I’ll admit it. Three of my kids have played travel sports. They even played on Sundays. Sometimes we missed church two Sundays in a row. Shriek!
Their mother and me thought our girls would be the next Mia Hamm and our son is the next Lebron James. And of course, if they are to go to college without paying for it, they need to play anywhere and everywhere and often. Right? No, not at all.
No, this isn’t another lengthy blasting of youth/travel sports taken too far by overzealous parents. It’s more like a gentle reminder of the delicate balance that exists between sports and faith in our children.
Sports teach kids things that words and parental modeling alone cannot. Teamwork, physical challenges, determination, overcoming adversity, and lessons in character just to name a few.
And sports can certainly teach an observant parent valuable lessons along the way (by watching other parents and coaches) in exactly how not to act.
I’ll skip right to what I believe to be the tipping point of that balance: when parents lead or allow their kids to believe that a sports game or practice is more important than their faith or church attendance.
When the traveling is over and your kids are beginning to make more of their own choices, what’s the message they have been hearing from their parents during their travels and adventures? When they make their own choices about church attendance and involvement, what will they choose? Which end of the scale are you pushing them toward?
Traveling time with family during the younger years is golden time. The memories, experiences, and friendships made are priceless. The absence from church services is temporary. But the importance placed on faith must be constant.
That kid that missed 4 weeks of Sunday church service as a 9 year-old will be 15 before you know it. The depth of their faith and the value it has in their life will not be dependent on where they spent those four Sundays. It will depend largely on the message they receive from their parents over the course of the entire 52 weeks.
Teach well. Make sure kids know that you’re not away from church because sports are more important. Keep your eyes open for teaching moments. As your kids get older, the moments become clearer. Are you prepared for them? And more importantly, how well have you prepared your kids for them?
A local basketball tournament changes schedules around and places your son’s team playing on Sunday. Let him know it’s ok to choose to go to church and miss his game. Let the choice be his, but lay out the steps for him to choose faith over sports.
Your daughter’s soccer coach holds practice on Wednesday nights during your church’s youth group activities. Let the choice be hers to make. Make sure she knows that you think it’s awesome if she makes the choice to attend youth group.
Encourage them to take those bold steps that say, “My faith in God is the center of my life.”
Yes, sports are a wonderful part of a child’s development in so many ways. But they are temporary. Parents have to be aware when the balance scales are tipping dangerously in the wrong direction.
“I can’t miss a single practice, no matter what.” The tipping point is when parents adopt this same philosophy.
And like sports are temporary, childhood is temporary. A big part of parenting is simply training up our children to make good choices as they mature.
Pave the way for these types of choices, encourage them:
“Coach, I won’t be at practice tonight. I’m going to church.”
“Coach, I’m not going to soccer camp this year. I’m going on a mission trip.”
“Coach, I’m going to miss some summer league games. I’m going to church camp.”
Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are on a given Sunday morning. It matters greatly where your heart is and the lessons that your life speaks year-round.
Play hard. Have fun. Watch the scales.
The sports equipment goes to the yard sales and closets sooner than you realize.
Hopefully, most of us won’t wait til then to try to convince our kids how important a Christ-centered life is.