Recently, my husband, Mark, and I signed our five-year-old daughter, Madison, up for her first venture into organized sports. This fall she is going to play soccer. But more important than learning the sport, she will also begin learning about teamwork, sportsmanship, giving your best effort and much more.
Unfortunately, it also means that she will be exposed to the many pitfalls of organized sports. It seems that almost daily we hear stories of poor sportsmanship. In fact, in some extreme cases, disagreements over sports have cost people their lives.
Next month, athletes from around the world will gather in Athens, Greece, for the 28th Summer Olympic games (August 13-29). The Olympics were founded to demonstrate and reward talent and sportsmanship. Of course, that ideal has not always been upheld but, despite that, the Olympics still captivate the world.
Like it or not, sports hold a prominent place in our society.
Mass or the Game?
Adding to that struggle is the fact that many times practicing our faith and keeping our sports schedules come into direct conflict.
It seems as if not a week goes by that I don’t see a kid walking up to receive Communion in his or her sports uniform and then being rushed out the door obviously on the way to a game.
I’m often struck by the irony of these situations. Mass is supposed to be a time of calm reflection. But if you’re keeping an eye on your watch the entire time, are you getting the spiritual nourishment the Mass is supposed to provide?
The subject of sports on Sunday has been debated for years, and will be for years to come, I’m sure. Even the pope has weighed in on the subject, saying playing sports on Sunday—among other activities—seems to have eroded the concept of Sunday as a day of rest.
Raising a Good Sport
So what’s a parent to do? Sometimes it seems that sports are an integral part of our everyday lives—kids practicing or playing sports, watching sports events on TV, listening to them on the radio or making treks to the ballparks, stadiums, arenas, etc.
That very inundation, though, provides us with a perfect teachable moment. Here are some ways for everyone involved to get the best out of the sports experience:
•Set a good example. Show your child how to be a good sport by being one yourself. If your child sees you yelling at the referees, coaches or players, he or she will think it’s O.K. to do the same.
•Be encouraging. As we all know, the odds of a kid playing sports professionally are slim. Still, their efforts should be encouraged and praised. Not every child will be another Peyton Manning, Alex Rodriguez or Tiger Woods. Let your children know that’s O.K. and all that matters is that they try their best.
•Encourage individuality. Not every kid will like to play sports. And some kids will work their way through a number of activities before finding their niche. My nephew, Edward, for instance, played lots of different sports before settling on swimming, in which he has excelled. Support your children’s decisions and encourage them to do their best at whatever activity they choose to take part in.
•Reward good sportsmanship. When you see an example of good sportsmanship—either professionally or on your child’s level—make sure to offer praise. Likewise, point out and discuss examples of poor sportsmanship.
•Have fun. Although some people may not believe it, life will go on whether a person or team wins or loses. Enjoy the benefits of taking part in sports—the teamwork, the learned skills, the exercise, etc. Remind your child that you will always love him or her—no matter what.
•Shift your routine. If your child has a game scheduled for your normal Mass time, attend a different Mass so that you can get the most out of the experience.
Next Month: Learning and Living Compassion