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Got kids in sports? Here’s how to guard your witness

Booing. Shouting. Finger-pointing. Adults getting up in one another’s faces, arguing against a call. 

All this I have seen—in an elementary school gym. In a Christian school, no less. 

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV). 

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). 

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). 

We know these commands, right? We’re called to live these values. We’re Christians, after all. Jesus people. 

Why, then, does our Christlike conduct fly out the window as soon as there’s a ball and a referee involved? 

The threshold of self-control

At a tournament recently, I had the chance to sit squashed in the bleachers among parents from every corner of our community, thrown together to cheer on pint-size basketball players who are just learning the ins and outs of the game. 

Of course, we all want to see our kids succeed, and I suppose it’s natural for mama and papa bears to question a call or secretly rejoice when the other team misses a free throw. 

Yet how easy is it to trip the threshold of self-control and say out loud what we ought to take captive in our heads? 

C’mon, ref! Don’t you see her traveling?? Are you blind, man? Boo! Boo! Our team is gonna CRUSH your team! We’re gonna wipe the floor with your players! Oh please—this bracket is clearly rigged. We should’ve played that other team first. What a bunch of garbage! 

Hmm. What are our words and actions really communicating to our kids and others around us? What do they say about our faith in God? 

Checkpoints for maintaining Christlike character in sports

  1. Give grace. Let’s all remember that these referees, coaches, and tournament coordinators are just people, trying to do their best, often volunteering their time and energy for the sake of your kids, my kids, this next generation of Jesus followers. What are we teaching our children when we treat their authority figures like idiots? Let’s offer them our respect, and keep disputes as private as possible.
  2. Applaud the other team. Sometimes our school will play a team that’s so unmatched, so far behind in skill (and points), that I find myself cheering just as loudly for them as I do for my own kids. Find reasons to appreciate the other team—remembering they’re just kids, too—and then applaud them when the game is done, win or lose.
  3. Pray for your “enemies.” When we pray for our children or with our children, show them what it really looks like to follow Jesus, who says we should pray for those who oppose us. Pray not just for your team’s success but also that the other team would enjoy the game, not get injured, and be blessed in all they do. What a wonderful and simple opportunity to put our faith into action.
  4. Remember the long-term goal. One of the schools in our conference posts this sign at the gym entrance: “Remember: These are kids. This is a game. You belong to Jesus.” Amen! Most of our children are not going to become professional athletes. But we do hope they’ll become Christian soldiers, Jesus-loving adults who are called to permeate the world with the love and kindness of Christ. 

Guide them toward the ultimate goal

Sports can be an influential part of shaping our children’s values and Christlike character. Or sports can become the avenue by which parents and kids alike lose their witness for Jesus, simply by acting the way the world does, and not as Jesus would.

Which one are you going to choose? 

Let’s be Jesus people wherever we go—in the bleachers, on the sidelines, in the carpool ride to the games and back. 

Our children are watching, their teammates are watching, those teammates’ parents are watching—and so is God. And he is cheering loudest of all—for you and me, to persevere in honoring him. 

We can do this. 

Amen? 

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