Sports

Guest Post: 5 Family Benefits of Children’s Sports

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedThis is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

We’ve all seen the reality shows of girls on hyper competitive dance squads or young boys playing tackle football with the intensity of a college game day. We’ve heard the warnings of strained muscles from over-use and understand the consequences of an over-scheduled childhood.

When it comes time to plan fall activities for my children, I find myself seeking for God-given wisdom.

I don’t want to become my own version of a crazed, sports parent, but I can definitely see the benefit of childhood sports in the life of my family. Our children are signed up for various team sports and I know my fall schedule looks much like so many other moms – driving from one practice to another, filling up water bottle after water bottle, and washing jerseys at the midnight hour.

My kids aren’t the stars, and who knows if they will get college scholarships, but for this stage in our lives, sports are a blessing to our family. Here’s why:

  1. They Promote Family Activity. One of my daughters runs cross-country for her school. She needs to practice on the weekend by running, so we all get out and go to the track with her. During my son’s soccer practice, it is easy to bring an extra ball to kick around with the other kids. We try to use practices and lessons to promote activity for all of us.
  2. They Promote Family Unity and Sportsmanship. Unless there is a scheduling conflict, all six of us go to every game or race and we do our best to pay attention (i.e. very limited electronics). We all learn how to cheer for and encourage each other. My youngest caught on to this very quickly. This is her first season to play soccer and, after many seasons of cheering on her siblings, the thing she is most looking forward to is “the sisters and bubba screaming and cheering my name.” All children benefit from being cheered for and being a cheerleader for someone else.
  3. They Promote Positive Friendships. Friendships develop quickly when there is a common goal. A sports team can immediately give a connection point with a new friend. Many times, the only thing I have in common with another mom is that our kids play on the same team, but even that has opened the door to some great relationships. Of course, a parent has to use the same caution in handling friends on teams as they do with friends at school. However, the ability to quickly connect with various families in the community is a blessing of organized sports.
  4. They Promote Hard Work. Practicing is hard. Working as a team is hard. Learning new skills is hard. However, the lesson is when you work hard, the task gets easier and the benefits increase. My second daughter swam on a city swim team this summer. She was not the best on the team, but she worked very hard at learning her strokes and understanding the details of racing. I took the opportunity to record her times to show her how she was improving greatly. She learned the lesson that hard work pays off, even if no one can see it.
  5. They Promote a Deeper Relationship Between Parent and Child. There are sports that, quite frankly, I knew nothing about until one of my kids showed an interest in it or an opportunity arose for them to play. So I quickly tried to learn as we went and do the best I could to understand that little part of their world. The times we practice together, whether kicking a soccer ball or hitting a volleyball back and forth, are times that I hope my children remember their parents investing time into their life.

Childhood sports do have the potential to be life-consuming and competition-driven. However, if you take a more moderate approach, you can see the great opportunities you have as a parent when your child plays. With much prayer and God-given wisdom, you can benefit greatly from sports and it can be a blessing in the life of your family. Take time this fall, in the business of a full schedule, to notice and reflect on the different opportunities God may give you through your child’s sports.

The Name of the Game: Keeping a Good Reputation in Sports

CSM Shots Of The Week 2016:  MAY 16*My recent post at Theological Matters addresses the issue of sports, reputation, and children. The full post is available here.

From halfway around the world, I got a message from my wife—“Have you seen the replays of Odor punching Bautista?” We are baseball fans in my family, and we religiously follow the Texas Rangers. My wife kept me updated while I was on a recent trip to the republic of Georgia.

Rougned Odor is the up-and-coming, fiery second baseman for the Rangers. Jose Bautista is the perennial all-star outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. After a series of bat flips, hard slides, and trash talking stretching back to last season, the bad blood came to its zenith with Odor’s hard right hook to the jaw of Bautista. The replays of the fight between these two players blew up the feeds on my social media page, and it has been the talk of Major League Baseball for days.

