Sunday, June 17, 2007

Church v. Soccer

As many people know, youth soccer plays a big role in my life. It takes a lot of time, effort, and some money. It's not always worth it. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's just plain ugly. But it is something I and my family have made a big commitment to because we have a child who not only has some talent for the game, but has dreamed of playing it competitively since she was 7 years old. She's worked hard and given up a lot to do it, but it's her passion, one which she freely chooses, with a good understanding of the sacrifices we make so she can pursue it. And while it does require much of us, both she and the rest of the family have much more in our lives than just soccer. She's a serious student and musician, participates in Model U.N. (United Nations) Club and debates, and believe or not, has a busy social life and a number of close girlfriends. I work full-time, my husband has his many church and diocesan activities, and our at-home son goes to school, works part-time, runs cross-country and track, and has various activities of his own.

There's much I could say about youth soccer, pro and con, and many stories that I could tell about our experiences. But, on the whole, I would say it has been a good thing for all of us. It's not for everyone, and it certainly can be destructive, as can be just about any "serious," competitive youth activity, whether it be sports, music, dance, art, debate, etc. But it also offers much that is valuable as well, not only the friendships we have formed across two states, but a realm in which discipline, hard work, and life lessons, some kind and some not, predominate.

Maybe someday I can write further about these things (it's time to get ready for church now!), but for the moment, I'll simply share the following (for background, go to the Café):

Posted at Episcopal Café Soccer v. Church,

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Jennifer wrote about tournament play, which typically schedules games on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning, and often schedules semi-finals and finals on Sunday afternoon. The issue, therefore, is not about Sunday morning league play or practices, but tournaments, which only happen a few times a year, which, at the height of outdoor soccer season in June and July, are the culmination of an entire year’s worth of training, practices, and league play. Father’s Day is not a religious holiday, not a holy day, but is a secular observance. Many people participate in sports and other activities, are faithful members of church communities, and do not attend church services at their home church every Sunday morning 52 weeks out of the year.

Soccer, music, and other activities can bring children and adults together, foster a sense of community, nurture friendship and trust, instill Christian values – or not. Church can foster community, nurture and strengthen faith, instill Christian values – or not. Sports and Faith are not opposed to one another. Faith should be part of our lives 24/7, and neither faith nor religious practices are limited to Sunday mornings between 8 and noon.

Recently the Café published an article on how our culture tends to isolate youth and prolong their adolescence. This does not happen in the realm of competitive sports. Youth sports, for better or for worse, is not only run by adults, they are involved in just about every aspect of the game. Team parents form an extended family, and each player must respect and deal with all of them, as well as the coaches, managers, referees, and league officials. Unlike their peers, athletes cannot do whatever they want, when they want. They must miss parties, sleepovers, dances, and much “hanging out,” while they train, practice, and compete. If they miss key team events or if their performance is hampered by not getting enough sleep, the right food, or taking drugs or alcohol, their behavior impacts not only their own lives and their fellow players, but many adults as well.

Athletes have to grow up early, arguably even too early. They do not get to be “kids” in the same way as many of their peers. They have responsibilities, they are subject to rules, and they must work and get along with adults in often very difficult, emotion-charged situations. They have to deal with many “unfair” decisions and rules, first and foremost referee calls, rough behavior and taunts from the opposing team, sometimes verbal abuse from spectators on the sidelines, and political maneuvering from those who want to exert power and influence. (Kind of like Episcopal politics?). They need to stay cool under pressure, deal with anger and frustration constructively, establish and stick by their own personal values of fair play and consideration for others.

Of course sports are not more “important” than faith or even religious practices. Conflicts arise not because sports are more highly valued than religion but because some people choose to do other things on Sunday mornings – not just sports, but also staying home to watch t.v, playing golf, working in the yard, going shopping. (Let’s also not forget those who have little or no choice, those who are compelled to work in low-paying service sector jobs and must work on Sundays). Sports is not the culprit, and not all sports or teams have WEEKLY activities scheduled for Sunday mornings.

