Keeping Sports in Their Proper Place
WHEN people play their favorite sports, they feel exhilarated as their bodies respond and perform feats of skill or endurance. God created us to enjoy physical activity. Perhaps even more people derive pleasure from watching others play. So sports are much like many things that are good when kept in their proper place.
To illustrate: When people go to the beach to enjoy the sun, what happens if they get too much? They suffer a painful sunburn that spoils the good time and even poses serious risks. It is similar with sports. A little is good, but overexposure can be harmful.
Sports can be excellent relaxation and fun, yet they should not be an end in themselves. They do not bring true contentment or lasting happiness. Unfortunately it sometimes takes a tragedy for a person to realize this. “All my trophies and my medals, it just doesn’t matter,” explained Mary Wazeter, the female athlete who jumped from a bridge and was paralyzed.
“I have learned many truths about life,” she reported. “One is that true contentment is not attained in the ways that so many people strive for perfection and achievement. Contentment for me didn’t come from having been a straight-A student, a state-championship runner or the possessor of an attractive figure.”
Putting matters rather harshly into focus, sociologist John Whitworth noted: “At the end of the game, all you have is a list of statistics. It all seems rather rootless. However, I suppose that fits with our society.” The undue importance attached to sports today throws everything out of perspective.
After his victory in the 200-meter sprint in the 1964 Olympics, Henry Carr explained: “As I rode back to the Olympic Villages, I took my first real look at the gold medal. . . . I actually asked myself: ‘What in the world! For all these years I have been working hard, and to receive this?’ I was mad, when I should have been happy. It was a real letdown.” Marlon Starling felt similarly after winning the World Boxing Association welterweight championship in 1987. “The title,” he noted, “doesn’t match my kid saying, ‘I love you, Dad.’”
So a vital lesson can be learned: Productive work, family, and especially worship of God should properly take priority. The Bible is correct when it says: “Bodily training [which sports provide] is beneficial for a little.” (1 Timothy 4:8) That indicates the proper place for sports in our lives. It should be a secondary one. Since sports can be so fascinating, a person must be ever vigilant that more important things are not neglected.
Wisely, therefore, be sensitive if family members complain that you devote too much time talking about, watching, or playing sports. One woman, whose husband made adjustments in his attention to sports, gratefully noted: “He now spends more time with the children and me. Sometimes our family watches a game on television, but most evenings we walk together and talk about the events of the day. This is very pleasant and helps to keep us happy.”
In view of the potential problems, why not honestly face the question: Could I be devoting more time and attention to sports than I should? Yet, there are other aspects to this matter of keeping sports in a proper place.
What About Competition?
For games to be beneficial rather than harmful, a proper attitude toward competition is important. “Coaches, gym teachers, parents, and the kids themselves have become so intent on winning that they forget what sports [for young people] are all about,” lamented a physician for a professional hockey team. The purpose of sports, he said, should be “to develop teamwork and discipline, to build physical fitness, and, most important of all, to have fun.”
Sadly, however, the emphasis on winning has ruined the fun for many. Sports psychologist Bruce Ogilvie noted: “I once interviewed the rookies [first-year players] in 10 major league baseball camps and 87 per cent of them said they wished they’d never played Little League baseball because it took the joy out of what had been a fun game.” A related problem is that extreme competitiveness contributes to a high number of injuries.
The Bible provides guidelines, saying: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) According to Greek-English lexicons, the Greek word here rendered “stirring up competition” means “to call forth,” “to challenge to a combat or contest with one.” Thus An American Translation has the rendering: “Let us not in our vanity challenge one another.” And the footnote of the New World Translation offers the alternative: “Forcing one another to a showdown.”
Clearly, then, stirring up competition is not wise. It does not create good relations. If you are forced to a showdown and defeated, and the victor boasts of the outcome, the experience can be humiliating. An intensely competitive attitude is unloving. (Matthew 22:39) At the same time, if the competition is kept on a friendly, good-natured level, it can contribute to the interest and enjoyment of a game.
Some may want to look for ways to play sports in such a way as to minimize the element of competition. “I’m a firm believer in sport for sport’s sake up to the age of 13 or 14,” one English soccer coach said. He recommended not keeping records of results or of the standing of the teams—“no ladders, no finals.” Yes, the emphasis on winning should properly be minimized or eliminated entirely.
Attitude Toward Athletes
Keeping sports in their proper place will also involve our attitude toward talented, well-known athletes. Understandably, we might admire their athletic abilities and amazing feats. But should they be idolized? Youths are often seen to display posters of such athletes in their rooms. Do the achievements of such persons really make them worthy of honor? Perhaps just the opposite is the case.
A new player on a National Football League championship team at first looked with admiration to a lot of his teammates. But their conduct and attitude, he said, “just completely blew all feelings and the respect that I had for them.” He explained: “For example, they would say: ‘Hey, I made it with five girls last week, not including my wife.’ And I looked at the person and thought to myself: ‘So this is the guy I idolized.’”
Really, it is improper to idolize any human, and especially would this be true of those who excel in activity that the Bible says has little or limited benefit. God’s servants are urged to “flee from idolatry.”—1 Corinthians 10:14.
How Sports Are Beneficial
As we have noted, the Bible says that physical training, such as that realized in sports, “is beneficial for a little.” (1 Timothy 4:8) In what ways is this so? How might you benefit from sports?
The second-century Greek physician Galen, personal physician to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, stressed the importance of exercise for general health. And he recommended ball games, since these exercise the whole body in a natural way. Ball games are also usually fun to play, so a person will be more likely to play these games he enjoys than to engage in other forms of exercise.
Many find that the exercise derived from sports gives them a sense of well-being. After a stimulating workout or game, they feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Yet this should not be surprising, since, as Dr. Dorothy Harris says, “exercise is nature’s best tranquilizer.”
Physical exercise, such as that furnished by calisthenics, jogging, and games, is generally recognized today as being important to good health. “Physically fit people perform their usual tasks easily without tiring and still have energy for other interests,” The World Book Encyclopedia notes. “They also may be able to resist the effects of aging better than those who are physically unfit.”
Regardless, however, of how physically fit sports may assist a person to become, the benefit is limited. Aging and death cannot be thwarted by human efforts. Yet, after saying that “bodily training is beneficial for a little,” the Bible states: “Godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
Only Jehovah God, our Creator, can give us life. Nothing, therefore, is more important than “godly devotion,” that is, reverence, worship, and service to God. So those practicing godly devotion will have as their priority doing God’s will. They will expend themselves in God’s service, using their youth as Jesus Christ did, telling others of the good things about God and his Kingdom.
Yes, by putting God’s interests first, humans can win his favor and attain life forever in his righteous new world. There the happy God, Jehovah, will give them true and lasting happiness and contentment.