Sunday, August 1, 2010

Christ-Like in the Bleachers

By Sara Jo Poff

The roar of the parents’ voices filled the gym. Admittedly, the game was getting tense, but the situation was worsening. It was the last quarter and the teams were tied for the championship. Parents were beginning to scream over the sound of the coach and the kids on the basketball court were becoming confused. When I loudly but politely asked the parents to calm down, the roar quickly shifted to whispers. One mom, however, turned to me excitedly and said, “Sorry; it’s just that we’ve never won a championship!” The coaches looked grateful for the silence and the elementary players no longer tripped over their own feet in perplexity.

Currently, 41 million children in the U.S. participate in team sports. Sadly, 70 percent of them will drop out before turning 13. Sadder even still is the reason they drop out: parental pressure. According to a Michigan State Youth Institute survey, the majority of these 28.7 million children cited “adults, particularly parents” as their reason for dropping out and the main reason for the game becoming a “joyless, negative experience.” According to these numbers, seven out of ten children on your child’s team are feeling an overload of pressure to play. Consider the following plays to make sure your child isn’t one of them:

Examine Your Intentions

Whether it’s for the chance of becoming pro or the opportunity to learn good sports skills and conduct, parents are doing everything they can to put their children in extracurricular activities, and for good reason. Team sports are respectable opportunities for children to learn things like competition, new skills, good sportsmanship, and parental encouragement. Many of these children, at least at first, are having FUN! It’s only when the interest of winning supersedes these goals that the pressure starts emerging. In some cases, parents live vicariously through their child and develop an over-identified zeal for the game.

In response to the growing number of incidences of abusive behavior from parents towards coaches, athletes, and officials, many organizations offer training programs for parents on good sportsmanship. One of these organizations, the American Youth Soccer Organization, requires parents of players younger than 8 years old to participate in sportsmanship and behavioral conduct classes. Others, like the Michigan High School Athletic Association, have put together a video for parents on appropriate behavior at sporting events that can be viewed at

Rewind and Replay

It is important to take a good look at which kind of sideline parent we are, especially as Christians. Whether our children are in sports or not, it is crucial for them to feel unconditionally loved, emotionally supported, and encouraged to pursue their interests.

In order to provide the encouragement and support children need, parents must first get back to the main reasons for putting them in sports. Foremost, focus on skill building, good sportsmanship, and physical movement.

Secondly, trust your child’s coach to do the coaching. This doesn’t, of course, mean you should have a naïve sense of faith in the coach, because they’re parents just like us. But, if you haven’t observed any verbal, emotional, or especially physical abuse from them and see the coach teaching good skills to the children, let them give the directions at games. All too often, children have voices hollering at them from so many directions that they are unable to hear their coach or know who to listen to. Be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19 NIV)

At the same time, make sure your child can hear encouragement from you during the game. “Good pass,” “nice shot,” or “you’ll get it next time” are good things for them to hear and aren’t distracting. Try to avoid comments like “nice try” or “almost.” [Parents], do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” (Colossians 3:23 NASB)

Just as parents make mistakes, so, too, do officials. Instead of making sure these mistakes are corrected, think of it this way: it all evens out by the end of the season! If a foul wasn’t called and you know that your child was fouled (or even another child for that matter), don’t holler at the referee. Later on, a foul might be called for a clearly invalid foul. Use it as an opportunity to exemplify God’s commands to respect the authorities He has placed over you.

After holding back all “suggestions” during the game, don’t spend the car ride home telling your child how they could have done something differently. That behavior once again instills a winning-is-the-most-important-thing mentality. Tell them what they did well, and make sure they know that they have your support and encouragement no matter how they played.

Reach the Goal

If your child suddenly announces a decision to no longer play a particular sport, especially one they have greatly enjoyed in the past, gently inquire their reasons. Be supportive of those reasons and encourage them in other areas. Letting a child retire from a particular sport will not, as some parents think, turn them into “dropouts” or “quitters.” As long as that free time isn’t replaced with video games or television, your child can benefit immensely from making their own choices about things such as this.

If your child has other things they are not allowed to falter on, such as God’s commands, academics, and parental rules, they will know the importance of devotion and perseverance for the things that matter most in life.

The qualities that teach children good sportsmanship start at home, not on the field. Make sure your family strongly promotes good sports conduct in everything at home, from board games to yard games.

Use these ideas to help your children enjoy participation in sports. Get excited about opportunities to play. Treat them to ice cream after games no matter how well they played. and encourage good effort and self-reliance in their participation. Most importantly, make sure sports maintain their position as a hobby so they don’t turn into idols.

Sara Jo Poff, her husband Pete, and their five kids, enjoy playing basketball together from their home in Claremore, Oklahoma. As a freelance writer, Sara Jo specializes on topics related to natural family health, home education, and living for Christ. You can visit her at


Dan said...

You make great points in this article. As a parent, it is your responsibility to be a positive role model. This can be difficult as the game is on teh line and you try everything to "will" the victory, but at the end of the day, it is the confidence of the players that will make it happen and having faith in them is the only positive recourse.

-- Dan

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