When to Call it Quits.
I’m a dad who values sports. I played professional sports, coached over 20 of my four sons’ youth teams, and saw three of them play Division 3 college football and one make it to a Division 1 team. I wrote a previous article, Knowing the Goal, to encourage the right use of youth athletics. But many of you reading this know the way that the demands of modern youth athletics can grow to dominate the individual and family lives of those participating. You’re tired, and you’re sensing that your priorities have gotten turned upside down, but you feel stuck.
Are you ready for some good news? You don’t have to stay in the fastlane of youth sports overdrive. You don’t have to give up family dinners, play dates, and attending church together to pursue the inflated dream of athletic achievement and scholarships for your young soccer-playing kid.
This article is a reality check…a wakeup call…a reset button. It’s an appeal to parents to seriously consider the priority youth athletics have taken in your life and that it may be time to take a break.
Youth sports should never damage the family, steal childhood, or compromise the relationship between a parent and child.
I’ve heard too many stories of athletes in middle school and high school who are already burned out emotionally and worn out physically. Kids quitting the sports they once loved because the joy is gone. That’s wrong. But there’s a bigger casualty than our individual children. The family is the dugout of life; it’s the place where you can rest, refresh, and get coaching in the middle of life’s complicated game. But our home, the very place our kids need to be a source of strength and refreshment, has too often become the source of pressure to perform.
Like with all our priorities, God demands that we constantly assess what high-octane, super-expensive, year-round youth sports does to a family…and to childhood.
I grew up in snowy Hamburg, NY and started ski racing in elementary school. It was just a lot of fun in the beginning, but eventually the demands grew and skiing became 3 days a week with short trips to race at various ski areas on Saturdays and Sundays. When mom and dad saw what was happening they shifted gears, and doing so taught us a vital lesson: we quit ski racing and decided we’d be at church on Sundays. They didn’t tell us that God was more important. They showed us.
The world has changed since I was a boy growing up in Buffalo playing pick-up football and skiing with my dad. Lives are scheduled. Sports leagues are private and expensive. The unbearable weight of professional competition, comparison, and maniacal dedication have migrated down from professional sports and now rest on the shoulders of our children. Parents and kids are all feeling the pressure. Some are enjoying it like a constant adrenaline rush and some are trying to simply endure it because it seems like the best path to success and college. And there are far too many dads and moms trying to build their performance-driven identity by vicarious and intense involvement in their child’s sports “career” (a ridiculous word for anyone other than a professional athlete or working adult).
“Lawn mower parents” have replaced “helicopter parents” as they try to mow a perfect path to success and happiness for their kids, rarely asking what God wants for our children. Rarely considering God’s kingdom in this quest for success and happiness. Sometimes we become the “promoter parent,” putting all other family functions on life-support while Josh and Suzie’s athletic quests dominate our family’s agenda, schedule and budget.
When it comes to youth sports for our kids, we have to ask ourselves, “is the tail wagging the dog?”
Sports is a wonderful channel for a child or young person to grow their gifts, enjoy teamwork and learn life’s lessons. They can be a fun rallying point for families, and a place for Christian witness and ministry. But youth sports should never damage the family, steal childhood, or compromise the relationship between a parent and child. Let’s make sure we are following God’s game plan for raising our children. Deuteronomy 6 coaches us to love God above and before all else in everything we do. We’re to teach our children God’s love and model it for them every morning as they wake, every evening as we kiss them goodnight, as we drive them to practice at school, as we sit at the dinner table, wherever we find ourselves. If sports is making this harder rather than easier, it’s time to stop and reconsider.
Please take some time to prayerfully assess the priority and effect that youth sport participation has had on you, your children, and your family. Do they love God more because of it? Are they seeking God’s kingdom rather than their own? Are they growing in their trust for the God of the Bible? If not, make some tough choices. Draw some boundaries. Take a break. Rediscover family activities, the life balance, and The Life Giver, that modern youth sports has blitzed.