New England Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson believes when you become a better teammate you become a better person

You can’t reach every single one of your goals, said former New England Patriots Hall of Famer and former college coach Steve Nelson. And he’s learned not only to be philosophical but to recognize how much there is to be learned from that lesson. For example, he played in three Pro Bowls, but said that “I would trade that experience a hundred times to play for one team that won the Super Bowl.” When he did finally make it to the Super Bowl in 1986, his team lost. Naturally, that was disappointing, Steve said, but only served to underscore his belief that “as you dream and you set goals, you also come to realize that you don’t make all your goals, and that’s okay.”

The linebacker who missed only three games during his 14-season career with the Patriots explains his longevity as a function of his passion for football—and its underlying structure. “You really have to love and enjoy the sport, enjoy your teammates, and be able to have a great experience playing, no matter what sport you play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether your sport is football or another team sport or even an individual sport; there are still the same fundamentals required to reach your goal.”

The fact that he believes so strongly in being part of a team may partially explain his commitment to football. “The first thing you have to recognize about playing on a team is that the team comes first. Once you understand and accept that, you really start enjoying what team sports are all about.”

“When you’re part of an effectively functioning team, you appreciate everyone else more. You understand people more. You get to know them better when you’re all doing something for a common cause. You develop greater relationships with your teammates.” And yet that doesn’t mean giving up your sense of worth as an individual, he emphasizes. “When you understand everyone else’s job, that understanding paves the way to individual success. And as you become a better teammate, that translates into you becoming a better person.”

After all, Steve pointed out, as part of a team, you can be playing at the top of your game and still end up losing because of other players. When that happens, “You understand that things don’t always go the way you planned and you have to make adjustments. Sometimes no matter how much you adjust, you’re still going to be beaten. These are all the little life lessons that football teaches you about not giving up. And about the fact that working hard really does count toward your success.”

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