In a moment of confession, I have to admit that I felt a little satisfaction after watching the replay for the first time. It was retribution for Bautista’s home run that effectively ended the season for the Rangers last year. But then I started thinking about my son. What would I think if he landed a right hook to the jaw of an opposing player? What if he taunted the pitcher after hitting a ball over the fence?

Read the rest of the article on Theological Matters.

Theological Matters: Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedWhat can our children learn when they lose? In our sports obsessed culture, we have a “win at all costs” attitude. Our children can also pick up on this and forget to learn the lessons of losing in sports. However, there are valuable lessons to be learned. This week, Theological Matters published a post I wrote entitled, “Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing.” In short, I offered 4 lessons that our children can learn when they lose at sports…if we parents will only let them. Those lessons are:

  1. Humility
  2. Perseverance
  3. Learning from your mistakes
  4. Success requires hard work

Check out the full post here.

“C’mon, Ref!”: The Culture of Disrespect in Sports

Photo: Greg Gibson/YouTube

If you follow sports, you have probably seen the video of two high school football players intentionally tackling a referee in the closing minutes of their game last week. Two defensive backs for John Jay High School (San Antonio) were captured on video targeting a referee in retaliation for ejecting a teammate earlier in the game. Both players have been suspended from the football team, and an assistant coach has been placed on administrative leave for supposedly telling his players “that guy needs to pay for cheating us” in response to calls made (or not made) by the referee.

In response to this incident, Dale Hansen provided his characteristically straightforward commentary on the culture of disrespect in sports. Hansen is the sports anchor for WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas/Fort Worth and made a name for himself in 1986 by breaking the story about SMU paying football players. In his “Dale Hansen Unplugged” segment, he states:

It’s part of the American culture in sports now; we have been teaching our kids for a long time that the men and women who referee our games aren’t worthy of our respect. It’s bad enough we yell at the ones who are among the very best at what they do . . . but then we scream at the ones who give up their free time to work a Little League game, too.

And our kids have been watching.

A lot of people are shocked by what those two kids did. I’m almost shocked it doesn’t happen more.

Hansen is right. We have lost respect for those who work hard to keep order in our favorite pastimes. Sports referees are probably some of the most hated and derided people in the American sports landscape.

Hansen’s commentary made me think about two things. First, it took me back to my days as a baseball umpire. I mostly worked games of 9- and 10-year-olds. This is around the time that kids first learn to pitch the ball themselves. The task was doubly difficult because I was usually the only umpire on the field—requiring me to call balls and strikes as well as outs on the base paths—and very few kids could get the ball over the plate. In my attempt to be generous to the pitcher without undermining the integrity of the game, I often received the scorn of the spectators. Of course, my goal was to be consistent for both teams, but try telling that to a parent whose 9-year-old just struck out looking at a pitch that was close enough to hit. What makes it worse is that apart from a few tournaments, I typically umpired church league games. At one time, I turned to a youth minister whom I knew in the stands and asked him to take care of a problem parent from his son’s team. On another occasion I stopped a coach from running out of the dugout on the other side of the field to argue a call that I made 6 feet away from the play. Needless to say, my career as a baseball umpire in college was enough to confirm I didn’t want to pursue it as a career.

Second, Hansen’s commentary has made me stop and think about what I say when I watch sports with my own children. How many times have I complained about an official’s call in front of my kids? Referees and umpires spend years making their way to the highest levels of sports only to have us armchair officials call balls and strikes with the benefit of computer-generated pitch trackers and determine if it was a catch with the aid of multiple camera angles in slow-motion replay. What are we telling our kids when we intentionally disrespect the people who serve in the role exercising authority over the integrity of the game? At the very least, we are telling them that those in authority do not deserve our full respect. At worst, we are saying that officials should be the target of ridicule and blame.

Are there bad officials in sports? Certainly. Accusations have been made against the high school football referee that he directed racial slurs at some of the players. This has been disputed by the referee, and we will probably never know the truth about that. What we do know is that two players used a violent act to retaliate against a referee. But even in the face of a bad call, we must not resort to violence.

