The day is finally here–opening day. My seven-year-old son eagerly pulls on his baseball pants, team jersey, and baseball hat, and then gathers his bat, glove, and helmet. He’s anticipating the first game of the season. “I am a professional,” he brags to one of his new teammates. “I’ve been playing for five years!” It’s true–my son has loved this game since he was three years old and led by his own personal coach, who ran the bases with my little darling and helped him stay focused in the outfield. He adores his team; he prays for them. He hates to be late for practice and loves when it’s his turn to bat. But, mostly, he just enjoys being part of a team.
As long as he continues to love it for the right reasons, we will continue to make the sacrifices needed to get him to practice and two games a week. I have to admit–I do not particularly enjoy sitting through these practices (especially since it’s been so cold and windy). But I do enjoy watching my son love something so much.
But this year, I have observed a mom who has taken a love for the game and turned it into something ugly. Each practice, she sits there with a glaring eye, refusing to speak with any of the other moms (believe me, I’ve tried!) because she has to watch him the entire game. At one point, she was threatening to discipline him for looking at his shadow during practice. The boy doesn’t appear to be abused, or I wouldn’t mind my own business. But I’m sad for him that he can’t simply play for the fun of it. She has even bragged to anyone listening that she’s just competitive.
I think that we moms (and dads, too!) are feeling the pressure to compete with one another to the point that we are stealing our children’s childhood. We put that pressure on them to succeed because we don’t want to be the parent whose kid failed at something. Because that would mean that we failed at something, too.
I faced this with my oldest daughter when she was five years old. She had taken dance (at her request) for two years and was finally starting to get the basics down. But she had had enough and didn’t want to continue. I was torn between wanting to see her succeed at dance and letting her make her own choice about what she does with her life. In the end, I made her finish out the year because she had made a commitment, and we didn’t sign her up again.
According to an Arizona State study in 2016, “‘When parents emphasize children’s achievement much more than their compassion and decency during the formative years, they are sowing the seeds of stress and poorer well-being, seen as early as sixth grade,’ said Suniya Luthar, one of the co-authors of the study.”
This is something I have been thinking over as I watched that mom take the joy out of her son’s baseball practice. Are we stressing achievement so much that we’ve lost sight of the people around us? Are we teaching our children to become more like the world by pursuing the things of this world? What would Jesus tell us to do at a baseball game?
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves–Phil. 2:3.
When we allow our children to become a part of a team, what are we hoping to accomplish? As I think on this, I am becoming more convinced that baseball is a great way to teach our kids to reject “selfish ambition” and to “count others more significant.” In fact, any team sport would be great for this. On a team, there is no single player who is more important than all the rest. Each person needs to work together as a cohesive unit in order to make the play. It’s great for someone to stop the ball; but if the first baseman isn’t paying attention, the play will not meet completion, and the runner will keep going.
Maybe this post sounds crazy to you. Maybe you are that mom or dad who wants to see your child win at all costs. Maybe you’re the one stealing the joy from your child’s game. I want to caution you if this post rubs you the wrong way: life is too precious to worry more about a game than teaching our kids kindness.
I don’t recall seeing anything in the Bible about winning the competition at all costs. But I do recall several verses on kindness:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you–Eph. 4:32.
A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself–Prov. 11:17.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth–I Jn. 3:18.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law–Gal. 5:22-23.
I get it; I really do. It’s so easy to get caught up in the game or in academics or in wanting your child to be a “Terrific Kid,” that you lose sight of a higher prize–the one that ends with God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). But we parents have an important job to do, and we need to regain our heavenly focus.
I’m all for cheering on your kids as they play their favorite sport, and I definitely encourage my children to always do their best. But I want them to focus on doing these things with their eye on something more important than winning:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God–1 Cor. 10:31.
Now, get out there and play ball!