We started a new series at church this past Sunday on Margin. Too many of us go through life at 1,000 miles per hour rushing from one event to the next. We are stressed, overworked, tired, sleep-deprived, and just plain worn out. During the message I pushed pretty hard on the issue of youth sports. While there are many great benefits that flow from children’s sports activities, I feel I need to share a little more about my concerns and share some of the dangers I have observed.
I started working with youth over fifteen years ago, so I’ve seen long-term that change that has taken place in youth sports. Personally, I lettered in four sports in high school and I made many great memories and friendships. However, with the onslaught of travel teams, AAU teams, and all-star teams, sports have moved from being a recreational activity to an obsession for far too many parents. Sports teach great life lessons like teamwork, physical fitness, problem solving, and the importance of hard work. They also give children a purpose and create a stronger self-identity. So why do I see such a problem with how sports operate today. Let me share some of my concerns.
- Too much competition too soon: The competitiveness can easily take the fun out of the sport. While many children thrive on the competitive aspect of sports, some children struggle with it. They are forced into super-competitive situations before they are physically and emotionally ready. While older high school students can handle it, we are now putting children in elementary school into highly competitive sporting events.
- The Politics and Pressure: Because children are specializing in sports more frequently and playing year round, there is incredible pressure to take part in summer leagues and tournaments. I have had youth tell me that unless they played year round, the coaches wouldn’t give them the chance to play during the season. Children and parents feel the pressure and they don’t want to lose the opportunity to participate. Which brings me to the next concern…
- The cost: These sport leagues don’t come cheap. Uniforms, travel expenses, and tournament entry fees are all extremely high. Many families simply can’t afford the cost, but yet feel like they have to participate. When families are taking out loans to cover the costs for children not yet in high school, we have a severe problem.
- The Weekend Travel: This is probably my biggest concern. Most of the summer teams and leagues have tournaments on Saturday and Sunday. Over the years I have seen numerous youth become disengaged from church and lose their spiritual focus when they drop out of church for the summer. I believe in the importance of the local church. We need weekly fellowship and encouragement from believers and I don’t feel that it can be replaced by a quick pre-game devotion. I’m afraid that we are teaching our children at a young age that church attendance is optional.
Now, I want to be clear. Sports are not bad, and these challenges can be overcome, but parents must be intentional about setting priorities. I would never want to discourage a young person from setting goals and chasing after them, but I would want them to put Christ at the center of their ambition.
For parents, I guess the bigger question is simply is it worth the sacrifice? While Christian parents can definitely help the child navigate through the dangers of year-round sports, I’m still not convinced that it is the best choice in most cases. I want to teach my children the value of sports as a way of life, and I want them to enjoy physical activity for more than the competition. By setting proper limits and helping them understand that our faith sometimes requires tough choices and sacrifice, we can help them become more than just a great athlete, we can teach them how to be a devoted follower of Christ.
My ambition in life is not to raise a great athlete, a great musician, or a great performer, but a committed and devoted follower of Christ who can change the world through whatever they decide to pursue in life. We must help them realize that Christ is our goal.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Let’s dialogue here