Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality

Is youth sports your God?

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Wyman Richardson, a Baptist minister in Georgia, is asking some questions of his fellow Christians so they themselves can discover what they value more: their faith or sports.

The objection doesn’t seem to be against sports, per se. Richardson prefaced his questions with this statement: “Athletics are good, build character, and help children grow. If our kids commit to a team, they should be taught to stand by their commitments. I played sports in school (albeit, poorly!), and am glad I did. My daughter plays, and I’m glad she does.”

However, Richardson and the late Pope, my old Catholic priest and my current United Church of Christ pastor have the same concern, as spelled out by the Georgia Baptist: “[M]y point is simply that there is now an observable, verifiable shift in priorities among Christian parents that is overall damaging to our kids, to the body of Christ, to our corporate and individual witnesses, and to our and our children’s spiritual development.”

As you might have guessed by the foreshadowing in the previous paragraph, Richardson is hardly the first Sunday-oriented religious leader to notice that the pews got a little emptier whenever youth sports kicked into higher gear. Of course, Christianity for years had the advantage, unlike other faiths, of blue laws to mandate there was nothing to do on Sunday but go to worship, so until recently it hasn’t had to deal with the competition.

Pope John Paul II, so much of an athlete that he’s under consideration to be the Catholics’ patron saint of sports, in 2004 felt the need to remind his flock that Sunday was God’s day, not just another day for sports and entertainment (youth and otherwise). Inspired by that message, the priest at the Catholic church affiliated with my basketball league stopped us from having games on Sunday, even though attendance by men, oh, quadrupled because they would show up with their hoopin’ shoes for a little pregame Mass, when otherwise they would have not shown.

My own church’s pastor has led movements to keep Sunday event-free, and she isn’t Baptist or Catholic or Dutch Reformed (the faith of one of my 10-year-old daughter’s softball teammates, who never plays on Sunday). She’s with the United Church of Christ, where they’ve let gays be pastors since 1972.

Of course, Christianity for years had the advantage, unlike other faiths, of blue laws to mandate there was nothing to do on Sunday but go to worship, so until recently it hasn’t had to deal with the competition.

The demands of travel sports, the fear that missing a practice could mean the end of the college scholarship dream, or the simple joys your child has in playing a sport — Richardson gets that. “My point is not that your child should always choose a church event over an athletic event.” What he’s wondering is, hey, parents, are YOU getting so much of a rush out of your child’s sports that you are unwittingly sending the message to your child that sports is the most important thing, that the sports tail SHOULD be wagging the family dog? The questions Richardson asks demand soul-searching for your answers, no matter whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i or Richard Dawkins.

Among Richardson’s questions:

What percentage of your child’s ballgames do you attend?  What percentage of church services do you attend with your child?  Which is higher?  Why? …

For what reasons would you allow your child to miss practice?  For what reasons would you allow your child to miss church?  When you compare those reasons, how are they alike or different? …

How excited are you about seeing your child excel in athletics?  How excited are you about seeing your child excel in Christlikeness?…

Which is a more exciting thought to you:  your child receiving an MVP award for his team or your child leading a friend to faith in Christ?

How excited do you get about the big game?  How excited do you get about corporate worship?

If your child routinely asked to stay home from practice, would you speak with him/her about “commitment”?  If your child routinely asked to stay home from church, would you speak with him/her about “commitment”?

There is an easy answer to a lot of these questions: if you miss church, there’s always next week for the rest of your life. If your child misses sports, that narrows an already small window of opportunity. But is that really the right reason?

Richardson’s questions, even if you’re comparing, say, music with school rather than sports with church, do raise a little spiritual food for thought about how healthy it is for you and your family to tie your schedules to your child’s pursuits. Particularly if you have, even in the back of your mind, the thought that this is all going to lead to that magic scholarship or pro career, despite the overwhelming odds otherwise.

After all, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than your child to go pro.

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Inside a Catholic how-not-to-molest-children class

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John Pilmaier (R) and Barbara Blaine (L) of th...

Image by AFP via Daylife

As you might have heard, the Catholic Church and its pope are in a bit of pickle over new allegations about priests who abused children, and how the church covered up and/or ignored that activity. Of course, this has been a sensitive topic for some time now. How sensitive, I got to see first-hand in 2007 when I was required, in order to coach my son’s fourth-grade Catholic school basketball team, to sit in on special training that was supposed to teach us how to make sure none of the kids on our team were abused, and how not to make sure we put ourselves in a position to be accused falsely of being an abuser.

I wrote the following post Jan. 7, 2009, for my old WordPress blog. I’m bringing it back because it will give you an idea of how some of the most loyal Catholics are dealing with the church’s pedophile problems, and how the church itself is in ass-covering legal mode to the point it’s treating the laity like they were the abusers. Also, because even though my family isn’t Catholic anymore, I’m still getting emails telling me there’s a new online refresher course for my special training.

