Full disclosure. I love sports. Pretty much all of them. I am that guy who learned all the rules of curling when the winter olympics were on. (don’t believe me? ask our staff team….I once made a trip to the Columbus curling club our staff bonding event of the semester)
I also love my kids. I have 4 of them. They all play sports, and they all are remarkably mediocre. (is it possibly to be remarkably mediocre?…i’ll leave that for the philosophers) Anyway, you get the idea. No scholarships on the horizon for the Shah kids. But they have fun. And they run around.
So I was intrigued when I started reading all these articles on the internet about how we should interact with our kids when they play sports. In response to the ultra-competitive dysfunctional view of sports that many in our society have, they attempted to bring a more reasonable, uplifting way to interact with our kids. One phrase that kept coming up was saying to our kids, “I love to watch you play.” In fact one article put forth that that is the ONLY message we should pass along.
Now, let me say that “I love to watch you play” is a great phrase. I feel it & have told each of my kids. I think it communicates love and support and takes the emphasis off of pressure and performance. We can all agree that our children’s value does not come from how well they can vanquish another child in the grand arena of youth sports. This isn’t the hunger games.
But why does it have to stop there? As my kids have participated in sports I have found them to be one of THE BEST ways to engage them in life lessons. Sports are a gold mine for character development! Although I lead with the affirmation and encouragement….we also allow the conversation to hit topics like…..
1. Learning to love people
Sports can be a really cut-throat, demoralizing time for a lot of kids. What an amazing opportunity to teach our kids to be a light. How good a teammate are you? How gracious an opponent are you?
Last year my son Isaac actually got to go out for a few passes this year in football (in the 8-9yr old league, passing was a rare occurrence) Miraculously he caught a few balls (which was fun) but other times the QB would miss him. When that happened he would mope back to the huddle. Later (over froyo) I asked him about it, and it led to a great talk about responding with encouragement and being a positive influence in the huddle.
The last game of the season, when his last chance for a reception landed 5 yards in front of him in the dirt, I saw him run back to the huddle and give his demoralized QB an encouraging smack on the helmet. Pure gold.
2. Learning to deal with adversity
After practice one day Isaac reported, “Dad, one boy hit me so hard that mucus flew out of my nose”.
“HA! You mean he literally knocked the snot out of you? So what did you do?”
“I went out for a play and then came back in. And they ran the same play again! Guess what happened?”
“You were ready this time!”
“Nope. He did the exact same thing again. Knocked me right on my butt. It was painful but coach says he was proud of me for getting right back up and trying again”
3. Learning to be teachable
One of the things we ask our kids regularly is, “are you listening to your coach? are you doing what she (or he) says?”. We dream about our kids been teachable and humble as they go through life. Accepting wise counsel from many sources in their lives. Seems like an important life skill.
“Listen to advice and accept instruction,that you may gain wisdom in the future.” Prov 19:20 ESV
4. Learning to work hard
Why work hard? Isn’t it a game? Sure it is…and we want our kids to have fun and enjoy the game, but some level of effort is expected.
How about if your child brought back a D in calculus? I love to watch you do integrals?
But Jon that’s not comparable, because calculus is WAY more important & playing the clarinet is WAY more important.
I love this picture of my son Sammy. He will never be a soccer star. He rarely scores a goal or has a memorable event. But this is what he looks like after every game. Red faced, worn out and spent. Because he has decided that if he is going to invest the time in playing this silly game, he’s going to try hard. I love that. And He loves it too. (and oh by the way, it usually means he gets to play more….coaches love hustle…..which is WAY more fun for him)
I guess what we want to teach our kids is simply this.
There are no ‘spiritual’ activities & ‘unspiritual’ activities. There is just life, and as followers of Christ, we really want to do everything for the glory of God.
Every activity, even ones as mundane as sports, are a chance to show character, demonstrate love, discover community & be a light to the world. They are chances to grow and enjoy and learn from.
And if we’re lucky we will have some fun and get some exercise along the way…