Young People Ask . . .
Should I Join a Sports Team?
“WHAT’S so great about being on a team?” asked an article in Seventeen magazine. In answer the article said: “You’re working together toward a common goal, so you become really close. You also learn people skills, like how to solve problems with a group, how to be flexible and considerate, and how to compromise.”
Thus, playing organized sports appears to have benefits, not the least of which are fun and exercise.* Some even claim that playing team sports helps one build character. One youth baseball league thus has the motto, “Character, Courage, Loyalty.”
The problem is, organized sports do not always live up to such noble ideals. Says the book Kidsports: “In some instances impressionable youngsters learn to swear, cheat, fight, intimidate, and hurt others.”
Win at All Costs?
Admitted an article in Seventeen: “There’s a darker side of sports, where people put tremendous value on winning.” This runs directly counter to the Bible’s words: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) While a mild dose of friendly competition can add interest and enjoyment to a game, an overly competitive spirit can breed antagonism—and take the fun out of playing.
Jon, a former high school football player, recalls: “We had this coach who was a real maniac; always screaming and yelling at us . . . I dreaded going to practice. . . . I felt as if I were in a concentration camp.” While not all coaches are abusive, many do place too much stress on winning. One writer concluded: “Many athletes . . . reach a point where the joy of competing gives way to an unbearable burden to succeed.” What can result?
Science News reported on a survey that revealed that among college football and basketball players, “12 percent reported problems in at least two of five areas: psychological distress, physical distress, difficulty in avoiding drugs or alcohol, mental and physical abuse, and poor academic performance.” Along the same lines, the book On the Mark reports: “Almost everyone connected with organized athletics agrees that there is a major drug abuse problem in sports at all levels.”
The pressure to win can also cause a young player to compromise reasonable standards of fairness and honesty. The book Your Child in Sports observes: “In the modern world of sport, winning is not just good; it is the only thing. Losing is not only bad, it is unforgivable.”
Another harsh reality: Coaches often put players under tremendous pressure to injure their opponents. An article in Psychology Today said: “To be good in sports, you have to be bad. Or so many athletes, coaches and sports fans believe.” One professional football player describes his everyday self as “soft-spoken, considerate and friendly.” But on the playing field, he goes through a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation. Describing his on-field personality, he says: “I’m mean and nasty then. . . . I’m so rotten. I have a total disrespect for the guy I’m going to hit.” Coaches often encourage such a disposition.
The Bible encourages Christians: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12) Could you cultivate such qualities if you received daily pep talks urging you to hurt, crush, and maim your opponents? Sixteen-year-old Robert admits: “I’ve played organized sports. You don’t care who you hurt as long as you win.” Now that he is a baptized Christian, his views have changed. He says: “I would never go back to that.”
Bodily Training or Bodily Injury?
Not to be overlooked, either, are the physical risks. True, sports entail risks even when they are played with friends strictly for fun. But the dangers are greatly increased when youths are coached into trying to perform at nearly professional levels.
The book Your Child in Sports notes: “Professional players can be injured. But they are very skilled, physically fit, mature adults who willingly risk injury and are well paid for doing so. Moreover, they commonly get the best, most expert kind of training, the best equipment, and very close, top-notch medical care. . . . School kids don’t have such advantages.” Christians are told to ‘present their bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God.’ (Romans 12:1) Should you not think twice about subjecting your body to unnecessary or unreasonable risks?
Other Factors to Consider
Even when the health risks seem minimal, organized sports are still time-consuming. Practice sessions may not only cut into your social life but they may also take a big bite out of time that should be set aside for study and homework. Science News reported that college athletes tended to have “slightly lower grades” than other students that engaged in extracurricular activities. More important, you might find that playing on a team makes it difficult to pursue what the Bible calls “the more important things”—spiritual interests. (Philippians 1:10) Ask yourself, ‘Will joining the team require me to miss Christian meetings, or will it limit my share in the preaching work?’
Weigh carefully, also, the possible results of spending long hours with youths and adults who do not share your views on morals, clean speech, or competition. After all, the Bible does say that “bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Consider, for example, an article in the Op-Ed page of The New York Times: “The locker room . . . is a place where men discuss women’s bodies in graphic sexual terms, where they boast about ‘scoring’ and joke about beating women.” How would you fare spiritually if you chose to be in such an environment?—Compare James 3:18.
Making a Wise Decision
Have you been thinking of joining a sports team? Then perhaps the foregoing will help you to count the cost of doing so. Take into consideration the consciences of others when making your decision. (1 Corinthians 10:24, 29, 32) Of course, no hard-and-fast rule can be made, since circumstances differ the world over. In some areas students may even be required to participate in sports. But if you are in doubt, talk things over with your parents or with a mature Christian.
Many Christian youths have made the tough decision not to play team sports. This is not easy if you are athletic and really enjoy sports! Pressure from teachers, coaches, and parents can add to the frustration. Young Jimmy admits: “I find it’s a struggle with myself not to play. My unbelieving father was a great athlete in his high school days. It sometimes gets tough for me not to join a team.” Even so, the support of believing parents and mature Christians in the congregation can do much to help you stick to your resolve. Says Jimmy: “I am thankful for my mom. At times I am depressed over the pressure to play sports. But she is always there to remind me of my real goals in life.”
Team sports may teach players cooperation and problem solving. But there is ample opportunity to learn such things by working within the Christian congregation. (Compare Ephesians 4:16.) Team sports may also be fun, but you don’t have to be on a team to enjoy them. Some sports can be enjoyed with Christian friends in a backyard or a local park. Family outings may provide further opportunities for wholesome play. “It’s so much better playing with others from your congregation,” says 16-year-old Greg. “It’s just for fun, and you are with your friends!”
Granted, a backyard game will probably not give the same thrill as being on a winning team. Never forget, though, that at best “bodily training is beneficial [only] for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:8) Develop godly devotion, and you will truly be a winner in God’s eyes!
See “Young People Ask . . . Team Sports—Are They Good for Me?” appearing in our February 22, 1996, issue.
[Blurb on page 22]
“We had this coach who was a real maniac; always screaming and yelling at us . . . I dreaded going to practice”
[Picture on page 23]
All too often, coaches stress winning—even if it means causing injury to others