Gospel Perspectives for Parents: Sports and the Christian Life

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By the time they were seven years old, my three sons had played soccer, ice hockey, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, golf, flag football, and fencing. As the mercies of God are new every morning, so too was their superhuman energy.

But Saturdays in the South are famous for one thing, and in third grade my boys finally got to play the real game: tackle football. Two of them loved it. The biggest surprise of the whole experience was how the fathers responded to their sons taking the field. Dads who encouraged their sons through strikeouts and whiffed free throws suddenly could not deal with a missed tackle or a dropped pass. I will never forget the first time one of the nicest men I know screamed at his son from the sidelines: “SON* just get out there and HIT SOMEBODY!”

Sports have a way of bringing out the worst in the best of us.

Every week it seems that athletes, coaches, and/or sports fans make the news for their bad behavior. In the dramatic weeks leading up to the World Series we have witnessed the resignation of Raider head coach Jon Gruden for unacceptable email correspondence, the bombardment of the Ole Miss sideline by angry Tennessee fans, and the ongoing antics of reluctant Philadelphia 76er Ben Simmons.

We parents have to wrestle our own competitive streaks to the ground before we can even begin to model gospel-formed attitudes about sports to our children. It’s emotionally complex territory – just ask any mom of a place kicker or a stunt cheerleader. We do best when we study our hearts away from the heat of any competition and prepare ourselves for grace-driven conversations with our athletes. Here’s what some Rooted writers and speakers have to say on the subject:

Ask Alice: A Healthy Approach to Athletics for Teenagers (with football coach Mark Rector): “How can teens participate in athletics without having their identities hijacked? Host Alice Churnock sits down with football coach Mark Rector to discuss this topic in this episode of ‘Ask Alice.’ This conversation also highlights the inherent goodness of sports, the pitfalls teenagers (and their families) often encounter, and ways in which parents can point children to root their identities in Christ.”

Who Will My Children See Me Worship On SuperBowl Sunday? by Todd Hill: “What if … [my kids] heard of a creative and personal God who gave us the gift of sports and the thrill of competition? What if they learned that the celebrations we see in victory originated from the God who taught celebration throughout Scripture, and offers the hope of an unimaginable celebration yet to come? What if they learned that the pain of defeat is met with a Savior who cries with us, and a God who draws near to us in comfort?”

An excellent series by John Perritt: A Loving Rebuke of the Youth Sports Culture, Sports and the Busyness Epidemic, and Sports VS. Eternity.

Are Kids’ Sports Our New God? by Kristen Hatton: “But if we truly understood the gospel we would not only look forward to Sunday worship, but long for the ultimate Sabbath rest when we are united with Him for eternity.”

Sports and the Liturgical Life by Arek O’Connell. “… this is not the article that is finally going to equip youth workers with the right words to convince your students and parents to ditch the voluntary soccer practice for youth group. Rather, and perhaps surprisingly, I’d like to offer you an encouragement about how truly spiritually transformational sports can be in the lives of our students.”

How the Gospel Helps Parents Disciple the Athlete by Christina Fox. Our teens need to know that playing a sport isn’t who they are; it’s just one of the many ways they glorify God with their lives.”

These are just a few of the Rooted resources you’ll find on the subject of sports, youth, and the God who made them to love to play. Please see also articles about Naomi Osaka, Kobe Bryant, the Houston Astros, Colin Kaepernick, the Chicago Cubs, baseball, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 

*Name withheld to protect the guilty. But truthfully, it could have been any number of those sweaty, testosterone-infused madmen on the sidelines. We moms weren’t much better.

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