Clergy who decide to use sports as a scapegoat and penalize parents or children who participate are, I believe, shooting themselves in the foot. Any activity that prevents regular participation in worship and community fellowship and mission is, clearly, something to be discouraged. And for those who are on the Catholic side of the Catholic/Protestant spectrum, regular (at least weekly) partaking of the Eucharist needs to be taught and practiced as essential. But none of that precludes sports.

Our daughter is a PK and currently a member of a soccer team that is a three time State Champion. We are very proud of her and the team, and we do not apologize or defend her participation to anyone in our parish. My husband, the rector, while not a sports fan himself, helps other parents with serious conflicts with sports activities. While he, like most of his colleagues, has no patience with people who drop in and out of activities that require long-term commitment at a moment’s notice, he does work with, for examples, members of confirmation classes so that they can makeup classes or assignments when a major conflict is foreseen (whether it be sports, music, or school) and it is clear that the parents and children are making every effort to comply with the requirements. He also does his best to provide as many weekday masses as possible (on general principles, of course). Nearby parishes, like our many Roman Catholic neighbors, offer early Saturday evening masses, some for the summer months, some year-round.

I understand and appreciate those who feel overwhelmed by popular culture and the pressure we and our children face from those who have no experience with, let alone commitment to, religious life. But too often our response is to retreat and try to insulate ourselves to the point where we sometimes don’t know or understand what is going on the Outside and simplify or demonize what we take at face value as contrary to our beliefs. The Church, apostolic and universal, will not prevail if we confine it to our buildings and monuments and rigid timetables. God is present both within His houses and on the fields of dreams. It’s not where we are on every Sunday morning that counts, it’s whether we do our best to not only keep God in our daily lives but foster church communities that welcome the full breadth of human experience, that do not take attendance rolls, but rather tell people they are missed when they are not present, and give people good reasons for coming back and being there often.


Ivolutionary said...

If your daughter does Model UN, you may want to tell her to look at >> <<, the global network for Model UN and simulation education.

It may help reduce the amount of time she needs to spend doing research.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog. I too have a child (son) involved in sports and the tug between church -home familyis strong. I read a fabuloues book last month that I bet you would love. The author has a whole chapter about balancing family-church-youth sports. It was very helpful. The book is Home Team Advantage-the critical role of mothers in youth sports. She has a couple of good christian quotes.

God bless-Tara

klady said...

Thanks, Tara. Looks like a fascinating book. It's funny but despite the stereotype of the "soccer mom," in my experience the most active parents tend to be the fathers (at least for girls' soccer). It can be tough to break through to them (and some moms) and the coaches that young athletes generally need better care and concern. There is much that can and should be done to make sports safer and saner.

Dennis said...

if it comes down to it between soccer and church, I vote for soccer!

klady said...


Well, actually one can have both. One organization held a big tournament at Disney this past Easter and held services on the fields on Sunday morning. See
And with so many folks at home attending Easter services who fill the pews only once or twice (maybe Christmas) a year, one probably wouldn't be missed if one spent the day at Orlando.

[Sarcasm off. No, I wouldn't attend an Easter soccer tournament if it was the World Cup. But I would admit that there are some days I am closer to God on the soccer field than in the pews -- not that my personal relationship is all that counts.]

So maybe I'm a troublemaker (like Maddy and perhaps, at times, you?), but as much as I love the church and very much appreciate those who work hard and want the best for Her, I am afraid I have little patience with those, no matter how well-intended, promote "church" as a business like any other, want to market and operate it their way, and only their way, and think they alone understand the path for salvation (especially if, in the process, they rely on so-called "research" that supports their conclusions). This kind of thinking comes from the right, left, and center, who claim that people don't want to sit through services or sermons past a particular length (and they can cite studies that time this down to the minute), who find organ music offensive or disturbing (or at least not "welcoming"), or simply will go straight to hell if they do not attend church each and every Sunday, same time, same place, or otherwise the will die sooner or get divorced or not give enough money to support the clergy , the diocese, and beyond, who devote so much valuable time and resources to conducting and commissioning more research, forming committees to talk about the research, and writing up mission statements (or Covenants) that tell everyone what they are or who they mean to be, just in case no one can figure it out by watching how they behave. The insanity seems to get notched up even higher when people start talking about youth and want to throw money and programs in their direction, all in the hopes that Religion will instill prudent social behaviors and faithful church attendance all through college, early work, and right through until they get married and have babies (hopefully in that order) and bring them to church to get the same programming.

