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Pat Macken

Sports are good, but God comes first

Voices Nov. 28, 2018

Tom Coughlin, former head coach for the New York Giants, attends Mass. Catholic parents must make sure the Sunday schedule works around attending Mass, writes Pat Macken. (CNS photo)

Parents today are under a great deal of pressure to put their kids in high-performance sports. The obsession with children’s sports can lead parents to sacrifice everything else important in their lives including God.

Getting children active in sports in general is healthy but speaking as a sports professional I assure you there is no need to enroll them in an academy at 6, 7, or 8 years of age. Anyone who tells you that failing to do so will cost your children any chance at long-term success is not giving you the full story.

While I admit competitive sports are set up differently than when I was young, I know of many, many examples of kids who didn’t get involved in a sport until 10 and didn’t join an academy until 12, and they have reached very high levels.

However, my main concern is that following the early-age, long-term academy route is in many cases tearing us away from our faith and family foundation.

The Mass and Eucharist should be the centre of our life, yet so many children and their parents are missing Mass because of sports events and tournaments. As Catholic parents we must make sure our Sunday schedule works around attending Mass, plain and simple.

There are many choices of times for Mass. If an event involves several games throughout the weekend, then our child may miss one of the games, but they will not miss Mass under any circumstances. This is how your children learn their priorities when it comes to faith.

It is important that you let the coaches know from the beginning that this could happen so there is no surprise. Once you find out all the times of tournament games, you should inform the coach if there are any that your child cannot make.

Secondly there comes prayer. We should try to keep up daily family prayer, even praying a decade of the Rosary on the way to games. This can very easily be connected to your child’s sports life. Since every gift we receive in life comes from God, we can be praising him and thanking him for the talents we have that allow us to excel at sports.

We should be grateful and pray for our coaches and teammates. We can ask God to help us work hard, perform well, and act as an ambassador for Christ, that we will always be sportsmanlike and respectful of opponents and officials. We can pray that there will be no injuries in the game. We can also teach our kids how to offer up their game for someone who is sick or suffering in some way. 

Don’t forget involvement and support for your parish and the priests. When you think of how much money we will pour into our kids’ sports ($5.4 billion annually spent on youth sports in Canada) we often seem to have very little left for the church. Investing in your son’s or daughter’s sports and the conditioning of their body is wonderful, but we need to invest in taking care of their soul as well. Help the church put the facilities, programs, and people in place to help develop their spiritual lives fostering a closer relationship with Jesus. 

Family time is often wiped out by the sports competition our kids participate in, unless you consider trekking across town in the car from game to game family time. Like everything else that matters to us we must schedule true family time rather than trying to wing it from week to week. It is so important to sow the seeds of unity and love among all our family members when they are young. Like the Holy Family we must remain close, sharing more special memories than our sports games. Our sports won’t be with us all our life, but our family will be. 

Another thing we don’t want our kids’ sports to damage is their personality. Stay involved with your child’s team for many reasons, but partly to see if the coach, team, or sport are reinforcing your values. The virtues of humility, teamwork, persistence, fair play, and fortitude are vital.

When kids become highly rated within a sport, we often see an attitude of vanity – a belief that he/she thinks he is better than others. Because of this attitude we also see poor sportsmanship. As a parent you must make it clear to your child they will be pulled from the sport if this attitude becomes prevalent.

With all activities in our children’s life, including sports, we should be teaching them to give their work to God and become mature Catholic boys and girls. This is when sport becomes truly great.