Here is the situation: 10 year old son has a rough game—bad shooting night, not a lot of playing time, and the team loses. The son doesn’t seem to be responding too well and to fill the silence on the car ride home, dad or mom says,“It’s ok, winning doesn’t really matter, sometimes it gets a little too competitive out there, just hang in there—it’s JUST a game.”
The saddest part about this conversation is that I think there are parents who could feel virtuous about initiating dialogue like this. Perhaps they might even feel like they have shared something with their child in that moment that would yield a nod from their pastor if he were listening in the backseat.
Why would we ever tell a 10 year old that “winning doesn’t matter”? If this is the right mentality to have, then what are we supposed to say when they are juniors in high school??–“You know what son, it really doesn’t matter what you get on your SAT—college is too serious now anyway.” Or what about when they’re 22—“The job market has gotten out of hand—it’s just TOO competitive out there…there is too much emphasis on being so good at your job anyway.” The reality of the matter is that not many parents would say that to their son or daughter in high school or after college. Why? Because reality/the now matters–winning matters–just like it does in elementary school and middle school sports.
The problem with youth sports is not that kids want to win too much or that competition is increasing. The problem is an inability to deal with and have perspective on reality—losing—not getting the playing time we thought we deserved. These are real circumstances and the problem is being controlled by these circumstances—controlled to the point where we suggest to our kids that certain circumstances don’t really matter at all. ”It’s just a game”–this mentality is predicated on avoidance not “perspective”.
For this reason, perspective in sports is not about judging other parents, it’s not about complaining about the way things are, and it’s not about avoiding the culture. It’s about dealing with what is real, what is present, and reminding our children that they are not defined by what they do, but who they are.
Originally, I put a picture of Tim Tebow up here because I figured if you saw his picture, you might want to read the blog, but now that I think about it, maybe it’s the perfect time to bring him up. Everybody always goes on and on that Tim is a Christian, but they should also point out that no one practices or prepares harder than Tim Tebow; his work ethic is unmatched. Maybe there is a correlation here.
In the fourth quarter alone (before his loss to the Patriots yesterday), Tim Tebow had one of the highest quarterback ratings for any player in the NFL at 96.3—nothing about his emotion and passion suggests to anyone that “It’s just a game”. Tebow is a fierce competitor and reading about him makes me think that he places great value on football, but an ultimate value on something else–something that provides a framework for the way he strives for excellence in everything he does.
I suppose you could substitute a lot of meaningful things in our lives for the word “sports” in this post. Perhaps what that 10 year old (or 20, 30,40 year old/me) needs to hear on the car ride home is that sports do matter, winning does matter, competition does matter—but appropriate value can only be placed on these things or anything else if we are looking through a lens that says there is “more”.
Might the Christmas season give us new perspective and define meaning for things like “sports” in our lives.
Talk again in 2012.
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in–aim at earth and you will get neither.” C.S. LEWIS