Our daughter just finished an incredible season of high school volleyball where her team made it to the regional semi finals. Although they did not advance to the finals, they played really strong all year; gaining experience, improving their skills, and learning to work as a team. Our daughter, who is socially driven and loves being a part of a team, is sorry the season is over, even though she did not get a great amount of playing time in her first year of varsity athletics, which is fine with us. You see, we have a wide and diverse vision for our daughter that includes more than just athletics. So at this time in her life, we are encouraging her to spend time exploring many of her gifts and talents including music, leadership, drama, volunteerism, and athletics. In fact, even though she didn’t play a lot this year, our daughter enjoyed the training she received at practice, the commaraderie, and the bus rides to and from games almost as much as playing in the games themselves. And we know that her time will come. We are allowing the Lord to lead us year by year as to how much time, money and focus we are to put into our daughter’s current sport, making sure that it doesn’t become an idol for our family.
As I thought about the fact that all of our children participated in team sports at one time or another (our sons played soccer, basketball, and football, and our daughter, currently in volleyball and softball), I began to consider how team participation, in particular, had affected our children’s character and values. I realized it had greatly affected them in several key areas.
The first thing that came to mind was, selflessness.
You see, there are many times in team sports when it is your job to set your teammate up for success. They end up getting the glory while you stay in the shadows. Whether you are setting the ball up for the “hitter” in volleyball or blocking for the quarterback in football, you are often not the one for whom the crowd rises to their feet in raucous applause. Selflessness is a trait woven throughout nearly every book of the Bible, especially the New Testament where Jesus is held up as our prime example of selflessness and humility. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
Another godly trait that is necessary in team sports is, perseverance.
Players on a team often must continue on through injury, mental blocks, fatigue, discouragement, and game losses. Mental perseverance, better known as, mental toughness, and physical perseverance, are equally necessary. In Hebrews, the Bible speaks of running the race of life with perseverance. “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
And we can’t forget the trait that is always crucial to great athletic performance, discipline.
It is not easy to show up at practice day after day, come rain or come shine; to practice a particular skill until you find yourself performing the motion in your sleep. Nor is it easy to keep up one’s grades and fulfill other responsibilities at home and school while involved in a sport. It requires discipline; whether it’s keeping a schedule or developing better nutritional and workout habits essential for peak performance. The Bible has a lot to say about discipline that is relevant to those in the athletic arena. The writer of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on , however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
Patience is another quality essential for athletes in team sports.
A rite of passage for many high school athletes is when they have finally done their time “riding the pine” (sitting on the bench or sidelines) and they can finally get in the game. They may spend weeks, months, or years waiting for their chance. And some are not destined to ever become starters on the team. Therefore, patience is essential. Although our culture has perpetuated the mantra, “I want what I want and I want it now!”, that is just not real life. So, as young athletes wait for the coach to say, “Hey kid, you’re up!” , they are developing patience. “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
Our daughter attends a Christian school and has godly, Christian coaches who pray with the team and encourage them to be all they can be in Christ. The rarity and blessing of that fact is not lost on us. We are so grateful for their influence in our daughter’s life. Participation in team sports has had a positive effect on all of our children and there is no question that it has impacted and continues to impact their character in the areas of selflessness, perseverance, discipline and patience…all of which are treated with great importance in the Word of God.