I was a pretty good football player in my younger days. Because I was tall, strong, and fairly quick for my size, my coaches put me at defensive end. I had most of the skills I needed to play the position but, my friends, I definitely did not have the brain.

Once I figured out whom to hit or tackle, I could do the job. This important revelation seldom came to me until the man with the ball was well down the field. Let’s just say my coaches were less than pleased. I ran a lot of laps after practice, did a lot of push-ups, and spent a lot of time listening to my coaches tell me things about my birth and my body parts that I did not know.

Fortunately, one of my coaches had played in the NFL, and he knew what to do. One day, in complete sputtering frustration, he grabbed the facemask of my helmet and dragged me to my place on the defensive line. Then, red faced and spitting mad, he said, “Listen, you *%!#*. I’m going to make it simple because you are so @*#!^# stupid! This,” and he started dragging me along the perimeter of an imaginary box, “is your territory. No one, but no one, goes through this territory with the ball. Never, not once. If it ever happens I’m going to make you wish you’d never been born. Got it, you idiot?”

Coach could have used an anger management class or two, but he was a genius. I had been lost in trying to anticipate option plays and read “looks” and do unintelligible things like “string out the play.” Do what with string? Coach made it simple. This is your territory. Own it. Guard its borders. Repel all invaders. Hunt down any threat and disarm it.

This I understood. This I could do. And I became a much better player. It helped that coach knew how to reinforce a lesson. When I failed to guard my territory in one particular game, he told me to meet him on the field early the following Monday morning before school. I arrived that morning in the dark and the cold—it was late November in Iowa. Coach met me and handed me scissors. He said he wanted me to “mow” the grass in my territory. He said I would probably guard it better if I took care of it. So I spent the next hour shivering on my knees and trying to see well enough to cut grass with scissors.

I cannot describe the difference this made in my simple little mind. I cut grass every morning of that school week, and I got to know every bare spot, rock and patch of grass in my territory. Because I knew it so well and suffered over it so miserably, I got protective—just what that sinister coach intended. He wanted me to own my part of the field, occupy my territory. I did. Frankly, I became a bit imbalanced. I discovered that I did not want anyone trampling on the blades of grass that had become my early-morning friends.

I started destroying running backs and splattering blockers who dared to sweep my way. Before long, I realized that the best way to keep the enemy from my territory was to hit the quarterback early and take away his ball. I did this often. I already possessed the strength and speed I needed long before coach turned me into a mental case. I just needed to understand my job and have some heartfelt reason for doing it. Defending my territory—and protecting my little grass buddies—proved reason enough.

Manning your territory

Though this illustration might make you wonder if I’m sane, let me tell you it describes one of the defining features of genuine, effective manhood. Listen up. Every man has been given territory. Let’s call it a field. It might help some men to think of it as a zone. This territory is defined by what a man is responsible for. The key to powerful manhood is that a man fully owns—takes responsibility for, tends, stands guard over, assures the healthy condition of—the field assigned to him.

When a man first starts out in the world, he may only be responsible for half a dorm room and a rusty car. He might also have a part-time job, schoolwork, and the care of body and soul to think about. These things make up his field. It’s what he’s responsible for. All of it. If he’s a serious man who knows something of genuine manhood, he tends these things with zeal and devotion. They comprise the field assigned to him for this season of his life. And he knows that real men tend their fields.

His broader challenge is to learn to “man” his territory as a lifestyle. If he goes on a date, he understands he is responsible: not because his lady is weak and stupid, but because he asked her out and that, in the mind of a manly man, means he is responsible. He makes sure his date is safe. He makes sure he can do what he has promised to do—dinner and a movie, the horseback ride, the arrangements with friends—and he doesn’t violate either her boundaries or the boundaries of God.

This sounds very “old school.” It is. Get used to it. Being a real man in this generation is a great deal about recovering some old ways we should never have thrown aside.

Faithfulness is the key

So a man takes responsibility for his field—even if this field is only a dorm room, an old clunky car, a suitcase of clothes, his studies, and an occasional date. He mans his zone because he knows it is his job as a man. He also knows, though, that when a man tends his field, it leads to a bigger field.

If our young man tends this first field well, he may eventually have a wife, a home, and meaningful work to do. Then, perhaps, there will be children, increased income to manage, and a role to fulfill in the community. He doesn’t resent these duties. He mans his zone out of love for those who have been entrusted to him and the calling of God. He takes responsibility for the field assigned to him because he knows this is what he is put on earth to do. He also knows that faithfulness now is the key to increase later. So he guards and nurtures what he’s assigned. In time, who knows? His art impacts a larger audience. His message is more widely heard. He influences more hearts and minds. Maybe he’s entrusted with managing a city. Or guiding a church. Or leading a nation.

Man your territory. It’s what men do. It’s how men love. It’s also how increase comes.

Adapted from Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men, copyright ©2013 by Stephen Mansfield. Used with permission of Thomas Nelson.