Sports and the Family—A Balanced View
Sports—Why the Increasing Violence?
“THIS woman came running over, shouting obscenities. I backed off. She kicked me and scratched me.” Answer from the other party: “I went out there and this woman threw a punch at me and I kicked at her and we both missed. I’m sorry I missed. I’d have done it again.”
Now, what was that all about? Was it a female wrestling match? No, it was two Canadian mothers brawling at a soccer tournament for their 10-year-old sons.
Perhaps it illustrates one of the problems that some children have in sports—their parents. As one mother wrote about her child’s participation in Little League baseball: “We presented it to our boys as a treat, a privilege . . . And it was we who got carried away by it. We imposed our own competitive feelings on those poor kids, and the next thing we knew, they were playing baseball not to please themselves but to keep us smiling.”
In Australia “children as young as five and six are being forced into a highly stressful, competitive sporting atmosphere, despite the official position in many organisations—rugby, soccer and cricket, that they should not begin before 10 or 12.” Dr. W. W. Ewens in New South Wales said that the evidence was “reasonably conclusive that physiologically, psychologically and sociologically, young children were not equipped to handle a major sport.”
Then why do parents and coaches put so much pressure on the kids? “Parents step over the line when they overidentify with their children, or try to live through them,” said Dr. Leonard Reich, a New York child psychologist. “For some parents it represents a chance to return to the days of their youth.” The only problem is that they tend to apply adult criteria to their children’s games. The result is that fun, fun, fun gives way to win! win! win!
Obviously, parents should take an interest in their children’s recreation, but their involvement should be balanced and constructive. As ice-hockey star Bobby Orr explained: “My father never pushed me to play. I played hockey because I loved to play.” New York athletics coach Vincent Chiapetta said regarding his attitude toward his son: “Although I was in athletics I did not try to force my boy into running. . . . I attended his games because he was my child and my responsibility. But when I saw the coach putting pressure on the kids I told him I was withdrawing my son. I let him know that as far as I am concerned winning is not the only thing. After all, a game is just a game.”
And what do youngsters think when Mom and Dad join in with the kids in some informal outdoor game? Rick Rittenbach, one of six children, recalls: “Being six kids we would often get a game of softball going, or volleyball. And I know we all got a kick out of it when Mom and Dad joined in. And they obviously enjoyed it too. I am sure that it was one of the many factors that helped to keep us united as a family.”
Sports participation can be a tonic for everybody, regardless of age. But children, especially, view recreation as a highlight and when it is allied to a good relationship with the parents the benefits multiply. Then you have a happy, healthy, united family. But what is the key to the situation? Balance. Recreation or sports should be a pastime, not a deadly competition or a divisive battleground.
Does the Bible offer any practical guidance in the field of sports?
In the first place, let us note the Bible’s valuable basic counsel: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) This immediately indicates a balanced view on all matters. For example, the apostle Paul, in the athletics-oriented Greek world of his day, wrote to a young Christian: “Train yourself spiritually. Physical exercises are useful enough, but the usefulness of spirituality is unlimited.” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8, The Jerusalem Bible) Another translation renders it: “The training of the body does bring limited benefit.”—The New English Bible.
If, then, the benefit is limited, is it wise to make sports a full-time dedication? Are the true values of life based on sports? And what if the sport contravenes basic Christian principles, such as ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ or ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’? What if extracurricular sports activity means unnecessary association with persons who do not share Christian principles? Will that undermine spirituality? Does not First Corinthians 15:33 answer Yes?—“Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.”
While sports as a recreation do bring “limited benefit,” one has to be conscious of possible dangers when they are taken too seriously. The Bible supplies a guideline in this respect: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) Our previous article showed how increased competition can lead to violence. An excessively competitive spirit cancels out much of the pleasure of the game since the final goal, a win, becomes the only meaningful thing.
Other translations of that text say: “We must have no desire for empty prestige.” (Barclay) “Then we won’t need to look for honors and popularity.” (The Living Bible) Young people are drawn on by the fantasy of sports success. They dream of being the star, the winner, out there in the middle. For the vast majority that is an impossible dream. For the “favored” few the price is high, often terribly high. Darryl Stingley, ex-U.S. footballer knows that only too well. As a result of one deadly tackle in August 1978 he has since been paralyzed from the neck down.
Heitor Amorim, Brazilian soccer star, puts the subject in focus, saying: “You should never forget that it is an insignificant few who become stars and attain all the honors that go with success. For each one that makes the big time there are thousands who suffer in frustration. They dropped out from their studies, failed at sport and then were left—with what? The cold shoulder. Nobody wants to know a loser today.”
So then, in essence, what is the best counsel to follow regarding sports? We will let ex-Australian football player Peter Hanning (professional from 1964-75 for Swan Districts) answer that question: “My advice to young people is, Enjoy your physical exercise. Sports are a recreation that will keep you healthy and happy as a pastime. But professional sport is a different tale. It requires an all-excluding total commitment, a complete dedication. And the price you pay is high—all relationships, whether to people or to God, have to suffer. You become part of a self-contained world of adulation, immorality, envy, pride and avarice. And you run the constant risk of being the victim of a disabling injury. Or, perhaps even worse for anyone with a conscience, of severely injuring someone else. My personal injury list ran to a broken arm, nose (four times), and cheekbone, knee cartilage removed, back injury and concussion twice. And compared to some, I got off fairly lightly!”
So while it is true that “the glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29, NE), it must also be remembered that life’s relationships are not based on strength but on wisdom. So enjoy your sports in a balanced way. Let them distract you, but never obsess you. Let them renew you, but never possess you.
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“Bodily training is beneficial for a little.”—1 Timothy 4:8