Finding a balance between sports, family life

By 
  • September 12, 2012

It’s a never-ending cycle of games

This is not a rant against organized sports. My kids have been involved in sports for many years, mostly because of my husband. Basketball, ringette, hockey, baseball, volleyball — you name it, they’ve played it. 

We’ve travelled far and often to take our kids to games and tournaments. We’ve met hundreds of players, parents and coaches and shared with them the satisfaction of playing hard and the thrill of victory. There have been many good times.

But it’s often been a struggle to balance sports and family life. We’ve just barely finished baseball season and now hockey is upon us. Thank goodness my husband and I agree that, as a family, we should never miss our holy obligation of Sunday Mass in the name of a game. Even on tournament weekends, we always find a church and never miss Sunday Mass.

Still, as someone who didn’t grow up with sports, I have been known to lose my cool when sports trumps family life. I even spoke to a priest about it, not that I got much sympathy. He warned me to be careful about succumbing to the spirit of division and suggested I embrace sports as a family event instead of bickering over it.  He must have grown up with organized sports!

So over the years I have heeded that advice and supported my family’s obsession with sports. I’ll never be an expert but I like to think I’m a keen observer. I know that most athletes and coaches are uninterested in the observations of a Catholic woman whose formative years revolved around the church and not an arena or baseball diamond. But I’m going to share some observations anyway.

It seems to me that many Catholic parents don’t make sure their children attend Mass as religiously as they get their children to games. And why do some boys wear their Sunday best to an arena and not to church? I can’t believe the number of times I’ve seen boys wearing white shirts and ties to minor hockey games, but not to church on Easter or Christmas. It makes no sense to me.

I also wonder why Catholic athletes and coaches obey the rules and regulations governing sports but balk at the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church. Also, I’m appalled by the spending on superfluous extras by many sports teams. Do kids really need two jerseys, track suits, customized hockey bags, leather winter jackets, spring jackets, pants, hats, hoodies, drinking canisters and various other team paraphernalia that display the team logo? I wish team organizers would consider how many more kids could benefit from team sports if fees were reduced by eliminating these extras.

Then there’s the schedules. There were years when one of our kids had a game on Thanksgiving, Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, a family birthday and during the Christmas week. Of course, Sunday is always fair game for the schedule makers. These games often interfered with our holy obligations and relations with our extended family. On the secular celebration of Halloween, however, one league cancelled all the games so the kids could go trick or treating.

Another concern is that a generation of kids has grown up winning participation trophies. What does that teach them? Shouldn’t a trophy be something you earn? If we’re going to spend so much time at sports, we should be teaching kids that, in addition to fair play, they need to learn about winning and losing because life is like that.

If I had my way, there’d also be classroom sessions for Catholic parents and players to learn how sports can enrich family life and be used to grow in virtue. Yes, it would be a tough sell, but I’d love to see sessions on what various popes and Catholic thinkers have said about the value of sports and about its place in culture.

I’d open with what St. Ignatius of Antioch said in the first century: “Exercise self discipline, for you are God’s athlete; the prize is immortality and eternal life.” Much better for young athletes to be pondering that than to be discussing Don Cherry’s latest rant from Coach’s Corner.

Finally, as another hockey season begins, I’ve heard the lament of many wives about being neglected after the first puck is dropped. So say a prayer for us and, dads, it doesn’t hurt now and again to surprise us with a dozen roses or take us dancing or out to the theatre.

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