We live in an era of sensational headlines bombarding us and our children every day – mostly bad, rarely good – and many are connected to sports and athletes. Just in the last week, I read the following headlines: “Player arrested on DWI and reckless driving charges,” “Coach placed on administrative leave in wake of domestic violence,” “Player calls NCAA corrupt in wake ofscandals,” and “Player tests positive for banned substance.”
I once had a boss who said unabashedly that “sports were the fall of the Roman Empire.” While I don’t agree with his view of history, there is plenty wrong with sports and athletes in our culture today. But, as a Christian, I already know we live in a fallen world, so this should not be shocking. But, what is frequently surprising is the missed opportunity that parents have to use athletics as a tool to educate our children. Yes, educate and prepare them for the broken world they will live in as adults, which is not that many years from now.
Coaches are Teachers
Every coach I have ever known has taught me something -- from my first baseball coach in third grade, to my tough ex-Marine middle school basketball coach to my high school golf and basketball coaches. As an alum and season ticketholder for Davidson College basketball, I’ve also learned from Head Coach Bob McKillop, who has led his team for the past 29 years. Each of these fine coaches gave their best and left a lasting impression on their players (parents and fans too) with how they coached their kids.
Teamwork: the Most Important Value
There are lots of good things about sports. It’s not all headline-grabbing bad stuff. Physical fitness, school pride, community building, time-management skills, accountability, revenue generation and entertainment are some of the positives that can come from sports. But, I believe there is an even more important value to be gained through competing in sports, and it’s called teamwork. It’s right up there with grammar, logic and rhetoric. After all, the first Olympiads actually occurred alongside the beginnings of classical education with the ancient Greeks.
Coach McKillop says, “Basketball is a metaphor for life.” We are all part of a family, and each of us will likely work in some form or fashion during our lifetime. That means we will be parent, sibling, or child – a part of a family that relies on each member to contribute in order to function well. Also, if we hold a job or have a career, we will have bosses, subordinates, colleagues, customers, etc., who we will need to work with in order to be successful.
It’s Not All About Winning
All of the negative attention-grabbing headlines are born out of a belief that it’s all about winning. While winning is a worthwhile goal and can be fun, it should not be the ultimate goal. Instead, what’s more important is to do what Coach McKillop teaches – to think first and foremost about how you can help your teammate. For instance, he encourages his players to set screens for a teammate or to pass up an open shot when a teammate has an opportunity to make an easier shot. Yes, it’s that simple but rarely seen.
Preparing Kids for the Future
If we teach our children to value this kind of teamwork, they will be better prepared to enter a broken world and do Christ-like work in it. It’s what we’re called to do by Jesus and it’s the heart change our kids need – to love thy neighbor. Athletics can help our children learn to help their teammates. And, the beautiful thing is that helping your teammate helps the team, and if the team is helped, each player is also helped. Amazingly, this can happen in the real world too.
Success Comes from Helping Others
The Golden State Warriors are one of the winningest teams in all of sports. People focus on the fact that they have won the National Basketball Association Championship two of the last three years and that they are a scoring machine. But winning and scoring are a result of other actions. Not everyone realizes that the team has led the league in assists for three years running. It’s the assists (helping a teammate) that lead to extraordinary success on and off the court.