Whether or not our sons would play on sports teams was never a question. Rather, the question was which sports would they play.
Both our sons played on community, church, and school sports teams. In all, I have sat on the sidelines for over 25 years watching baseball, football, and basketball. Those were precious days of watching our sons become men.
Competitive, group sports teams, were the means by which our sons had reinforced for them the same valuable life lessons from men that they learned from their father and me. We discovered early the value of having men we trusted invest in our sons. We were grateful, rather than angry when a coach called and wanted to meet with us and our son for the purpose of our son confessing some potentially detrimental behavior. This man loved our son and was not afraid to confront him, in love, and encourage him to come clean with us. It was important for our sons to learn that decisions have consequences and they were accountable for their actions.
Our oldest son was on the inaugural team of his school’s football program. Though the team practiced hard, regularly, and with enthusiasm, they did not win a game for two years. The parents and fans wildly cheered when we got a first down. Other teams didn’t understand what a big deal that was to us. Persistence and faithfulness in the face of relentless difficulty were hard, but valuable lessons for these emerging men.
Being a part of a sports team taught our sons the responsibility of keeping commitments. Football practice, when you are a middle schooler is not fun. We required our sons to finish a season once they committed to the team. They needed to understand that if you make a commitment, you keep it, no matter how difficult or inconvenient. The team, and not their personal agenda, was the priority.
One of our sons played football in college. I was impressed by the coach’s commitment to building the character of the young men under his charge. He was one of the primary reasons we wanted our son to play for his team. We trusted that he would be an appropriate authority figure and provide the discipline our son needed. Our son’s college was in New Hampshire, but that did not keep us from traveling by car or plane to see thirty-five of his 40 games. We were committed. It was a short season of our lives that we greatly enjoyed.
One particular weekend we had made the long trek and found out during a casual conversation that our son had missed breakfast. That was unusual for him, but it was more serious than an empty stomach. The team rule was if you missed breakfast, you didn’t play or even dress for the game. Nor do you sit on the bench in street clothes. You sit in the stands. We did not see him the entire game and had no idea where he was. At first, we were angry at his lack of consideration, but we soon understood that this was a great opportunity for him and his team to learn a valuable lesson. Yes, he was the one responsible for making sure his alarm was set for AM and not PM, but he was also on a team. The team needed him that day, but none of them thought to check on him to see why he wasn’t at breakfast. Needless to say, his position coach wasn’t anxious to face us. But, we thanked him for sticking to the rule and applying the discipline, no matter how hard it was for the team. Our son needed to learn the importance of assuring his clock was set correctly and the value of teammates looking out for one another. Oh, and he never missed another team breakfast.
Competitive sports programs helped reinforce our commitment to teaching our sons values we deemed necessary; decisions have consequences, persistence, and faithfulness in the face of difficulty, the responsibility of keeping commitments even if it requires personal sacrifice, and the importance of discipline. Those lessons were learned as a natural result of being a team player. It wasn’t all work; they also had fun.
Life-long friendships were developed on those teams, not just for our sons, but for us as well. It was an incredible opportunity to live in light of the gospel before our friends, to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, often presented themselves as we did life with our college football family each weekend for four years.
I think my sons’ time in community, school, church, and college sports arenas helped them to become better men in the arena of life, and most important, more courageously in the arena serving Christ and his kingdom.
Garnetta Smith serves as the Director of Student Success at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship by David E. Prince is now available. Get your copy today!