The Benefits of Sport Part 2: Character & Faith Training

In my previous post I mentioned that competitive sport has been a bit of an experiment for me. Along the way we have tried to prayerfully consider it’s place and purpose for our kids and have been evaluating it’s impact on them.

I realized very quickly that God had wired our children with a love for movement. After gymnastics, Craig and I started to avoid higher level competitive commitments. It soon became clear that no matter what we tried, our older two wanted higher competition. When we tried new things, sooner or later they were given the opportunity for greater competition. Our kids are not the best athletes out there and our goals are not for professional sport. That being said, the opportunity for higher level competition happened often enough for me to stop and wonder if God had a plan for our kids in sport, and if we were getting in the way.  Eventually I realized  that God wanted to use competitive sport to start developing and preparing them for the good works he had for them to do.  They have struggled with these lessons and not always accomplished their goals. They acknowledge the worthiness of these character traits and have tried to achieve consistency in these areas. Please hear me when I say, “they have not arrived” but they are striving to develop these qualities.

With higher levels of competition we tried to expand their view of the opportunities they were getting. Sport is about more than just sport. If you are wired to create art, God delights in participating with you in developing that skill. He loves using it for his glory and enjoyment. God is honored when you use your skill and have fun doing it. It is the same with sport. If you are good at athletics, God created you for it.  It delights him to see you play.  He has a Kingdom purpose for the opportunities he gives you in it. It is bigger than being the best athlete you can be.  We started asking our kids to keep their eyes open to see what God was doing. Getting on a team is not about getting what you want, but it is about what God is doing. It is about growing in ways God is calling you to grow. It is about being available to partner with Him in his work in team mate’s lives. We asked them to remember it was about what God was doing in and through them. 
Early on I started recognizing the value of the character and faith training that had the potential to happen. 
1. God is trustworthy. The first time our oldest boy tried for a city team, he wasn’t picked. He was really disappointed. He was stoic and strong, but I knew he was hurting. I wrapped him up in a hug and told him I had asked God to do what was best for him. “You did?! How is this best?” he asked.  I told him we would just have to watch and see what that best was. I told him I knew God wouldn’t let him down. He landed in a house team with a libero for a coach. They drilled the basics and he had a good time. The following school season when they faced a player with a tough serve, or a strong hitter, he was put in because his defense was strong. He got a lot of court time. He started to realize God had done the right thing for him. It was so great to have him reach that conclusion even though there had been disappointment. 
2. They have learned to be supportive. Both kids have learned to celebrate the success of others in the face of their own disappointment. They have learned to sincerely congratulate a friend for their success while coping with a personal loss or failure. Some of my most beautiful moments of parental joy have happened in these tough circumstances. Watching my child push their personal disappointment aside, smile genuinely at a friend and say “I am happy for you” has made my heart soar, even while it’s breaking. It shows incredible depth and strength.
3. They have learned cooperation and respect. Teams can only achieve their potential if each player does their part the best they can and if there is genuine respect for one another. When there is mutual respect, players can be carefree and access their skill set because they do not have to worry that a mistake threatens their place in the team. Each player has to trust the other to do their job or they get in each other’s way and wreck the play.  Sport has helped them learn to trust others to do their job. It has reinforced the importance of focusing on playing their own position and showing others respect.
4. Perseverance. If a skill needs developing, a team needs to find it’s rhythm relationally, is in a building season, or if a coach is challenging to work with, perseverance is necessary.  Love for their sport and a determination to keep at it develops this quality. It is an opportunity to show their mettle. They have had tough seasons that have required both courage and fortitude.  Their willingness to not give up has proven to us they love their sport and are willing to do what it takes to play it. The love of a game drives participation even when circumstances are less than ideal. God has been a part of those seasons and has supplied the strength and depth to persevere.
5. They have learned that they want to play with players who are dependable and therefore, they need to be dependable. There is nothing more heartbreaking as having your teammates give up, not show up or give less than their best. A game, training period, or season is not over until it’s over and teammates need to be able to help each other fight to the end.
6. Solidarity, you win together, you lose together. No one player carries all the responsibility. As a result, you build the unit, encourage one another, celebrate together, protect one another, draw the best out of one another and give your best for one another. That can be the difference between a team that wins and a team that has potential but just can’t seem to come together to achieve it. 
7. Leadership. This has been the biggest challenge on teams where there has been strife between players, or between the coach and players. Our kids have learned to go against the flow, to encourage behavior that will make the team stronger, and they try to lead by example. If needed, they have even challenged an attitude openly and with respect. They have done this because they care about the team being the best it can be for everyone.
8. Our kids have learned to be brave. Staying strong in their faith and values when surrounded by those with different beliefs and standards is not for the faint of heart.
9. They have learned that God has a purpose.  Our kids have learned to risk sharing the truth they have learned and experienced about God. It doesn’t take long for a team to know they go to church and love Jesus. Jesus makes them different. When they are asked about it, they are ready to give a compassionate answer. These have been amazing moments. Most importantly, they have learned to love their team mates and care for them.  They have learned that God cares deeply for all people and is always at work. If their eyes are open, they just might get the chance to join him.
10. Sport has taught them to be humble and teachable. A good player is a coachable player. If a player thinks they know it all, they are not able to give the coach and the team what is needed. A big part of sport is accepting that there is always more to learn.
11. They have learned God has a plan.  Their futures may or may not involve competitive sport. That is not the goal. The goal is that they are where God wants them and allowing him to shape and grow them. God has used sport as a training ground to prepare them to live the life they are called to.
There have been times when a change in sport was necessary. There have also been times when our kids have astonished us with their fortitude and perseverance. At times, we have wanted to pull them out. They have strongly refused, choosing instead to fight through the challenges they were facing. I know it has been worth it. God has used their variety of sport involvement to shape their characters, deepen their faith and develop mental discipline. The journey has had it’s joys and it’s sorrows. God is always working and loving them through it all. Sometimes they need help to see what he is doing. We have tried to be faithful in what he is calling them to. I know God has been using all of it to prepare them. I can’t wait to see what is next for them!!

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