My stomach is in knots, my legs are jittery, and it’s taking a significant amount of self-control to not yell like my life depends on it. Did I mention I’m on the sidelines at a soccer game? And the players are four years old? And one of them is my child?
Navigating the landscape of youth sports requires a level of wisdom and discernment I had in no way anticipated. As believers we are called to live in a way that glorifies God in every aspect of our lives: “and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). Whatever you do. And in Frisco, Texas, we do youth sports.
In a culture where the pressure to perform can be overwhelming, how can we maintain a healthy perspective and prioritize our faith while still participating in these activities? I haven’t perfected this relationship, but I’ve set a few guidelines for myself as I strive to honor God in this aspect of parenting.
Setting the Foundation: Identity in Christ Over Performance
Sports can be an incredible tool to teach our children that Christ’s love is not dependent on their performance, but it is our responsibility as parents to utilize this tool properly. We cannot allow it to become an idol that takes precedence over their relationship with God—or an idol of our own.
It didn’t take long after my kids started playing sports to recognize that I needed to lay this foundation for myself first. The knots in my stomach, the jittery legs, and, oh, how I yelled! (mostly cheers, praise be to the Holy Spirit!) These are things you might expect from someone about to do some public speaking or watching their kid run toward the street. This level of nerves over a four-year-old’s soccer game is clearly a symptom of something else entirely. Before I can teach my children, I need to ensure that my own identity is in my unity with Christ and nothing else. I must continually remind myself—through prayer, Bible reading, and meditating on the gospel—that everything I do is to serve and honor Jesus because he lived the perfect life that I so clearly cannot.
Our performance does not affect Jesus’ love for us, and if our concern is man’s love for us, then we need to confess our desire for approval and seek after the approval of the One who matters.
And we must model this for our children. It’s essential to lay a solid foundation of the gospel in their hearts. Our priority is always to be their salvation, and once they become believers, it is our responsibility to teach them that their identity is rooted in Christ. I’m doing my best to teach my children to view sports as an opportunity to grow, learn, and glorify God through their actions while avoiding letting their performance shape their identity or become a pursuit of man’s approval.
Prioritizing Family Values
In a world consumed by competition, we must intentionally prioritize family values that align with our beliefs. As we engage with sports, we should ensure that our commitments don’t hinder our participation in church activities, family worship time, or involvement in our church community. This may look different for different families.
My husband works long hours during the week so we place a high priority on protecting his time outside of work hours. We make it a point to be together as much as possible even if that means our kids are limited to one extracurricular activity each. By prioritizing our family values over the values of the world, we demonstrate that God is at the center of our lives, even in the midst of a busy schedule. And it shows. I have had other parents ask us why we choose to limit our activities or how we can all be together at every game or practice. I’ve had opportunities to share with them why we prioritize church and family time over extracurriculars.
This is an incredible opportunity to show the world that there is freedom in living for Christ and not for worldly gain. In the whirlwind of practices, games, and tournaments, it’s easy to lose perspective. We need to pray for discernment. Pray for guidance on when to say “yes” and when to step back. It may come easily to some, but it has taken much effort to condition myself to seek God’s wisdom in every decision.
Our involvement in youth sports provides a unique platform to model Christ-like behavior to the unbelievers around us. Whether we’re players, coaches, or spectators, our actions and attitudes should reflect the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). By showing respect to opponents, coaches, referees, and teammates, we can set an example that stands out in a culture often marked by competitiveness and confrontation. Philippians 2:14-15 says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Who would have thought that this might play out on the sidelines of a youth soccer game?
Our participation also gives us the chance to build relationships in the community outside of our church walls. I pray that God would give us a desire to leverage these connections to be a light for Christ. Engage in conversations that go beyond the scoreboards, and share the hope and joy found in the gospel. This is something else that does not come naturally to me, but I pray earnestly that the Lord would open doors for all of us to share the gospel on the sidelines.
Navigating the world of youth sports isn’t any different than navigating the other parts of our lives. It requires a prayerful dependence on God and the desire to grow in Christ-likeness in all that we do. By prioritizing our faith, displaying the fruits of the Spirit, and focusing on pleasing and glorifying God alone, we can have a healthy relationship with youth sports that aligns with our beliefs. My hope in sharing these experiences with you is that if you feel your stomach knot, your knees jitter, or find yourself yelling at your child to “shoot!” it might prompt you to pray. I pray that you would be aware of the opportunity you have to model Christ-likeness for your children and be a light to the world around you.