I have a strange relationship with athletics. I was an athlete in high school. I can rarely watch a game without commenting heatedly about decisions being made by players, coaches, and referees. I still play sports whenever I find an opportunity and think my aging body will hold up. I love cheering on the K-state Wildcats and the Packers. Yet I find it infuriating how much attention sports get, and how much money they get. I suspect if we spent a fraction of the money we spend on athletics on issues like peace and poverty ...the world would be a better place to say the least. There is way too much emphasis on sports in our schools and our communities.
Yet, my husband and I made our daughter play softball this year. We want her to be physically active, to learn about teamwork, and to participate with the other kids her age. Sports can teach us many things. In sports one can learn about working hard, and doing things you didn’t think you could do. Sports can teach us about setting goals and working toward those goals. We can learn about tolerating discomfort and remaining focused. Sports can teach about working together, supporting others, setting aside self interest to accomplish a goal. Sports can teach us about not letting others decide what is or is not possible for us, about going beyond expectations, and sometimes accomplishing what others would have said was impossible.
There are so many opportunities during summer sports, for children to have success in ways they have not previously had success. Softball, baseball, t-ball, summer sports camps, swimming lessons all are opportunities for children to gain confidence and learn about encouraging others so they can use these skills in the areas of life that really matter. These opportunities could nurture young peoples’ inner strength so that they could work towards making the world a better place. For example, working towards eliminating poverty, not allowing others to determine what is possible. They could work hard, ignoring discomforts they might face, focused on the goal. They could work together with others knowing the opposing team is poverty not their coworkers.
Sports could encourage amazing character in children. But coaches and parents would have to remember that character building is the point, not winning. We would have to remember that winning does not make us better than the other team. Rather it means our team has successfully accomplished working together toward a goal. We would have to remember the weakest player on the team is not an obstacle toward our team’s success but rather an opportunity to participate in and witness amazing transformation. None of this eliminates being competitive. It just reminds us of the true benefits of competition.
We also need to remember sports are not the only ways to accomplish these things. Theater, debate, forensics, service clubs, etc. can accomplish many similar goals. We have assured our daughter we won’t always make her play sports. We can work with her to find other ways to build character and a strong body if she truly does not like sports. We just want her to make that decision because it is what she wants not because she thinks she can’t play sports.
So, from the teeny-tiny ones with their helmets down over their eyes to the great big ones lacking a bit in coordination, let’s cheer them all on with enthusiasm. After all, we are witnessing character growth which might eventually change the world.
And don’t forget to support the local children’s theater too!