What is the Christian response to this situation? While the Bible doesn’t address how to behave around referees at sporting events, it does provide principles for us to apply regarding authority. In 1 Peter 2–3, we read about a few different relationships of authority that give us food for thought. First Peter 2:13–15 reads, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” While this applies directly to the relationship between citizens and government, we can apply the principle to all forms of authority. We should submit ourselves to those in authority because this is the will of God. In the world of sports, those authorities include coaches, managers, owners, and most importantly, referees.

The other biblical principle we can apply comes from Romans 12:17–18 (and a similar statement in 1 Peter 3:9). Paul writes, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” What should we do when we are wronged? Return evil with good. Respect what is right. Even when it is just a game, we can apply this principle.

Honestly, I’m a little worried that Dale Hansen is right. He said, “A lot of people are shocked by what those two kids did. I’m almost shocked it doesn’t happen more.” Are we going to see more violence against sports officials? Have we created a culture of disrespect for referees and umpires? If our kids are paying attention and if our kids imitate our own words and actions—and they do—I’m afraid that we have no one to blame but ourselves for this culture of disrespect. And it is not just in sports.

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Dale Hansen, “Hansen Unplugged: On tackling a ref,” WFAA, 9 September 2015.

Jordan Heck, “John Jay coach suspended, reportedly told players ref ‘needs to pay,’” Sporting News, 8 September 2015.

Maintaining the Integrity of the Game

Yesterday I wrote a post about the character lessons children can learn while participating in team sports. I also included warnings to parents hoping to avoid the dangers of undermining what our kids could learn. Unfortunately, ESPN reported today that Little League Baseball has stripped the 2014 US Little League World Series title from the Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) team due to the actions of some of the adults involved.

According to the report, the team manager and the Illinois District 4 Little League administrator used falsified boundary maps to recruit better players from other districts to “build what amounts to a superteam.” These actions violated the Little League rules that are meant to ensure that all teams have an equal opportunity to advance through the tournaments and reach the World Series. Building an all-star team from multiple districts is a clear violation.

After discovering the violations and taking action, Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener stated:

For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses. This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.

As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.

The most difficult part of this entire situation is that a lack of integrity on the part of adults has cost a group of boys their championship. The players did not conspire to manipulate the system; instead, it was men they should have been able to trust—coaches and local league administrators—who violated that trust and the rules.

This is a problem that is all too common in children’s sports. Adults get so focused on winning that they will sacrifice their integrity and reputations for a trophy.

When I was in college, I worked as a little league umpire for a couple of summers. One encounter with a coach still sticks out in my mind. I was calling balls and strikes from behind the plate when a boy hit the ball to right field. He hustled around the bases and slid into third just as the throw arrived. I had done what I was trained to do by running up the third baseline from home plate as I saw a play was going to happen at third base. I was standing less than six feet from the bag and watched the runner slide underneath a tag and called him safe. Immediately, a coach from the first base dugout came running across the diamond yelling at me about my call. I turned and instructed the coach to stop right before she got to the pitcher’s mound and return to the dugout. I reminded her that I had the authority to throw her out of the game if she continued to question the call I was clearly in position to make better than she could have. For the rest of the game, she grumbled about my calls and questioned my ability in front of her players in the dugout. Her actions said more about her character than my ability.

For these players from Chicago, their team’s reputation is tainted through no fault of their own. In addition, they have been shown a very poor example of how adults are to conduct themselves. The adults in this case lost sight of the most important thing—that the kids learn how to play the game with integrity. Instead these adults sent the message that you win at all costs, rules don’t apply, and integrity doesn’t matter.

Do we really want to bring up a generation of young men and women who are taught that you play to win even if it costs your name? Scripture teaches that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1). If your name and reputation are more important than great riches, then surely they are more important than a trophy.

If we expect our kids to grow up and act like adults, then we need to act like adults. Let’s teach our kids how to play with integrity. Let’s teach them how to build a reputation. Let’s teach them that there is more to life than simply winning a game.

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Tom Farrey, “Little League punishes Chicago team,” ESPN.com, February 11, 2015.

*Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast