With somewhere between 10-15 million youth playing organized sports (this does not include high school), it seems like something you just do with your kids. They stay active, build friendships, learn, etc. I agree, there can be a boatload of positive reasons why your kids should participate in youth sports.
Here are some reasons why they should not.
1. You do not want your children to experience actual defeat and failure. This isn’t meant to enter into the “trophy for participation debate” (you can read a good perspective on that here). Nonetheless, related is the idea that some parents are a bit too protective. This stems from good intentions no doubt, but the end result can be damaging to the young people, especially as they age. Helping our children experience failure and defeat as something that should never derail them is an immensely valuable lesson. We will always fall somewhere in our life, and probably frequently. Helping them see this as an opportunity and not something to be feared has great value. If you can’t do this, you may want to rethink allowing your kids to participate in youth sports.
2. You will not be able to commit to Sunday Mass or their faith formation (e.g. Confirmation classes) if they have games or practices. I have seen a number of college athletes looking to get confirmed because their time in high school put sports over faith, and their parents let them or even encouraged them. I am a believer in the value and formation sports can create, and even unique opportunities for some. As exciting as that can be, it should never trump getting to Mass on Sundays and forming our children to receive the grace given in the Sacraments – where we encounter Jesus Christ every time. If you are not able to keep holy the Sabbath and put God first, especially on Sundays, you may want to rethink allowing your kids to participate in youth sports. Being faithful to our Lord and understanding our need for Him and the value of Sunday is much more important than a game. You can read about some fun reasons why Mass is so important here.
3. You care more about the “success” of your child’s performance than he/she does. We all have seen the parent on the sideline taking a much too active role in “coaching” or “encouraging” his/her child. Yep, the one yelling all game. Encouragement and instruction are important, but when they take pride of place in our interaction with our children, we are out of whack. This will have negative consequences on your relationship with your kids and also push a diminished understanding of their own identity and worth. If you can’t control yourself in this regard, you may want to rethink allowing your kids to participate in youth sports.
4. You do not see value in the formative potential of sports. One of the greatest benefits sport can and should bring to our culture is in terms of its formative prowess. As Coach Phillips pointed out in his article, Sport and Play: Let us not confuse the two, sport should be directed to the formation of virtue for those who participate in it. We shouldn’t diminish sport to an extended-day-care on one end or a win-at-all-costs on the other. As parents, it is imperative that we see sport as a powerful piece of the formation of our children in virtue. If you can not get behind this vision of sport, you may want to rethink allowing your kids to participate in youth sports.
In the end, we are the ones responsible for teaching and forming our children. When it comes to sports, we need to be the ones to lead them by helping them understand, even at an early age, the right vision of sports and how to navigate the tremendous lessons it will provide. If we aren’t able to lead our children well in this regard, we need to evaluate their involvement in sport. Of course my suggestion to rethink allowing them to participate is purposely a bit dramatic to make a point. I do believe we need to rethink how we set the tone for our children in terms of sport.
(One example referenced above is identity: many young athletes develop their identity around sport, which can be very harmful. Our duty as parents is to help them shape their identity as sons/daughters of God.)
If you need help forming your young athletes, consider picking up a copy of Compete Inside, or some other resource. All in all, if we take this a bit more seriously (while having a ton of fun doing it), our children will be much more equipped as they enter into adulthood. Would you agree?
Copyright 2016 Thomas Wurtz
About the Author: Thomas Wurtz is the author of Compete Inside: 100 Reflections to Help You Become the Complete Athlete and serves as a Catholic missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). He is the founding director of Varsity Catholic, FOCUS’ division serving college athletes and blogs for FOCUS and his own site, www.faithandathletics.com. He and his wife are expecting their third child this summer.