“I play for fun” sounds pretty weak in comparison to the phrases, “I am a serious player” or “I play to win”! Whenever a “serious” sports family hears about a team that is JUST playing for fun, they overlook the players/team/league/tournament all together as though it is not up to their standards. Humanity has always been plagued with a comparative mindset, a mindset that allows for the determined, hardworking, superior to climb upon the shoulders of the best of the rest. Isn’t this what makes America great!? Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness! This mantra is powerful and has put us in charge of our own destiny. This place of freedom can be abused, especially when it trickles down to youth sports.
It isn’t just youth sports, it is part of everyone’s day in the whole world! Let’s talk about religion and irreligion. Think about it, there are three ways of looking at life: RELIGIOUS people who believe in a higher being who they try to appease through obedience, IRRELIGIOUS people who don’t believe in a higher power and believe themselves to be in control of their own destiny and finally people who believe that God stooped down and became flesh in order to serve those who He loved, ultimately to die for them in order to reconcile them back to himself. This is called the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. Youth sports simply reveals what is going on in the depths of our hearts. We want CONTROL and since sport has “time and score” we try to control it.
What do I mean by control? Well, it is that feeling when you win. Everyone knows that sense of accomplishment when you finish the dishes, make 10 jumpers in a row, save enough to take your family on vacation or lose another 5 pounds. These are tiny wins and stacking enough of them together makes us a WINNER! The opposite is also true: dishes piled up, utter failure as an athlete, loads of debt and no family vacation, obesity because of lack of self-control etc. all these tiny losses stacked together would in theory make you a LOSER. We tell ourselves every day that we can control whether we are winners or losers at life based on tons of tiny decisions and we spiritualize it. The religious person might think, if I am a winner, God will love me and if I am a loser, God will be sad at me while the irreligious person may operate here, If I am a “winner” then I will have better control over my life, health and finances then no one can tell me what I can and cannot do.
The Gospel states that Jesus’ perfection is the only perfection that satisfies God’s demand and that those who trust in Him alone will receive that gift of right standing before Him, unmerited favor. This gift is called Grace and it really does create a third camp entirely. When a person understands that they are pleasing (right now) to God because of someone else’s goodness, they can experience FREEDOM. Freedom comes when you don’t have to hide anything knowing that you are accepted by the one who matters most. This is a place where sport can be played, FOR FUN!
I know this is a MASSIVE stretch to go from serious vs fun to religion, irreligion and gospel, but I think it is worth our consideration. If you are someone who believes that you have to “do” in order to “get” and you live life in an “if then” paradigm, you probably live in religion, it may not be formal religion but all religion is the same and there is a good chance that you are a comparative thinker. If you are a comparative thinker, sport may be something you try to control, therefore taking it out of the “FOR FUN” category. If you have experienced God’s grace in your life and don’t have to live with a comparative mindset, sport may just be able to be played “FOR FUN”.
In conclusion, whether you are religious or irreligious, you live your life with a comparative mindset. This comparative thinking becomes a place of bondage because everything is categorized into a good, better, best system or a set of tiny wins and losses. This DOES affect your view of youth sports. Ultimately, God’s view of you matters, but He doesn’t want you living as comparative thinkers where winning or losing in sport or the status of your team (serious vs recreational) matters, instead He actually wants you to live in freedom and to be able to “play for fun”.
I think there is a way for it to be “seriously fun”, but that is for another post.
Aaron Dickson is from a coach’s family and has been around sport his whole life. He played hoops in college on a full scholarship (where he met his wife also a full ride hooper) and has been training basketball players for the last 10 years. Aaron is passionate about Jesus, his family, sport and discipleship which is why he started Pursuit Sports, a ministry that invites followers of Jesus (who speak sport at a high level) to disciple athletes through skill training. Pursuit Sports is very simple: we train skills for 30 min and do leadership development for 30 min in order to invest in athletes.