Things Christian Parents Might Want to Consider with Regards to Youth Sports

I am not a sports mom. I was an athlete as a kid and played on sports teams through college. My kids… not so much. I am not sure if it’s the homeschooling thing, or just their personalities, but they’re not sports mad.

We tried to get them involved in team sports when they were younger. Both played youth soccer – for one season. It was the most depressing thing I witnessed being out on those fields. Little kids crying, begging not to have to play. They were 4 and 5, coming from a long day of “school” and just needed to be home eating dinner and having a bath. Yet – 7 pm – or later – they were out on the cold fields playing soccer. Our kids had been done with schoolwork for hours, and were rested and excited to be out playing. It was so sad. The kids didn’t love it, so we decided it wasn’t for us.

One summer we tried baseball. It was supposed to be a fun summer league for 6 and 7 year olds. NOT. We didn’t last long there.

Now, our kids take twice weekly Tae Kwon Do lessons at a local church. They’re advancing, growing, and loving it. It’s great for them. And, we play Upward Basketball. Upward is basically “church league” with one practice and one game a week. It’s supposed to be a discipleship program with sports thrown in. I’ve coached teams, worked as a referee, and both kids have played. Big aged out this year, but I “made” Little play. He didn’t want to – but it’s winter time, he needs the exercise, he’s a social kid do time with friends was good for him, and I like the program. It was a good learning experience for him.

So, after all this, what’s the point of this post? This year I worked as a referee at Upward. I officiated 3 games a week for 6 weeks. I worked with the 3rd and 4th grade boys teams. Every week I learned something new, and I wanted to share some of it here. This is my list of – Things Christian Parents Might Want to Consider with Regards to Youth Sports:

1. Don’t yell at the refs. This should be obvious – but I can’t count the number of “Oh, c’mon ref!” comments or “You missed that call, ref!” I heard this season. It’s sickening. Even if the referees are being paid – youth sports is youth sports. Kids aren’t very good and if we called every infraction we’d never get to play.

Hand in hand with not yelling at the refs…

2. Don’t blame the refs for a loss. Parent’s negative comments – no matter how valid – about the officiating sends a CLEAR message to our kids that their performance doesn’t matter. It removes personal responsibility from the kids. If the officiating was bad – then their poor play, lack of hustle, failure to rebound or play defense didn’t cause the loss – it was the refs. They will NOT learn that their play directly impacts their ability to win. They will NOT learn that sometimes, the other team is just better and you get outplayed. Learning that teaches grace and respect for a worthy opponent. Hearing parents make any disparaging remark about officials is a responsibility “get out of jail free” card and teaches the kids to be victims and to make excuses for their losses.

3. Your kids true character will show on the court. Sorry. It’s true. I’ve hard all the excuses, “He’s just caught up in the game”, “He just loves to win”, “He’s just a little carried away, he’s not normally like this”. They are just that – excuses. If your kid is excessively competitive at home – it will show up on the court and it will be ugly. If they lack self control at home – it will show up on the court and it will be ugly. If they cannot take correction at home – it will show up on the court and it will be ugly. If they lack the ability to control themselves when frustrated – it will show up on the court and be ugly. How does it show up? Ball slamming, rude comments to refs, arguing about calls, throwing things, hitting other kids, rude remarks, ignoring coaches, an unteachable heart, blatant disregard for coach’s instructions and doing their own thing, looking our for themselves above the needs of the team, etc… I could go on. No – my kids aren’t perfect and I am grateful for the character flaws that show up during sports (and other times) so we can talk about them, seek scripture and pray about our failings. We use these opportunities to refine character. OFTEN, I see parents excusing behavior rather than addressing it. Sports can be a way to highlight talents – and flaws. Lets use both of those to glorify God and not miss the opportunity to refine character.

4. Please don’t coach from the sidelines if you aren’t a “Coach”. This last week of reffing I witnessed the saddest thing. It seriously broke my heart. A 4th grade boy – a phenomenal basketball player (seriously – could have gone 5 on 1 and probably won) – had a family member on the sidelines. The family member was yelling at the kid ALL SORTS of instructions. This boy was a young man of character and was trying his best to do what his coach asked him to do. He was passing, he was sharing, he played clean defense. He was conflicted, though. He COULD do what the family member was asking – but it wasn’t within the rules, or what his coach wanted him to do. He had the ability to oblige the screaming family member. He would be the hero to most of the people on the sidelines if he DID do what was being screamed at him. BUT, it wasn’t the RIGHT thing to do and he knew it. It wasn’t fait to his team or coach. To complicate things, the family member didn’t know or care about the rules that Upward plays by. There is ONLY man-on-man defense – so this boy going to block other kids is against the rules. He can’t do it. The coach had a plan that was designed for ALL the boys to learn something. This boy going off and obeying his family member wouldn’t meet the coach’s ends.

This is an extreme example – but parents coaching from the sidelines is VERY similar. Your kids want to please you, and the coach. BUT, they’re going home with you and get to listen to YOUR critique of the game. Guess who they’ll listen to…. YOU. Not the coach who has given up their time and is there to teach. They’ll listen to you – not the coach who has a plan and a blueprint to help the kids learn the game and character. Or, they’ll listen to their coach and then hear from you in the car about why they didn’t do x, y or z that you yelled from the sidelines. They’re kids. They cannot manage everything the coach is telling them, and make their bodies do it all, and not be distracted, and do all that you’re yelling at them. Either coach, or be a supportive encouraging parent who supports the coaches. Please don’t try to coach from the sidelines.

5. Be aware of what you cheer your kids on for. (I know, bad grammar, sorry!). When I was a kid, my parents came to all my games. They never cheered. They never congratulated me on being a high scorer. But, they would get on me if I was a poor sport, or being a ball hog. Frankly, our society has enough ME going on and could use a little more TEAM and a whole lot more servant. I have seen enough talented kids score a million points with the team leading by a million to last a lifetime. But the rare moments – when the talented kids make an effort to get the ball or a shooting opportunity to a less skilled player – those are gold. Those teach a servant’s heart and teamwork. I’m not saying throw a game – I am saying that sports gives us the opportunity to share with our kids what we value. Are we communicating we value their ten baskets, or their good picks they set for a teammate? Or the way they helped an injured opponent? Or the fact they said “thank you” to a ref without being asked? Are we cheering our kids on for hard defense, good passing, or only when they score? Yes – by all means celebrate with your athletes – but be aware what you are really communicating.

I guess my comments all boil down to one theme. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” This is true for life, and for youth sports. We should aim to glorify God in the way we parent, and we should help our kids glorify Him in the way we play. Winning and losing is irrelevant.

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