As I was packing up the car to take my kids to baseball practice yesterday, I overheard a rather humorous encounter between two kids in my driveway. One child wanted the other to stay outside and play with him on his bike while the other was on his way to baseball practice and needed to get in car to head out. As they continued to dialogue, it became evident to the kid in the neighborhood that the other one was going to practice and was not able to stay; which is when he shouted at the top of his lungs to the other “sports won’t work! sports won’t work!” I knew what he meant in that moment; he wanted his friend to stay and ride bikes but he had to go to practice, that’s it. The statement however, got my wheels turning.
Sports won’t work. I wonder if in evangelical world we’ve actually swung the pendulum so far in one direction that we’ve forgotten the beauty of sports and it’s impact in life for kids. Competing in sports is not an enemy of the heart, but the idolatry of sports is. My wife and I both competed briefly on the collegiate level in sports (baseball and crew) so we consider ourselves to be fans of sports/athletics, so take the following with a grain of salt.
From a Student Pastor perspective, here are a few reasons why I believe sports do work and can be beneficial to the growth of our children as disciples and also a few warnings to parents. Here we go.
- Don’t let sport become an identity: Often times the push for a child to become great at a sport comes from the parent, and it’s because we want them to be a ‘great _______ player.’ When that becomes a driving force for a parent, we begin to slap that label/identity on our children rather than the identity of sons/daughters of God. (And just a side note on this, as your child grows older, they begin to pick up quickly that this is your passion for them and not their passion. Be very careful here!)
- Evaluate your time: Sports demand more time as your kids get older. Throw multiple kids in the mix and all of a sudden you’re only sleeping at your house rather than building a home there. When was the last time you had a meal together as a family around the table? When was the last time your entire family was together in the house? Don’t be afraid to take a night off from practices!
- Examine your motives: Why do you do sports in your home? Why do your kids do sports? Hopefully it’s because sports are fun and the camaraderie is great. Out of that it can lead to other things, but don’t forget that sports are recreation not vocation for our kids. They may lead to vocation at some point, but right now it’s simply not true (or…sadly…maybe it is?)
Why I think sports can work: (the first two are geared towards the players, the 3rd towards parents)
- Team: Sports provide an outlet for hands on application of “belonging to others.” We teach that biblical principle to our kids in our churches right? (See Acts 2:42) On a team you have different personalities, different talents, different passions. A team strives for unity, not uniformity. That’s an easy on ramp to helping our kids see the beauty of the church. We all have gifts, passions, personalities, etc. and it’s our joy to devote ourselves to one another. Sports can work.
- Training: Any player that wants to get better at a sport will need to train. They’ll need to get faster, bigger, and stronger as they get older. You can’t just show up to the game and expect to win if you haven’t put the time in to train (regardless of what Allen Iverson says.) When I read 1 Timothy 4, I see Paul encouraging Timothy to do the same thing spiritually. TRAIN yourself for godliness. You can’t just show up for life and expect to be godly. You’ve got to train yourself in spiritual disciplines. You’ve got to learn to say no to some things so you can say yes to better things. Sports can work.
- Mission: Practically speaking, when you’re kids are involved in sports in their community, you as a parent get the opportunity to interact with parents from all over your city. Build friendships with other families. See this as an opportunity that God has afforded you to allow the beauty of the gospel to overflow from your life into the lives of others that you interact with. We make disciples as we go, and sports are a ‘going’ in our lives. Sports can work.