Finding God's Winning Spirit

What's the Score?

April 14, 2014 | Greg Smith | Christianity

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I was very fortunate last month to spend a couple days at Seton Hall University.  The purpose of this trip was to visit Father Warren Hall’s class on “spirituality and sports” where my book Sports Theology was being used as a textbook.  This was a very enlightening few days and I was duly impressed with the work his department is doing with athletes and spirituality. I was also touched by the unconditional love that was shown this “recovering Baptist” by everyone there – by the way, to quote the Buick commercial, "This is not your mom and dad’s Catholic Church anymore". 

During the class one of the students asked me, from a sports theology point of view, what was my position on keeping score during early childhood years? To be more specific, he wanted to know if I believed the philosophy that keeping score could negatively affect individual self-esteem. This is how I answered that.

First of all, to take scoring out of any game or changing the rules so that no one “feels bad or has a bad experience” is fine but then we need to call it something else. Obviously the problem here is that we cannot continually do this for the rest of our child's life. At some point our kids are going to have to deal with the fact that they come up short, someone finishes ahead and that God forbid, they are held accountable for their performance.  For those individuals who think that self- esteem, should be or could be, formed by a T-ball score have a limited understanding of where self-esteem comes from.

You show me a six-year- old child who has a tantrum when he or she strikes out in a Little League game and I will show you a child who has problems in other areas. The last thing we as parents need to do is try to remove those situations where a child can learn to cope with disappointment. The point here for me is that there is as much to learn in not winning as there is in winning. More often than not the major problem with winning and losing is how parents handle this or, quite often, miss-handle this.

In my clinical practice when I ask parents how they handle anger in their family they often times proudly say that they have never argued in front of their children and when they argue and fight they do it behind closed doors. Although this may sound like the mature, healthy thing to do it does not teach children how to deal with their own anger, especially when it comes to relationships. If these children never see two adults manage these "negative" emotions in a healthy way then they are left to figure this out on their own. Some would say that having no model is better than having a bad model. I don't buy that.

Look, I'm the first one to say that sports in this country has gotten completely out of hand and we have put too much emphasis on winning and losing. We have turned sports into career paths, peer groups and many times full-time occupations for our children. I believe that if we found some undiscovered culture or tribe deep in the Congo that two things would be part of their culture. One would be some concept of God and the other would be that they played games. I also believe that in these games they would keep score. 

Unfortunately, in this country we believe that you can only be a winner if you come in first.  We live in a “win or lose” culture — it is all or nothing.  It appears to me that this is a pretty limited definition of winning.  In this sense there are very few winners and a whole bunch of losers, very little success and a lot of failure. The real problem is not in keeping score it is how we view and treat those who do not come in first. The answer is not simply taking numbers off a scoreboard – it is going have to be how we position sports in our lives, what we let sports represent and how we communicate this to our children. The problem is not even in winning or losing.  As Christian athletes we are encouraged to compete and win. 

Paul tells us in 1 Corintians 9:24 “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. We are not to aimlessly run around with no sense of personal performance or accomplishment (vs. 26).  The real truth here is that healthy competition teaches the values of preparation and confidence that comes from doing one’s best – no matter the score. 

What should we be teaching and learning through sports anyway?  How to identify a loser and winner? By no means! Through sports we can teach that our value does not come from numbers or rankings but from the fact that “God so loved us….”  God’s love is unconditional – He loves us win lose or draw. By the way, this is the foundation of a good self-esteem and should be what we are teaching through sports.  We compete on the court, field or in life with joy for the gifts God has given us. We live life victoriously which trumps winning every time. 

Well that is what I told the class at Seton Hall anyway.  What do you think? 

A mutual friend, Mike Davenport, shared this. I like the message, it's well written and something everyone needs to know.
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I like the way you think!
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