Controlled Adversity: Hell Week

One of the main reasons to play football is that it is hard. The defining feature of playing the sport is every person who plays has to do one thing, over and over and over: get back up. And not just get back up right away, but get back up when you’re tired, filthy, and just plain cranky. Compared to other sports, football players spend hours and hours at practice for a payoff of just a handful of plays once a week, a few weeks a year. It’s a grind.

But that’s what makes it great. It’s a cliche that the controlled adversity a football player — and more importantly a football team — faces is preparation for real adversity in life, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Yet, particularly for high school football players who will never play again, it’s also one of the last times in their lives they will face that adversity not alone, but with a team of equals to share the experience with and rely on.

Last night I saw a screening of Hell Week, a short documentary airing tonight (August 22) on ESPN2 at 7:30pm, which captures a slice of that experience by following the Station Camp High School (Tennessee) team during their four night fall camp.

Hell Week, presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods, is a sort of Junction Boys for high school football (though, according to the film’s director Paul Canney, unlike Bear Bryant’s infamous camp none of the Camp Station players actually tapped out during the week). Camp Station’s coaches had done these camps in the past but hadn’t in recent years due to scheduling, but the team had regressed in recent years, so they felt that doing the camp would be a way not only to teach skills but to bring the team closer — it’s clear the purpose of this camp was as a retreat as much as it was about football skills.

It’s a brief look — covering just a few nights, with a runtime of just 22 minutes — but an effective one; one of the great things about youth — and high school football in particular — is almost every experience we have is naturally imbued with meaning, and that comes through. Almost everyone who played football at any level say that what they miss most is being part of a team, and overcoming the challenges together, something that stays with them forever. I’m not sure how Camp Station will do this year, but even if it’s disappointment, that’s will just be another part of what they’ve learned. The team’s motto, “One Team, One Dream” isn’t spelled out in the film, but maybe that’s for the best: for many, high school football is about learning to pursue any dream, a skill too few ever learn.

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