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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sports for Children

It is a risky thing to criticize another man’s religion, but that is my intent today. Actually, my target is not the religion of one man, but perhaps the closest thing we have to a national religion—SPORTS—and particularly the effect of this religion on children.
When I was young (shortly after the dinosaurs died off), league games for children were not held on Sunday. In our town, many churches had Wednesday evening classes for the whole family, so schools and sports leagues avoided games and practice sessions on that day as well. I know it is not realistic for me to hope that I can roll back the clock, but the professionalization of children’s sports is screaming out for a return to sanity.
 By the professionalization of children’s sports, I mean an attitude that places the success of the team above the welfare of the child. Every child must be at every practice session, or that child will not be allowed to play. The schedule of practice and games is intense because the level of competition requires total dedication.
The resulting pressure on family life can be severe, especially when two or three children are involved. Sally is dropped off at a practice field on one side of town by her mother who is planning to attend Willie’s game on the other side of town. Dad can hardly ever watch either Willie or Sally because he is busy coaching Jimmy’s team. And this goes on night after night, Saturday after Saturday, and Sunday after Sunday. If the children are involved in more than one sport, it goes on month after month.
Another problem with the professionalization of sports for children is the damage it does to their religious education. If children are required to be at all games and practices, and if these are held on Sundays or at other times of religious instruction, parents must choose between teaching faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the team.
The issue is not that children may miss twelve out of fifty-two weeks of lessons. My concern is the implicit message we are giving: “What’s the problem? You can worship God whenever you want, but you can only play baseball a few weeks a year. Don’t be such a legalist!” In other words, “The true God won’t mind if you split your worship between Him and the religion of sports.”
The Bible, however, says we should teach our children to put God first. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).
I encourage parents to share this article with other parents. Go as a group to organizational meetings with this message: I believe the physical activity and the team spirit of this sport are good for my child. Therefore, I will do my part to help the team. I will help with fundraisers or coaching or transportation. I will not allow my child to quit in the middle of the season. I will bring my child to games and practices that do not compete with needed family time or with the worship of God. But you may not take control of the life of my family, and I will not give the soul of my child to the team.
If enough parents band together, you can make a difference, at least on the local level. Oh, and by the way, you need to protect children of different faiths. The leeway you want for your child must be granted others also.
(I wrote this for the December 1, 2012 Allentown Morning Call.)