

You see, Tommy has been at the same elementary and middle school for nine straight years, beginning as a kindergartener and going all the way through 8th grade. The first day of high school was his first time at any new school of any sort in his life. His grade school never had him in a class with more than 15 kids, and he excelled and thrived there. He admitted that he was nervous walking in to his new high school. He was early, and no one was around. He felt alone and out of place. He’d never admit it, but possibly he was a little scared and maybe even intimidated.

His answer to my question that night after practice, that once he walked into the school, he saw some kids from his team. The same kids he’d been practicing and training with for the past two months. He said when the kids from his team came over to greet him, “everything got better.” He felt comfortable, at ease, and he knew that he could handle everything about that bigger school, with a lot more kids (and girls, for the first time since 6th grade). To me, that is the magic of team sports. The result of the common struggle that binds people together.

Like everything else in life, it’s the people that matter. The connections. The relationships.

What does this have to do with a HR and Benefits Blog?

I held an event on recruitment and retention. As we went around the room at this workshop, each of us was asked to share what we looked for in an employee. What do we look for in a resume? Almost universally the responses were “were they athletes” or “did they play a sport?”

As I reflected on my experience from a personal development and professional standpoint, I realized how this all connects.

Personally, I can attribute any positive qualities I’ve developed as an adult to playing team sports in my youth. There are many sports that are ugly, clunky, and just not visually appealing when you are watching them. But that is not the point. It’s the life lessons learned from the commitment, the grind of practice, and the interpersonal relationships that are built during our formative years.

Professionally, as an HR and benefits advisor, I thought of that new employee. New to a company, entering a building for the first time, with many new faces. Do they have that experience to draw on like the new student at a high school who walks in and sees his teammates? If they do, don’t assume and take it for granted that they will manage. Wrap your arms around them welcoming them to the team.

If they don’t, perhaps it’s time to give them that feeling of welcoming for the first time, and have their experience with your company be that sentimental moment in their life where they feel it for the first time.

These experiences are not unique to football players. We see this in all levels of youth sports all the way through those who’ve served in the military. There are dangers in every endeavor, but the rewards are often greater than the risks.

So, let’s stop clutching our pearls and let the kids play ball!