I don’t know how my mom and dad did it. I was the oldest of five kids. We all played sports. I played regular season and tournament baseball during all my years growing up, and in various seasons I also played soccer, football, and basketball (which I was no good at). My two brothers and two sisters played sports as well. My dad coached our baseball teams, and my mom kept score for more games than I can count.
Today, I am the glad dad of five kids—three boys and two girls, just like the family I grew up in. Our three sons play baseball on regular season, all-star, and select teams. Our oldest daughter is an all-state sprinter. And our youngest daughter is the only one who does not play a sport as she’s more the vocal-lessons, musical type. This means that springtime is a crazy time as we shuttle kids around, cheering for them and trying to figure out when the rained-out games will be replayed and how we can make it all work.
Recently, while sitting at yet another event and praising God that I get to be a dad and have healthy kids, it dawned on me that there are at least seven reasons why sports are good for kids.
- They put down technology. Kids need more exercise and less time eating junk food, drinking pop, and sitting down playing video games, surfing the Internet, or watching television.
- They learn to submit to authority. Having a coach who you have to obey is a good life lesson that prepares a child to submit to authority at school, work, and church. Kids who do not respect authority are destined for misery.
- They learn to work hard. In sports, you have to learn to try your best and persevere through difficult circumstances. This helps build character, fortitude, and the kind of stick-to-itiveness that life requires if you want to succeed at anything from marriage to career.
- They learn to play by the rules. One of the first things you learn in any sport is the rules. Once you know the rules, you have to learn to play by them or be penalized by those enforcing them. People who never learn to play by the rules make bad believers and good inmates.
- They learn to be on a team. Few activities force a child to work things out with others, think about someone other than themselves, and be part of something bigger than themselves. Being on a team encourages kids to mature in all of these areas. Good teammates learn lessons about being good family members, church members, and company members.
- They learn how to win. Being a humble winner who does not gloat and belittle the loser is hugely important.
- They learn how to lose. Everyone loses. Learning how to lose without blaming others, giving up, quitting, or pouting is a vital life lesson.
Yes, sports can become an idol for some kids and their parents. It can become all-consuming and identity-forming to a degree that is unholy and unhealthy. But, by God’s grace and some parental wisdom, sports can be an opportunity for a series of life lessons that can help develop godly character in a child. Very, very, very few young athletes have anything resembling a collegiate or professional athletic career. But the lessons they learn can be a blessing for the rest of their lives, if captured for the glory of God and the good of the child.
Some of the best conversations with my kids have been had on the way to and from athletic practices and events. I like to ask them what Jesus is teaching them, what they are struggling with, and how I can pray for them. It has opened up some great conversations and opportunities for me to encourage and instruct them as their dad. It’s a wonderful gift to be a parent and a wonderful opportunity to use athletic experiences as discipleship opportunities.