Young People Ask . . .
Should I Join the School Team?
“Playing was exciting and thrilling. It gave me a good feeling. When you’re young and you finally find something you are really good at, you don’t want to let it go.”—Robert.
PERHAPS you too enjoy playing team sports. You like the exercise, camaraderie, and excitement. You may even dream of being a hero, imagining the cheers of the crowd as you make the basket, the catch, or the goal that gives your team the victory.
Whatever the reason for your enthusiasm for sports, many youths share it. They particularly enjoy participating in team sports, such as football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and hockey. The Education Digest observes: “More than 5.2 million [U.S.] students were involved in high school athletics during the 1986-87 school year, the highest in four years. Also, high schools have added new sports in the past 10 years, many organized for girls.”
Why So Popular
The great popularity sports enjoy was implied by the words of a wise man of long ago who said: “The beauty of young men is their power.” (Proverbs 20:29) Sports provide a refreshing outlet for the power and energies that abound during one’s youthful years. They can provide healthy challenges to both body and mind. Participation in sports can also be exhilarating and fun, a break from the routine of schoolwork and after-school chores.
In addition, some argue that playing team sports builds character. Says The High School Survival Guide, by Barbara Mayer: “The training and sense of dedication that will be demanded of you will teach you how to give yourself to a worthy goal. . . . Participation in sports can help you become a leader.”
Not all youths, however, have such noble motives for playing sports. Glory, fame, and prestige are also powerful incentives. “If you were on the team,” remembers Reggie, “you were considered one of the coolest guys that walked the grounds.”
The Bible acknowledges that “physical exercise has some value.” (1 Timothy 4:8, Today’s English Version) And it might seem that joining a school team would be a way of gaining such benefit. Yet, many youths have found that the disadvantages of joining a school team often outweigh the benefits.
The “Darker Side”
Seventeen magazine reports: “There’s a darker side of sports, where people put tremendous value on winning. For a coach, winning might lead to a promotion or a television appearance. For a parent, winning might mean bragging rights or a vicarious sense of accomplishment. For an athlete, winning might mean scholarship offers, news clips, the admiration of classmates and neighbors.”
Some school athletes also dream about going on to become professional players. “I dreamed of playing in the city and state championships and ultimately in the pros,” said young Gerald. “I saw myself getting rich, endorsing many products, being in the hall of fame, being a role model, and dating the prettiest girl in school.”
Little wonder, then, that sports in many schools are played with almost life-and-death urgency! Fun and fitness fade into the background. As Seventeen went on to say: “Suddenly winning overrides concerns about honesty, schoolwork, health, happiness, and most other important aspects of life. Winning becomes everything, and the pressure builds.”
With this win-at-all-costs attitude prevailing, it is no surprise that a flood of injuries has plagued school athletics. Violence by athletes, fans, and even parents sometimes accompanies games. And use of performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids, is becoming widespread even among teenage athletes.
So while playing on a team may have some limited advantages, it may also engender an overly competitive spirit, fantasies of great wealth, and an egotistical desire for glory. These things clearly go contrary to the Bible’s counsel ‘not to be stirring up competition with one another,’ not to love money, and not to be seeking personal glory. (Galatians 5:26; Proverbs 25:27; 1 Timothy 6:10) Joining a school team could very well expose you to unwholesome influences in a very intense way.
Educators often praise the opportunities sports offer to build close relationships with peers. Ironically, it is this very opportunity that poses a problem for Christian youths. The Bible says: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.”—1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 6:14.
Frankly, what kind of association will you likely run into in a team locker room? Admits one youth: “There was a lot of cursing and use of bad language. The guys always talked about girls and would bring pornographic books to look at.” Furthermore, developing and maintaining the team spirit usually demands that you mix socially with teammates before and after games and practice sessions.
True, it may be possible to be on a team and remain uninvolved socially. But as one 14-year-old teenage girl admits: “Peer pressure is way too high for you just to play and go home.” The Bible thus asks: “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27) Pressured by their teammates, some youths have found themselves at parties where alcohol and drugs were featured, not to mention debasing music and compromising situations with the opposite sex.
Consider the experience of a youth named Robert. He says: “After joining the team, the problems were enormous. There was tremendous pressure to get involved in premarital sex, drugs, drinking, and going to wild parties. I just couldn’t believe that such things could be associated with playing high-school sports. On the court as well as off, you’re expected to walk, talk, and act just like the rest of the guys.”
Not to be overlooked, either, is the effect sports participation could have on your routine of spiritual activities. (Hebrews 10:23-25) “Often, games and practices conflicted with Christian meetings,” says young Gerald.
Of course, some athletic training may be provided during school hours as part of the regular curriculum, and there is usually no objection to a young Christian’s attending such classes. Furthermore, circumstances vary in different lands. Nevertheless, youths among Jehovah’s Witnesses generally avoid involvement in extracurricular school sports. Now, this does not mean that you as a Christian youth cannot enjoy sports. It does mean, however, that you may have to take certain initiatives.
For example, you might talk to your parents about planning an outing, such as a picnic. This could provide an occasion for your family and friends to enjoy some wholesome sports activities. Or you might try inviting a number of Christian youths to get together and bike, play ball, or engage in races to your heart’s content.
It is important, however, that you avoid an overly competitive spirit. Having official, set teams tends to fuel the win-at-all-costs spirit even when all the players are Christians. So it’s usually best to keep things informal. In fact, having a measure of adult supervision is often a good idea.
Granted, informal games may lack some of the thrill of organized school sports. But you can still enjoy yourself. Robert decided he would quit his school’s team. But he says: “I still enjoy very much playing sports. More so now than ever before. When I play sports now, it’s not to win at any cost, nor am I filled with the competitive spirit.”
Recall that when the apostle Paul told the young man Timothy: “Bodily training is beneficial for a little,” he added, “but godly devotion is beneficial for all things.” Clearly, being an athlete is not a Christian’s purpose in life. So keep sports in balance. Why waste time that could be more profitably spent in building up your spirituality? Remember: Godly devotion “holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
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The win-at-all-costs spirit dominates many school sports