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José Rijo-Berger is the president of Rijo Athletics in Woodinville, WA. He was formerly a professional baseball player and scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. José is a man of faith, a deacon at his church, and the author of Creating Winning Relationships Through Sports: Using athletics to strengthen families. Today José shares five lessons parents can look to instill in their children through sports.
I’ve been fortunate to work with more than 50,000—yes, 50,000—families since we opened our baseball and softball and training facility in 1999. In all my years as a coach and professional scout, I’ve seen only a handful of kids with elite-level talent, and fewer still who are blessed with the work ethic, coaching, family support, and opportunity to make it.
The odds of getting a full-ride scholarship or a big pro contract are long, but in sports there is a 100% chance that your child will learn lifelong lessons about faith, effort, attitude, playing on a team, and giving God the victory regardless of the outcome.
As the parent of a young athlete, here are five ways to make those lessons positive ones.
1. Teach gratitude and humility
As believers in Jesus Christ, we play and coach for him, not for ourselves. We must win and lose with humility, and our character should not change regardless of our success on the field.
Athletic talent is a blessing. Show your child how to take a compliment with grace, gratitude, and humility. When someone says, “That was an amazing performance,” teach him or her to look the person in the eye, smile, and acknowledge the team: “That was a battle, and everyone played well today.” This is a great way to instill a level of godly humility within your children (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6).
2. Life is about what we give to others
The simplest thing we can offer a child is encouragement. It takes so little to notice something good about a player—hustling down to first, helping the coach, or patting a teammate on the back (Eph. 4:29). Whether I’m a coach that day or a parent in the stands, I try to point out something positive from each kid. Recognition really boosts a child’s confidence and shows her or him that their actions are noticed.
3. Focus on what your child can control
Don’t offer cash for hits. Or ice cream for a great play. Or assign extra chores when your child makes a mistake. Go ahead and celebrate accomplishments, but don’t set up incentives based on things your child can’t control. Instead, reward a great attitude, effort, teamwork, and other things he or she can control. You’re going to love your kid no matter how he or she plays, right?
4. Encourage a balanced life
You’re raising a child, not an athlete. Encourage a balance of faith, family, work, and fun in life. A child whose sole interest is athletics is going to struggle when the opportunity to play competitively is no longer there.
5. Put your own words into practice
In sports and in life, we want kids to show poise and confidence, to focus on what they can control, and to put the rest in God’s hands. As a parent, can you do the same?
I see parents who work every family vacation around a tournament, or who put off family dinners and time with their kids who don’t play sports. It’s hard to teach children to lead a balanced life when our own lives are so consumed by the sports our kids play.
How to balance
Fellow Christians often ask me about how to balance church and athletics. In our family, my children have a love for Jesus and our church. They also enjoy sports.
When a game conflicts with Sunday worship and we decide to go to sports, we’ll go to a Saturday night service or a family devotional that week instead. Knowing that more is “caught” than “taught,” we want our children to see that, while we may need to be flexible with our time, we are still going to go to church. When we have a conflict and decide that we’re not going miss Sunday service, this too teaches an important lesson about priorities and balance.
This approach works for us, but everyone is different. Athletic events may be a deal-breaker if they conflict with Sunday worship. If you need to, talk it through with your pastor. Talk to other families at your church. Let the Spirit guide you.
Play the percentages
Odds are, your child won’t be a professional athlete. But it’s a sure bet that the lessons your child will learn from sports can prepare them for a richer, fuller, balanced life, and to follow the path of Christ. Play the right percentages.