If you are coaching a team at a Catholic school, or working with children there in any capacity, more than likely you have to go through something called VIRTUS training. Or as I call it, How Not to Molest Children.

I went through VIRTUS two years ago before coaching my son’s fourth-grade basketball team, and my wife went through it this year to teach first-grade CCD (stands for Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine — I had to look that up). I haven’t coached in a Catholic environment since then — the end of that year, we transferred our kids from Catholic to public school — but I still get emails updating me to online training, which I have to keep up with in case I ever do. The latest one came today, which I why I’m writing about VIRTUS now.

The major unvirtuous, if that’s a word, cloud over VIRTUS training is that it was designed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group — the ones who provide the church insurance to cover costs associated with those pesky priest-molestation lawsuits. Like any corporate lawsuit prevention training, it focuses as much on how not to get in trouble as it does helping the actual, you know, children. It talks about ways to prevent yourself from being falsely accused. And when you go for your two-hour training, one of your first thoughts — well, it certainly was mine — was, why are we here? As I recall, it was clergy that was the problem, not the fourth-grade basketball coaches.

After two hours in the auditorium-like, tiled basement of St. Bede the Venerable in Chicago’s Scottsdale neighborhood, my feelings changed from cynicism to sadness. As easy as it is to joke about diddling priests, it was heartbreaking to the depths to which people have been shaken by the scandal.

I don’t mean that they are questioning themselves as being Catholics, or that they are even sympathetic to the criticisms lobbied at the church. Predictably, some groused the media was making too big a deal out of it. Particularly in Chicago, and particularly on the south side of it, Catholicism is deeply ingrained culture, not merely a place to go on Sundays and worship without ever taking off your coat. Being told not to be alone around a parish child, not to give anyone a ride home who isn’t your own kid, not to leave a kid with a priest until the parents arrived — whatever the sound, ass-covering reasons, for these hardcore, lifelong Catholics, this was like being told that we are not friends anymore. The best (and sometimes worst) thing about life inside a Catholic parish is its intense sense of community, and the message of VIRTUS training was that you no longer could trust anyone.

As you might have gathered, I am not a lifelong southside Chicago Catholic. I was baptized Catholic so my then-nonreligious parents could get me into a Catholic school, and I was later confirmed as an Episcopalian. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Now I go to a church affiliated with the United Church of Christ — letting priests be gay since 1972!] Before I got married to my wife — a lifelong southside Chicago Catholic [EDITOR’S NOTE: Scratch that last word now] — I had priests in two different archdioceses trying to figure out what I was. When I gave the priest my baptismal certificate, he saw that I was four years old when I was baptized and asked me, “This is REAL certificate?” I had no idea passing fake baptismal IDs was such a problem.

Still, I was sympathetic toward people who whole worldview was being rocked good and hard during VIRTUS training. Here we all were, wanting to do good by coaching or teaching kids, and we were being treated as potential molesters first, eyes and ears to potential molestation by others second, and maybe good-hearted people third. The pastor of St. Bede knew the vibe. He had been installed there not long after word broke that the Chicago Archdiocese had reached settlements for molestation by priests, including one who had served at St. Bede. Meanwhile, another former St. Bede priest was already in jail. The new priest, who seemed to me a genuinely nice guy, said a few parishioners greeted him by asking, to his face, if he was a child molester, too.

Guarding against child predators isn’t only a Catholic problem or concern, of course. Everywhere I’ve coached, I’ve had to fill out a form for a police background check. There are too many memories of kid-friendly coaches who turned out to be not so friendly. Heck, just run a quick Google News search and you’ll see it still happens, despite all the precautions. That’s why VIRTUS training exists. Yes, it tries to prevent child predators from entering the system or if they do, from getting out of hand. But it also exists to say to parents, don’t sue us — we tried.

Tim Tebow teaches your kids how to selectively quote the Bible

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In his last game tonight, the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is wearing, as he has so many games, a Bible cite on his eyeblack. (Tebow was Christian-home-schooled, and his name has been invoked in many states in legislation that would allow home-schooled students to play on public school sports teams, as his home state of Florida allows.) Tebow’s last choice was Ephesians 2:8-10.  The verses goeth:

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Hey, kids, and parents, remember that if you put Bible verses on your eyeblack, your uniform, or your banner, some smart-aleck is going to look at the surrounding verses to check for context and/or selectively quote in a way that makes you look bad. Especially with Ephesians 2, a very short New Testament book that reads a lot like non-Israelites yelling “nanny nanny boo boo” at the Tribe now that they have a savior that YOU DON’T HAVE, even if you become as good a quarterback as Tim Tebow.

So without further ado, Ephesians 2:11-13:

11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

Please debate: Does this verse contain anti-Semitism, or are you too distracted by the image of Tim Tebow’s foreskin?

Written by rkcookjr

January 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm