Follow the Bouncing Ball: Sports from a Christian Family Perspective

By Lainna Callentine
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How can parents help their children develop a Christian worldview toward sports?

Whistles blurt. Cheers echo throughout the gym. I squeeze through the crowd to claim a small piece of bleacher real estate. Shoulder to shoulder with other parents, I reflect on this being my 45th year in the gym – either playing, coaching or watching kids. Oh, the mileage on our cars, the missed family meals and the countless dollars spent.

Let’s be honest here. The likelihood any of our kids will sign a pro contract is rather low. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA):

  • There are 7.4 million high school athletes in the U.S.
  • Approximately six percent of them (460,000) will play college sports
  • Only two percent of college athletes will get a pro contract

What Are We Doing?

Sports have always been a part of my life. And a basketball scholarship allowed me to attend Northwestern University. Even with its pitfalls, would I make this lifelong investment again? The answer is yes, but perhaps a bit differently.

As I see my daughter’s team celebrate an ace volleyball serve, I’m reminded why.

On one hand, sports can be a valuable tool to help develop a child’s character, faith, work ethic, discipline, poise, confidence and other wonderful life lessons. On the other hand, sports can be a family idol when we lose proper perspective. Pastor, Ray Pritchard once said, “Idolatry lies in the worshiper, not in the thing worshiped. A golden calf is not an idol by itself … It is a wrong attitude that turns something good into something bad.”

A Christian Worldview of Sports

How can parents help their children develop a Christian worldview toward sports? I would suggest we need a game plan based on Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (ESV)

The end game is to develop godly character, instill biblical principles, and teach obedience – skills that transfer well in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Here are four concepts to keep in mind:

  1. Teach young athletes to make every effort to keep the Sabbath holy.
    This is a tough one given current trends in youth sports scheduling. But early in our children’s young athletic careers, we made family worship a priority and let coaches and organizers know.
    You can get creative with your worship – some churches now have Saturday service options. However you go about it, model to your children that God comes first and when others inquire about your choices, use it as an opportunity to witness.
  2. Teach them to play for an audience of one.
    Let’s unpack this a bit. Our Heavenly Father is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. No matter what the scoreboard flashes, God is present and considers His children MVPs. Help kids understand their true identity is based on who they are in Gods eyes and not on their performance or the criticism of others. There’s only one spectator that matters.
  3. Teach them to suffer well and that life is not always fair.
    The Christian life is a marathon race. The culture of participation ribbons for all doesn’t teach kids about the reality of future hardships.

    Ask any pee wee player who won a game in which no one was supposedly keeping score. I assure you every young athlete can name the victor.

    Winning and losing are facts of life. In life, the race is “set before us.” It’s God who establishes our route and we can help kids develop the resilience to stay the course despite certain trials and persecution. We’re to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

    1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (NIV)

  4. Teach them we all make mistakes.
    So often we strive perfection but learning to take mistakes in stride helps develop character. The Bible is full of people who’ve made mistakes but when they’ve humbled their hearts and sought God, He ultimately blessed His calling on their lives.

    Our children test their Christian worldviews by travelling through the realities of life. As parents, we can give them a framework to make sense of their lives and their identities in Christ. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV). Be strong and courageous.

Lainna Callentine, MD, MEd, is a pediatrician and member of the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family. She is a speaker, teacher, missionary doctor and the founder of Sciexperience. Her work as an author includes the book series God’s Wondrous Machine a hands-on curriculum for children showcasing the human body. Follow Dr. Callentine at sciexperience.com.

©2018 Focus on the Family

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About the Author

Lainna Callentine

Lainna Callentine, MD, MEd, is a pediatrician and member of the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family. She is a speaker, teacher, missionary doctor and the founder of Sciexperience. Her work as an author includes the book series God’s Wondrous Machine a hands-on curriculum for children showcasing the human body. Follow Dr. Callentine at sciexperience.com.

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