I do pray that traditional high church Episcopalian worship services, liturgy with traditional language, and Anglican music, and preaching that sheds light on the lectionary readings, will continue and foster communities that will not only support them but demonstrate that the awe, mystery, and beauty that humans invoke in the name of the divine will bear fruit in their lives, their communities, and the world at large. But, it may be that those of us who envision religion in this fashion (or any other) get too wrapped up in the forms and don't pay enough attention to the substance. The fact of the matter is that youth are disaffected from church services of all kinds, even those directed to them. Perhaps the goal should not be getting awards for perfect attendance but rather teaching how and why they should make room for prayer and Christian community in their lives. If we really focused on that, then maybe it wouldn't matter so much whether we can continue to maintain cathedral-like buildings and professional music programs or even just full-time clergy who have enough social clout to control when schools and sports leagues schedule their activities. Maybe if we all met in cells in others homes or internet cafes, we'd have more time and energy to truly encounter Christ, the Word, give praise to God, and put them to work in our lives, all day, every day, and not just on Sunday mornings.

And whatever provisions we make for worship, community, and mission for people in general, it seems to me that we should always recognize exceptional needs and circumstances. We caught the movie Billy Elliot on t.v. last night. I think that's the kind of passion and commitment (in that case ballet) that should be encouraged in youth, and, more importantly, that their true selves should be discerned and recognized, rather than being forced into models of what well-meaning parents or educators or religious officials think they need or should be. But of course, I could be quite wrong.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Klady, when I posted my comment at the Episcopal Café, I should have said up front that I have no interest in sports whatsoever, either as a player or as a spectator.

What I was responding to is what I see with some of my acquaintances and neighbors, who seem to be constantly on the run with junior sports activities, to the point that it takes over the lives of the whole family, a tail wagging the dog sort of thing. Even the siblings who are not interested in the games are dragged along, because that's where the rest of the family is.

I see some of the same type of situations in high school athletics, in which little time is allowed for school work.

I know that playing sports can inculcate good values in the kids who play, but I do see excesses, and I suppose that's what I was responding to, although they may be the exception rather than the rule.

klady said...

I would never want to quarrel with you grandmère. Yes, I'm sure there are excesses, but I think it's difficult to judge from the outside. The team we recently joined includes players we once traveled with on another team several years ago, and it is interesting to still see some of the older and younger siblings we saw at practices and games back then.

I don't know how those other children feel, though many of them are now old enough to participate themselves. No doubt some will need to travel to Maine with us for the big Region I tournament, though there will be things for them to do and see besides the soccer games. But I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for the entire family to be together and siblings being asked to support each other in their activities. The alternative might well be to have everyone at home but in different rooms, perhaps in front of computers or t.v.s, and having little interaction with each other.

As for excess, I think the worst danger is parents pushing children into competition for the sake of the parents, not the children -- and in that, it doesn't matter whether it's soccer, tennis, golf, gymnastics, beauty pageants, or classical music. But sometimes it is both and it's hard to figure out when to decide to hold back and tell a child that they cannot go beyond a certain level because, of course, hardly anyone makes it and, even when they do, success is fleeting. Are these valid dreams that family should support or are they impractical or meaningless endeavors?

I don't have any easy answers for those questions -- thinking diverse talents and outcomes like Amadeus, Billy Elliot, and Million -Dollar Baby -- and wondering also if Joan of Arc or even Mother Teresa are different kinds of madwomen whose families probably thought they were crazy and impractical. Excessive, obsessive, compulsive, and even seemingly crazy behavior can drive both good and bad things, so it seems. Hard to say, sometimes, which will out.