I love sports. Like most parents, I wanted my children to enjoy sports too. Given our society’s focus on sports, I thought that it might be appropriate to share some lessons that Carol and I learned about having a godly family and being a sports family. Some of our lessons were learned by making mistakes; some by observing the good example of others; some by our application of scripture; some by our failure to apply scripture.
Here are, in no particular order, some lessons that we learned:
1) Allow your children to develop their own loves. I loved basketball. None of my boys did. I never learned to swim very well until I took a PE course in college. Each of my boys were great swimmers. That could have been difficult if I had taken some hard line that my sons would enjoy what I enjoy. Instead, I learned to subordinate my wish/dream to their interests (see Philippians 2:4). And, wow, did we have fun as a swim family.
2) Don’t get caught up in the anticipation of excellence. One of son’s early swim coaches was an Olympic swimmer who told us that Joel had what it took to become an elite swimmer. That was not a very good thing to say to a father who has a problem with hypercompetitiveness! It caused me to push Joel in ways that were unhealthy and, frankly, unkind. I had visions of scholarships and Olympic medals dancing in my head. How foolish I was to fail my son by trying to force my dream upon him. Of course, parents should encourage their children to do their best, but you must lay off the obsession.
Another way that this happens is in the use of “nutritional supplements.” One of my sons was on a training regimen which utilized supplements, and he was really seeing progress. After looking at the supplement, I observed that it contained creatine, which some research indicates can cause medical problems. The only ethical approach that a parent can take is to keep dangerous chemicals from their minor children, even if that means that the child’s performance suffers for it.
Esteem your child’s coaches, even if they are poor coaches. If they are ungodly and evil, then do not have your child participate. However, if you are caught up in the dream of your child’s excellence, and your child’s coach does not share your dream, do not get angry at the coach. Chances are, God has placed that coach in your life to destroy the idol that you are making. You ought to thank God for that “incompetent” coach that you think knows so little. He or she is there by God’s design to help you see what truly matters.
3) Keep focused on our true mission as believers. It is so easy to think, talk, and live the wins and losses. It is so easy to analyze the details and nuances of the game. But it is hard to keep focused on the glory of God. It is hard to stay missional, thinking about how to win coaches, teammates and opponents to Christ. One way that I thought about this was to ask myself the question, “What do I celebrate or encourage?” Is it the sport event itself, or is it the character that I see developing in my son?
Another way that we tried to stay missional was to have the swim team over to our house for meals. Our sons always led the team in prayer for the meal. We always had a great time. Carol made this special bread that the young men absolutely loved. This emphasis on mission showed itself quite dramatically. I remember watching our relay team from high in the stands at the state swim meet bow their heads in prayer by the starting blocks and see my son lead them in prayer just before the race. How the team performed just does not register as important as the spiritual leadership that I witnessed in my son.
4) Your child’s sport is less important than you think. I wish that I could talk to my younger self and tell myself this. Fortunately, as each child progressed in sports, I did get better at gaining perspective. I know that parents think that they will be depriving their child of some great opportunity if they don’t give their child every chance to grow and compete in the sport. This has become an obsession in America, and it is affecting spiritual growth. When travel teams and all-star teams take up weekend after weekend, when Sunday after Sunday is devoted to sports instead of worship with believers at church, when life revolves around your child’s sports, you have things out of proportion. With each of my sons, we became less obsessed, and our family was better for it. Interestingly, the enjoyment factor was the same if not better, and the third son was as athletically blessed as the first one was. My guess is that if you are an athletically obsessed family, you will ignore my concern here, but I pray that you do not. You will look back and wish that you had not worshiped at the altar of sports.
5) You are the spiritual leader of your child. Act like it. There is a wonderful blog about families and sports by a father and son called “Mahaney Sports”. Here is what they write: Our children will pursue what we applaud. They will emulate what we celebrate. If we celebrate scoring and winning, our children will define success in these terms. But if we celebrate evidences of godly character in our children, we will help them define success more biblically.
Sadly, if we don’t lead our children, they may devote massive amounts of time to sports but fail to grow in godly character. We should celebrate qualities like humility, diligence, self-control, and perseverance in our children, whether they win or lose. Parents, you will be the difference makers here.
So what do you encourage before a game? What do you celebrate after a game? Is it the spectacular plays? the score? the win? the stats? Or do you celebrate the displays of godliness by your child on the field?
If you and your family consistently miss your church’s gatherings, you forfeit far more than you may realize. You forfeit the nearness of God that is experienced when the church gathers to worship him corporately. You forfeit an opportunity to hear from God through the preaching of his Word. You forfeit experiencing the countless gifts that God has distributed in the people around you. And you forfeit learning from the models of humility and servanthood that you find in the church. You don’t want to give these up easily. You want to fight to maintain these priorities in your life and your family!
On the Last Day, when each of us gives account to God, you’ll have no regrets about investing your family’s time in your local church.
Finally, here are some questions that will help you apply biblical principles to your child’s participation in sports. These also come from the Mahaney Sports blog.
· After a game, what are you more likely to celebrate: athletic skill and victories, or the display of godly character in your child’s life?
· What is one way your child currently displays godly character, and how can you encourage him or her?
· What is one way your child could grow in godly character, and how can you encourage him or her to grow in this area?
· Are there ways that sports distract you from your family? In what ways can you use sports to build your family together?
· If someone were to study your life, which would they say you are more passionate about: playing and watching sports, or the Savior?
· Is your family devoting so much time to sports that it hinders your involvement and service in your local church? If so, what are some changes that you can consider for the future?
· Before your child’s next practice or game, take time to pray with him or her and to thank God for all the benefits of sports. Remind your child that sports are a gift from God, the giver of all good gifts.
As a big sports fan and a big fan of my boys, I didn’t always get things right on these matters. I am hoping that both my mistakes and the lessons that I have learned will help you on the road to discipling your children to be great warriors for Jesus Christ. You will not get a second chance at raising your children in the training and instruction of the Lord. Use sports as a tool of discipleship, not as an idol to worship, and your children will rise up and call you blessed.
Satisfied in Christ,
 I do not intend to debate whether or not it is okay to use supplements containing creatine. You might come to a different conclusion. The point here is that once having reached the conclusion that it was not okay for us to use it, it would have been unethical as a parent to continue to allow it. After presenting my research to our swim coach, he agreed with me and withdrew the entire team from the use of the supplement. I really respected our coach for this decision, as creatine is proven to enhance performance.
 You can read their blog at: http://www.mahaneysports.com/blog/