When sports fail us

Jose Rijo-Berger » Family Children Culture

When your children face adversity in sports—and they will!—here are four lessons from a Christian athlete and trainer to guide you.

It’s easy for parents to get caught up in accomplishments in sports, not only to impress others, but to justify all the time our children spend practicing and playing. Getting carried away, however, can have serious consequences.

In my nearly 15 years of coaching, I’ve seen kids resent their parents for making them play, and those same parents wonder why their son or daughter doesn’t want to spend time with them anymore. I’ve seen children who fear that no one will love them if they don’t meet expectations as an athlete. I’ve seen young men and women so focused on one sport that they turn to drugs and alcohol when a setback takes that activity away. I’ve seen kids quit sports because they want their mom or dad back.

The reality is, God judges the heart, not titles or wins or losses.

In the struggle, slow down

When a child struggles, one of the hardest things for a parent to do is to slow down and wait for the Lord.

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

My staff and I see this every day. Ask any one of us at any given time if we know a family at risk or in crisis, and the answer will be yes. We also see families take strength in and from the Lord and walk through their struggles together.

When your child faces adversity—and he will!—here are some thoughts to guide you:

1. Performance is not the priority

You’re going to love your child no matter what, so tell her. She needs to know that you won’t think less of her if she gets cut from a team, hits eighth instead of third, or goes 0-for-4. Be happy with a great attitude and effort, and focus on things your child can control: leadership, work ethic, or sticking to a training plan.

2. Use the credibility of your coaches

Every coach at Rijo Athletics played college or pro ball, and we’ve all felt crushed by an injury, a bad game, or because we got beat out by someone better that day. If you’re having trouble relating to your kid about sports and the pressure he’s feeling, ask a coach or an athlete for their experience and help.

3. When your kid gets cut . . .

Big differences in physical and emotional maturity, training, athleticism, and attitude make it harder for kids to compete for a roster spot as they get older. If your child doesn’t make a team, fill that time with something else he loves: bowling, fishing, movies, whatever. Turn the hours you previously set aside for sports into family time. There’s no better way to tell your child, “I like being with you, not because of sports, but because I love you.”

4. Keep playing

There are recreational leagues in virtually every sport all the way up to the college level. I remember working with a young man who didn’t make his high school baseball team, so he played in a recreational youth league instead. He got his confidence up and made new friends while continuing to feel good about the sport. Another kid got cut from his high school team three times, but he kept training with us and went on to a Division II school where he played four years of college baseball.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Share your story

Finally, for those parents who are reading this and who have experienced the struggles of addiction, depression, and other problems in your family, please share your story with others. It’s important that we’re able to talk about the challenges and pressures of raising a child who is also an athlete. You’re not alone.

If it is by grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8), and we have saving knowledge of Jesus, our sole focus should be showing Christ in us in all we do. Athletic performance, good or bad, does not determine a child’s value as an individual. In essence, our identity as an individual is based upon being created in God’s image. Though tainted by sin, we are restored with God through faith in Christ and in letting our faith carry us in times of adversity.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:8

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