Compassionate competitors

For many parents, the phrase “Back to school” really means “Back to bleachers.” As high school sports are beginning, now is the perfect time to give our student-athletes a reminder to be compassionate competitors. And Pastor Jared does a great job in this Your Time of Grace video, helping parents talk to their teens about that.

Ah, but Christian parents, what about being compassionate competitors in the stands? As we settle in to cheer for our favorite team, let’s consider the witness we give. If people hear us cheering (or yelling) from the stands, do our actions separate us from people whose moral code is not led by the almighty God? Is a win so important that we are willing to lose an opportunity to let our lights shine? 

Honestly, sometimes I’m afraid it does. As we tell our kids about the lessons we want them to learn on the court or field, I think adults should model that behavior in the bleachers first. 

Do we display compassion to coaches who are there to train a team, to encourage excellence, and to (hopefully) teach them that while victory is sweet, character comes first?

Do we display compassion to the referees, who are not all-seeing and all-knowing? As sports leagues have a harder and harder time finding referees because of the amount of verbal abuse they face, we can keep quiet on (admittedly) questionable calls. After all, in the history of all sports, has a referee ever changed his or her call because a fan yelled from the stands? No. So I doubt it’s about to start now. 

Do we display grace to fans of the other team? After all, there are bleachers full of people who God has placed in our paths, giving us the opportunity to shine like stars in the universe. Screaming doesn’t help us achieve that goal.

Do we display grace to the players who—for Pete’s sake—have only been in this world for 16 years? I know it’s a gut reaction, but the collective sigh that comes from the bleachers when a teen strikes out, drops the pass, or hits the ball out of bounds makes the burden of a mistake even heavier. Do we allow our mood to be directly related to the outcome of a game? If that’s the case, we give the impression that our identity is based on the score of a game that we’re not even playing in.

Mainly, though, do we display compassion to our own children? By the words we choose, do our kids think we will love them more or less based on their performance? Do we nitpick from the stands when they let their defender by or miss the screen? Trust me, they know when they make a mistake. They don’t need us to point it out. We wouldn’t want our bosses to point out every little error and then call us on the phone to talk to us about it on the drive home. So let’s not do that to our kids.

Instead, I hope we set a new standard this year as Christian parents, as Christian spectators. Be loud as we cheer for teenagers to use God’s gifts for God’s glory. Be compassionate as we give them grace in their development. And please, above all, use the car ride to remind them that their value is not found in their sacks, touchdowns, fumbles, serves, corner kicks, missed headers, strikeouts, missed free throws, or game-winning three-pointers. In fact, it’s not based on their performance or statistics at all. Their value is found in their status with God who has made them in his image, who tells them that—thanks to Jesus—they have his full approval. Their sports highlights and lowlights don’t make God love them more or less. 

Go team!

Linda Buxa, who is known for how much she enjoys talking to other parents in the stands, once asked her daughter, “What do you hear me yell from the stands?” Her kiddo replied, “Good job, Pumpkin!” Now she’s thinking she shouldn’t be calling her teenager “pumpkin” in public.