My biggest hobbies as a teenager were, in order: football, basketball, baseball, hockey … and any other sport that was stuffed in the local sports page. I was a sports nut, and my family didn’t even have ESPN.
On Wednesday nights at church, my friends and I would gather on the parking lot for the fiercest pickup basketball game you’ve ever seen from uncoordinated skinny kids. On Sunday afternoons, you could find us playing touch football in the church yard, with me often being selected as what we’d call the “all-time quarterback.” During the rest of my free time, I was playing my mom and dad in one sport or another, determined to beat them, too.
Fast forward to today.
My oldest son, who is 6, is at the age where he wants to beat dad each time we play anything: board games and sports … even tag. That, of course, raises the question every parent confronts: Should I intentionally let my child win—or should I just mercilessly beat him at each contest?
It seems at first a trivial and pointless question, but it’s not. Remember that old coach who always told you that “sports teaches valuable lessons about life”? He may not have known it, but he was borrowing a scriptural theme.
The Apostle Paul—who no doubt would have watched a little bit of ESPN—compares the spiritual walk to a runner in a race eyeing the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). He further notes that “every athlete exercises self-control in all things”—implying that the Christian, too, should practice self-control in day-to-day living. It’s not the only reference to sports in Scripture (see, for example, 2 Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 12:1).
God, it seems, does see value in sports. After all, it can be a microcosm of life, and children can begin learning valuable “adult lessons” long before they’re able to apply them in the adult world. We win and lose in sports, just like in life. We learn to be disciplined and patient, to practice self-control, to be a leader, to listen to those in authority, to be responsible, to bounce back, to get up when we don’t want to, to get along with those we normally wouldn’t like, to encourage, and to share. Everything translates to life.