At What Point Do Youth Sports Become A False Idol?

At What Point Do Youth Sports Become A False Idol?

As a coach's wife, naturally one is immersed within the team culture.

Whether passively or actively, we are all enmeshed within the idiosyncrasies of teams early on. As such, it should come as no surprise to many- football is a no-cut sport. Everyone has a spot on the team, and every player matters.

Sure, let's not downplay those pining for positions or one position group competing over the other. But let us note here and now this uniqueness of inclusivity within the sport of football. ALL ARE WELCOME

I bring this to you under the guise of a coach's wife, a world I know well. I am intimately familiar with the peaks and valleys of the off-season, the high season, and even the mid-season slump. What came as an absolute shock to me, however, was the cutthroat culture of youth sports I am learning as the mother of an athlete.

Let me explain: My child is 10. While she isn't naturally gifted at any one sport, she is good at several and, with practice, excels at them.

Last spring, she was invited to play on a select basketball team, and despite also playing softball, my husband and I agreed to let her play. However, had we known what would be on the other side of that yes, I am not sure we would do it the same if given the chance.

Her team quickly became a hierarchy influenced by nepotism and perceived talent. My daughter was often told she was not "good," she was not fast enough, and she had a lot of work to do if she wanted to play.

Those experiences prepared us for this season. Except, this season is different. She currently plays on the local high school select feeder team. And again, while she is not the best, she is also not the worst.

The team lucked out with two talented coaches, a father-daughter duo with a passion for basketball and teaching. They have instilled a solid foundation of basketball and were able to tap into each girl's playing ability. It has been a joy to watch nearly all members of the team grow in their ability to play.

TWO TEAMS AT ONCE: What I was not prepared for was the culture of other girls and teams at this age. A few players on her team play for a second team and, on any given weekend, will leave the remaining team members (6) to play 1-3 games without them. Or worse, they show up after playing 2-3 games exhausted with an attitude, "We are here to save the team," which brought down the team's overall morale.

While this might not seem like a big deal, it was not disclosed at tryouts. In fact, when asked, two even said, "If selected to play for this team, it will become our priority over other teams." This has caused an awkward divide- between players and parents alike.

FORFEITING LEAGUE GAMES FOR TOURNAMENTS: If this was all I noticed, it would be easy to say we were done with this team and find another at the end of the season, but it's not. Another team within this same league, after beating us by one point and taking home the championship, not in one tournament, but two, forfeited three league games to compete in two additional area tournaments.

Why? Certainly not to secure a spot in a post-season playoff game. For more game time? But you already had three games you forfeited, not only messing up your own record but taking away the opportunity for three other teams to compete in gameplay. Need I remind you; this is 4th grade basketball!

BENCHING PLAYERS DESPITE A 20-POINT MARGIN: And finally, one of the most bothersome things I have seen was that another team we played had a girl with exceptional talent. She showed up at our game after playing in 2-3 games that day. She carried their team to a lead by over 20 points in the 4th quarter. We were playing our friend's team, and they stated their daughter did not play much. I thought, surely, their team is up by 20, their daughter will get to play now! No, she got one minute of playing time. ONE MINUTE! For what? So they could say they won by a 20-point margin? At that point in the game, you will not give up your win by not playing your starter. Where is the skill development here? The character building?

So, I ask, what are we teaching our youth? Winning and talent are more important than team?

Have youth sports become an idol we are teaching our athletes to worship and place before God? Are sports that significant, the meaning and value have displaced the Lord's priority in our lives?

Sure, sports teach us to be disciplined, but have we taken it too far?

1 Timothy 4:8 says, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
1 Corinthians 9:25-26 says, "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."

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with putting our kids in sports. The benefit of exercise, learning discipline, teamwork, and working together towards a goal is powerful.

This is the power of football, the team and brotherhood, where all are welcome comes into play, a chance for Christian coaches to minister to their team.

In all of this, when we do not have the Christian coach, when you don't have the role model who prays for their players and takes responsibility for the team losses, who holds the starting players accountable when no one else will… in the midst of everything when all that is missing, where does God fit in? Where do we draw the line and re-center our priorities to focus on Jesus?

Sports is where we should be witnessing to those who need salvation, not teaching 9- and 10-year-olds to hustle for a win.

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