Stoked for Sports, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Stoked for Sports


October 31, 2011

Our son, Oscar, played football as a fourth-grader last year. He was on a team of 3rd and 4th graders and though it was flag football, they wore full pads and helmets. There was plenty of contact: the boys were basically taught the first two steps of tackling—making contact and wrapping up—without taking someone to the ground.

I was uncertain how Oscar would take to the sport. I loved football when I got to play in high school and college intramurals. I made sure, though, that it was his decision to play, not mine. I encouraged him, and was able to describe the virtues of the game—teamwork, sportsmanship, courage, discipline—but I wanted him to want it for himself. He decided to give it a shot.

Turned out, he did great. He was not the fastest or strongest kid on the team, but excelled at the mental part of the game. Catholic Youth Organization is great about emphasizing participation, and he got to see the field a good bit during games. I had the time to be able to volunteer as an assistant coach, and it was gratifying to be out on the field with him during practices and games.

I have three hopes for our kids when it comes to athletics, and getting a good feel for a sport is one of them. Getting them to try a sport is one thing, but because they are beginners and lack skill, they are easily discouraged. For example, a 10-foot goal in basketball can be a long way to shoot a ball when you are in grade school. I hope to encourage them in a given sport long enough for them to get a real sense of the sport—not just how difficult it is, but how rewarding it can be.

Another hope is that they find something they are passionate about. That word “passion,” at its root, has to do with suffering. When it comes to sports, I certainly do not want my kids to suffer, but I do want them to find something they value enough that they are willing to sacrifice for it.

This year, when fall came around and signups for football started, I had a serious conversation with Oscar about his desire to play. In 5th grade, the game moves from flag football to tackle football. I knew that he had a good basis on which to decide, given his experience last fall. He seemed open to playing—“kinda” interested, he said—but there is no room for “kinda” in tackle football. It is a sport that demands commitment.

I asked him about other interests—soccer, for example, or climbing. His eyes lit up when I mentioned climbing. He has always loved to climb, mostly trees and climbing walls. Then this summer he climbed to the top of a smooth light pole next to our house like it was a palm tree. We’ve had him in a climbing summer camp before, but we haven’t given him a regular opportunity to climb.

So, instead of football this fall, we’re taking him to a bouldering gym twice a week. (Bouldering is climbing that does not exceed 10 feet high, and thus does not require ropes and harnesses.) His eyes genuinely light up when we are there. In gym lingo, he is “stoked.”

I suggested that he increase his ability by doing some exercises at home on non-climbing days. He has taken the challenge and is doing some pull-ups and push-ups now after school, and after several weeks of climbing, he is really improving. It is fun to see him having fun, and that he is willing to work at getting better.

The third hope I have for our kids and athletics is that they play at least one team sport, and Oscar has chosen basketball for that, which is great. Winter will be here before we know it.

There is a fine line between encouraging and pushing children in athletics. I’ve seen pushy parents who are too demanding of their kids, and most of the time both the child and the parent are miserable. Sports are, above all, a way to enjoy our bodies. There is a problem if a child doesn’t experience joy in an athletic experience. Yes, the agony of defeat is part of the game, but joy should not be absent.

Sports are also a way to grow in excellence through cultivation of habits—a lesson that translates very well into any other area of life. The key for me in this area is encouraging Oscar enough that he adopts that desire for excellence for himself. If I push him too hard, though, that desire becomes ordered not towards the particular excellence of the sport itself, but towards pleasing me and satisfying my authority.

Judging by his eyes in the climbing gym, he loves to climb and wants to get better. Which makes me, like, totally stoked, bro.

 

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Marriage and the New Evangelization

Marriage and the New Evangelization

Do you ever wonder what this “New Evangelization” is really all about?  I am certainly no expert, but I would say that it is about focusing ourselves more fully on the fact that our faith is fundamentally about a relationship with a person: Jesus. When we have a personal relationship with Jesus, it invites us to something and has implications for our lives. This is what we mean by a life of discipleship.

So, do you think you could describe that relationship to someone in three minutes?

This spring my students and I have been focusing on discipleship as our theme for the semester (using Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell). One of our most challenging activities to break open the book was what we called the “elevator pitch.”

Each student had to craft how they might describe the essential saving work of Jesus and how they see it operative in their own lives in three minutes, and make it sound natural for them. Granted, there may not be anything “natural” about this, especially for Catholics. We often shy away from even using the name “Jesus” conversationally, opting more comfortably for “Christ,” if we use any name at all.

But the idea of the exercise is that we should each, as intentional disciples, be ready and able to describe our relationship with Jesus.  There will be times, like in an airport or at a large family gathering or at a neighborhood barbeque or, yes, in an elevator, when we will be put on the spot. A window of opportunity will be presented to us, and it might be a very short, small window.  With that in mind we need to have a clear articulation of our faith at the ready.

Now, I feel strongly that I cannot ask my students to do something that I, myself, would not do.  So during the week that they prepared pitches, I spent a lot of time thinking of how I would do the same.

For me the hardest part was introducing into polite conversation the “Great Story” of Jesus. One of my students actually had a really lovely, gentle opening (which I will likely steal ever after). Here is the rough sketch of my elevator pitch:

I believe God is a God of love. And that is what is meant by the Kingdom of God—it is a place where love prevails. God sent us Jesus, his Son, to be the face of that kingdom and to show us what love looks like. Jesus did this in word and in deed during his life. Because of sin this was seen as such a threatening possibility, such a potentially revolutionary position, so damaging to the status quo, that he was targeted and ultimately put to death for it.  But that was not the end of the story, because thanks to Jesus, death does not triumph over life.  He rose from the dead.  His example of love in the face of persecution, and ultimate self-sacrifice was met with new and abundant life.  And I see this same pattern in my life as well, which has implications for how I feel called to live my life. When I struggle or experience challenges with others and can find a way to be loving or self-sacrificing, that sacrifice is always met with new and abundant life.

From there I can cite any number of examples from marriage and family life.  For instance, when Joshua and I are disagreeing about something and I completely see his side of it but don’t feel like he is seeing mine, I could remain obstinate. But if I am self-sacrificing enough to acknowledge that I see his side and can name what I understand his perspective to be, often he will thank me and work even harder to understand where I am coming from.  This is the Paschal Mystery: sacrifice met with new and abundant life.

We live the Paschal Mystery everyday in marriage.  Not only is there Good News to share in this, we are passionate about it.  We see that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection sets a pattern for our lives – a pattern we adopted at our Baptism. This is the deepest rhythm to our lives, and we experience it every single day in marriage and family life.  Sharing a life together is a continual invitation to live unselfishly, to die to ourselves in love, and to experience the joy of new energy and life.

As Christians, it is not enough to simply understand how our lives conform to Jesus’ Great Story. We participate in this story, and it is such great news that it must be shared. You won’t find me voluntarily striking up conversations in Starbucks with an agenda in mind, but I certainly feel a responsibility to be able to respond when the Spirit is moving and an opportunity presents itself.

 

 

 

 

 


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