The Purpose of Sport

We live in a drastically different world than the one our parents and we adults grew up in. There are a lot more pressures and distractions on today’s youth. Our kids live in a society dominated with:

  • Individualism: What’s in it for me?
  • Hedonism: If it feels good, do it!
  • Minimalism: I’m going to do just enough to get by.
  • Relativism: There are no “truths”.
  • Materialism: Whoever dies with the most toys wins.

Our post-modern media bombards today’s youth with these iniquitous images and sounds. Every day our kids feed their minds out of the media’s “garbage can” of content. No wonder so many of them are sick.

Sport’s stands out as an important counteractive tool to give our kids spirit’s something nutritious by teaching virtue and building character. Due to the “charismatic” nature of sports, coaches (more than teachers, and often even more than parents) have the undivided attention of their players. As coaches, we often look out there on those forty sets of hungry eyes staring back at us. Having this attention places a great social and moral responsibility on us coaches to use it for some greater good. We need to use “having their attention” for something greater than just teaching them how to field a grounder, shoot a basket, or make a tackle. We need to use it to teach our players how to be virtuous and strengthen their moral characters. In many ways sports should be considered the most important tool in our modern society for teaching our youth the things they will need to live a good life.

With this in mind, it’s time to redefine the purpose of sport.

Visit any youth sporting event and you will typically find numerous examples of all the wrong reasons why players, coaches, and parents participate in sports, players throwing temper tantrums, coaches yelling and belittling players, and parents screaming at umpires for making the wrong call. In the last few years, irate parents and fans have even taken to physically assaulting coaches and referees. In the 8 to 13 year old age group, 70% of kids drop out of organized sports after the first year. That’s a high number, so something is definitely wrong. Quite often these kids drop out due to misguided player expectations, abusive coaching practices, or excess pressure placed on the player by the parents.

Too many of our kids participate in sports for “all the wrong reasons”.

Players: participating because their parents are forcing them to play, to become more popular, to be a champion, to become a pro athlete, to get a college scholarship, to win at all costs, to get a girlfriend or boyfriend, or because today’s modern media tells them that in order to be successful they must be athletic.

Coaches: coaching for the money, coaching to stroke their own ego’s, coaching to satisfy some repressed frustration for failing to fulfill their own athletic career, coaching their own son or daughter so they can live vicariously through them, and coaching their own son or daughter in order to push them towards a college scholarship or other recognition.

Parents: having their son or daughter participate because it is a cheap babysitting option, encouraging participation so they can live vicariously through their son or daughter, fulfillment of some dream of a college scholarship, recognition, or a professional career, to keep up with the “Joneses”, or so my son/daughter will be more popular.

These reasons are all misguided and usually lead to painful consequences for everyone involved.

It’s time for a change. It’s time to value virtue over victory.

The singular purpose of sport should be to teach our youth virtue and build character. This purpose needs to be made primary and not some secondary consequence or byproduct. Most coaches will tell you right away about all the side benefits of sports, about how participating in sports builds character. But, why are these spiritual lessons always talked about like the second rate stepchild, some ancillary un-expected byproduct of athletics. Why can’t the life lessons learned in sports be the primary objective? Let’s reverse the roles and make things like ”having fun” and “staying in shape” the secondary byproducts of sports, with teaching virtue and building character as our main objective.

A new prioritized purpose of sport:

To use all youth sports activities primarily as a context to teach virtue and build character:

  1. To teach our youth about virtuous concepts such as humility, faith, hope, love, courage, self-discipline, leadership, work ethic, empathy, thankfulness, and more.
  2. To teach our youth that just like training is essential for competition, so is doing schoolwork necessary to acquire knowledge needed in their future work or professional duties.
  3. To teach our youth about the need to surpass known physical capacities in order to obtain victory, as a life lesson about total devotion to the task undertaken.
  4. To teach our youth about continuing to compete when exhausted and in pain, as a life lesson about not getting discouraged in the pursuit of objectives in every day life.
  5. To teach our youth the importance of sacrificing personal interest for that of the team.
  6. To teach our youth about uniting wills for a common purpose which forms the attitude of solidarity, so badly needed in today’s individualistic, self centered life of consumerism.
  7. To teach our youth through friendly competition, a more brotherly vision in life as we exchange differing ideas with fellow man.

Finally, and most importantly, that our youth should come to understand that the character lessons learned about virtue are the most important outcome of athletic contests. That victory is only a by-product and that winning should not create foolish pride, and that defeat is a reality of life that should not breed discouragement. We need to teach our kids that in sports just like in life, victory and defeat are both “imposters” and that reality lies somewhere between both.

While there are a number of physical, psychological, and social benefits that can be gained from youth sports participation, using sports as a primary tool to teach virtue and build character will have the greatest redemptive impact on our society as a whole. However, virtue and character building benefits through youth sports will not be guaranteed solely by agreement with the concept. We need to take action. The responsibility to teach virtue through sport is too great to leave up to chance. Deliberate constructive programs need to be put in place and utilized to teach virtue through sports, programs like The Virtue First Foundations “How to Coach Virtue”.

Your kids and your program deserve the very best, and the very best is accomplished by putting “virtue first” ahead of winning.

Please join us in re-defining the purpose of sport.