Sports teams in a Christian school are sometimes seen as an expendable extra that requires a lot of time and effort. Some may even argue that the energy spent on these extracurricular programs detracts from the Biblical instruction that is our focus. However, team sports can be a very important part of a Christian school and their benefits should not be underestimated.
For example, they provide an excellent means to teach Christian living and build Christian characteristics in the personalities of the students. Through these activities, athletic talents and abilities can be developed and recognized publicly. Sports teams can also be an effective way to build a sense of community by enhancing relationships between students, students and teachers, and the school and supporting families. The larger community can also be enhanced through school sports teams as athletics can serve as a method of witnessing.
Implementing Christian principles
Interactions on a playing field can be a great place to put Biblical principles into practice. The different scenarios that arise supply ample opportunity for teaching moments, especially lessons aimed at attitudes pertaining to a Christian lifestyle. During the sports action, attitudes such as caring for the opponent, playing honestly, and smiling under pressure can all be encouraged. Coaches can instruct their players to keep unwholesome talk from their mouths, to speak truthfully, and to say only things that are up-building to others (Eph 4:25-29). It is one thing to teach these in a Bible class and another to put them into practice in a pressure situation. Sport teams provide a controlled, supervised environment in which to monitor and encourage these proper Christian attitudes. Being a part of a sports team enables students to learn the art of losing gracefully (not trying to place blame on others, not making excuses) as well as winning gracefully (congratulating the other team, giving praise to God, not boasting). Overall, the athletes can be encouraged to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27) and make their faith evident to all.
The teaching of respect for sport authorities is especially relevant for young Christians who are in the process of understanding the act of submitting to the authority of God. They can practice this attitude through interactions with coaches, referees and others in such positions. Respect in the sport domain includes following the command to do “all things without arguing and complaining” (Phil 2:4). What a teaching opportunity to put this into practice when the referee makes a call we do not agree with!
Being on a Christian team will also help keep the stress of competition in perspective. Students will be taught that winning is not the most important aspect in athletics and definitely not a goal to obtain using means such as cheating or dirty play. Here also, students may enjoy the fact that sports teams in a Christian school will not pressure their athletes to play and practice on Sunday. This is an obstacle that young people face when they participate in community teams which frequently incorporate Sundays into their playing schedule, especially at the higher levels.
Nurturing athletic talent
Another benefit of the inclusion of sports teams in Christian schools is the development of athletic talent. We believe that we are all given gifts and abilities by God. For some, their strongest talents lie in athletics. When we instruct students to develop their gifts to the fullest, we should strive to provide a means and support for doing so. Sports teams are one way to grant such an opportunity.
Public recognition of these athletes is a way to praise God for His wide diversity in granting abilities. This recognition is especially important for students that may excel in the sports arena, but struggle in other areas of school, such as academics. Celebrating athletic talents is also an important lesson for spectators to learn. Sports is a venue where students can be taught to compliment each other and look for the abilities, not the disabilities in their classmates. We must all learn to speak positively about each other and put our emphasis on building others up.
The third thing that school sports teams do is build a sense of community. This is evident primarily between the students themselves. Sports teams boost peer interaction by providing an avenue for fun. As opposed to class-time, which is primarily for working and being attentive, sports allow for a time of release and downtime. During this less-structured time at school, friendships can be fostered and peer pressure can be motivated towards a positive, wholesome goal.
Sports teams also allow for unique interaction between teachers and students that may not arise in the classroom setting. Rules in the extracurricular arena are not as strictly defined, and the teachers and students have an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level. These friendships can build mutual respect that then transfers back into the classroom, promoting a very positive learning environment.
A third area of the community that is strengthened by sports teams is that of parents and school. In our parental schools, this bond is an especially important one to foster. By being involved and supporting the school teams, the parents can stay in touch with activities at the school. Parental involvement also sends a supportive message to the teachers who often dedicate a lot of extra time to these activities.
Parental support of the sports teams is also an excellent way for parents to strengthen the bond between themselves and their child. Supporting your child’s team shows interest in his or her life. Watching your child play opens many doors for communication. For instance, you can discuss different plays, acknowledge accomplishments and analyze upcoming games. Increased communication, such as this, can only serve to strengthen the parent-child relationship and form a bond between the generations.
Witnessing through sport
Besides building up our own Christian community, school sports teams can serve as a way to reach out to our neighbors. For some people in our larger community, interacting with the athletes from Christian schools is as close to church as they will ever come. These people see the name “Christian” on our jerseys and scrutinize closely to see if our athletes, coaches and fans behave differently from them. What an opportunity to let our light shine! Our athletes must be taught to put Christian principles into practice and show exemplary sportsmanship.
Coaches should discipline themselves to be even-tempered, positive and respectful. The coach can often set the tone for the team and proper Christian leaders should be encouraged to become involved to do this mentoring.
A final aspect of our witnessing through sports involves the spectators. The command to say “only what is helpful for building others up” (Eph 4:29) applies especially to this group. Things such as coarse language, constant criticism and disrespect for referees are unacceptable for a Christian spectator. We should be careful to send the right message and let God’s love shine through us!
There are so many ways to praise God, and opportunities to focus on Him in the realm of sport. School sports teams should be supported by the community so that Christian teaching does take place and proper Christian leadership does occur. It is very important for Christian teachers and parents to become involved. In this way we can instruct and encourage our youth in ways that are pleasing to God. There are many benefits to the physical training that accompanies sports teams and if we maintain the proper focus in our Christian schools, then we can use these means to also promote godly training (1 Timothy 4:7b,8). Let’s take the challenge and strive to run the race, not only physically, but also spiritually, so that we may win the prize of the imperishable “crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24,25).
This article first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Reformed Perspective.