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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Big Fish

Big Fish

I had a really crappy day last week.  Not a catastrophically crappy day—just a preponderance of small, seemingly simple things going less than smoothly. It was like the slow drip, drip, drip of water—one drop by itself is no big deal, but add them up over time and it really wears on you.

There was some printing trouble that really should have been routine. There was the coffee shop forgetting to put coffee in my coffee. (I wanted a mocha and ended up with a hot chocolate.) There was me choosing to make healthy decisions by venting with Joshua—calling him on his cell, not getting him; calling him at home, not getting him; texting him in caps with exclamation points, not getting him.

When we did get to talk (only two minutes after my texting breakdown) he wisely commented, “You must have a big fish on the line.”

This phrase is one of those marital codes we have developed over the years. It comes from a religious sister who commented that when something goes really wrong before a retreat, it means there must be a “big fish” on the line for the weekend—i.e., God must have something important in store, and this is how other forces are attempting to derail that plan using our most human foibles.

I am highly susceptible to human foibles. So I particularly appreciated Josh’s comment because it was a call back to my center. It was a call to set aside the distractions and focus extra hard on looking for God around me.

And not surprisingly, God was there. God was there when I ran into a former student, now a colleague, who checked in with me about how my day was going. God was there in the sincere, encouraging hug I received from another minister. God was there in the little toddler girl touring campus with her family who stared deeply at me even after she was well past me on the sidewalk. Her sweet innocent eyes just felt like God looking back at me, seeing me, seeing my struggles that day and inviting me in turn to see and know God was there with me, that all I had to do was look.

So did I have a big fish on the line?

Maybe.

We have had an unusually full summer. I avoid using the word “busy” because our pace has been just fine and even relaxing. But there are two particularly big projects that have taken over our time: one that has the capacity to impact a lot of folks for a good while into the future, and another that is just about our family.

In both cases, Joshua and I did not so much decide to take these things on, as much as had the option presented to us and followed those leads.  We feel like our investment in these projects was far less an act of our will and much more an active looking and listening for God’s will.

We had invitations extended to us and—thank goodness—rather than attempt to decide if we felt like doing them or had the time to fit them in or if we would benefit personally and professionally from them, we prayed about them. We took a hard look at the gifts, skills and resources we possess and asked ourselves if we thought God was calling us to apply them in this direction at this time.  In both cases the answer we received was yes, so we took a step forward.

At every frustrated, exhausted, or nervous moment during the summer when we looked back at the choice to say “yes” to the opportunities presented to us, we have found peace in knowing that we did not force these developments. Rather they were the product of sound discernment. We do not have a full sense of how far down these paths we will go, but we rest with confidence that we are on the right track when we are staying in tune with God’s will.

We know that there are forces opposed to goodness, and given the scale of the projects we have been involved in this summer, it is not surprising to find opposition to their development. When the water gets muddied, though, we always find clarity when we return to the source and cling to our trust in God.

That is part of what was so challenging and important in how my crappy day unfolded last week. In our lives there are SO many ways we can be distracted or put off of staying in tune with God. But it is essential to look for God in the little things so that we can see and hear God all the more clearly in the big things.


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