By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Jacksonville Jaguars running back and wide receiver Denard Robinson has nothing but good memories from his days playing youth football. In fact, one of his primary community endeavors is his continued involvement with the program he was a part of so many years ago, the Deerfield Beach Rattlers. The Deerfield, Florida native began playing football at the age of 10. Now, more than a decade later, 24-years-old and is his third year in the NFL, he remains very connected with the place and people that helped launch his career and give him tools he will use throughout his life. He remains a presence with these young athletes, spending as much of his free time as possible, guiding and encouraging them to get the most from their experience.
The second youngest the seven children of Dorothea and Thomas Robinson, Sr., Robinson was just following in his older brothers’ footsteps when he first started playing football. But he was immediately hooked by the combination of competition and friendship. Ultimately it turned out to be even more.
“I think it’s what kids should do,” Robinson said of youth team sports and football in particular. “It teaches you how to work with people and work around them and handle them in different situations. It also teaches you discipline and how to become a leader. People will follow you if you do things the right way. It helped me with leadership.”
Robinson embraced the discipline and, in hindsight, appreciates it even more, pointing to the strength it instills. He pointed out that in life there will be always be a wide variety of challenges; Being able to take criticism and respond in a positive way are important tools in the maturation process and contribute to achieving success.
“It teaches you to do things the right way,” he said. “The strong discipline is a positive. You have to understand how to handle pressure and how to respond.”
Staying connected with his childhood program provides him with a great deal of satisfaction. In addition to being fun for him, he has watched as some of the players he has mentored have blossomed and become self-confident young adults who have the maturity and social skills to take on each next step in their lives. Some of those players are now in high school with real opportunities to move on to college, based not only on their athletic talent, but through their academic achievements. He continues to impress upon them the importance of teamwork, discipline and focus and that there are people to support them and they should take advantage of that guidance.
“I just want to let them know that I come from the same background,” Robinson said. “I want to help them understand that when someone’s talking to you, they’re trying to make you better.
While there are too many memories for Robinson to pick his favorite, one that still stands out is the one he’s related often and never tires of telling. Back in the eighth grade, Robinson’s coach watched as he sprinted down the field with a shoelace flying behind him; A heart-stopping moment for the coach who waited with bated breath to see what would happen to his young protégée. Robinson scored and forever after has answered to the nickname that was bestowed upon him that day: Shoelace.
To this day, Robinson doesn’t tie his shoes (although he is required to loosely lace his game day cleats). While that particular fashion choice is not one that Robinson necessarily advocates for his young devotees, as he moves ahead through his professional career he does stand behind his belief that youth sports can be an important foundation for future accomplishments.