This week my son started taking karate lessons. He’s already been playing soccer for a few years now. His younger brother is right behind him in soccer and, when he’s old enough, he’ll start taking karate lessons too. It’s not likely that soccer or karate will develop into a career for either one of them. For one, both sons have my DNA in them and my career in organized sports drove off into a ditch when I entered the 8th grade. Also, not very many people grow up to be karate champions. The world only has room for one Bruce Lee. Did you hear that, Steven Seagal?
My whole life I’ve been told that sports builds character. There’s no doubt that it does. But the question is, what kind of character is it that sports builds?
For a lot of athletes that do make it to the big time, things don’t end so well. Some hang around two or three years past their prime and destroy what was once a remarkable legacy. Others, while still in their prime, have to call it quits early because of injuries. And worst of all, there’s the athlete who walks away from the game only to end up broke, incarcerated or dead because of poor decisions.
For athletes like these, sports did build character but it became much more than a character builder. Their sport became their identity. That’s why some find it so hard to walk away from the game and others spiral out of control when, in one way or another, the game walks away from them.
Building character is fine but fathers should have even higher expectations. I want my sons to know their identity. More specifically, I want each son to know that he is more than a soccer player or martial artist. I want them to know that God created them in his image for his glory and that through faith and repentance, they are, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). I want them to see that their speed, flexibility and strength does not define them but that who they really are was determined, “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
Eventually, every athlete will be beaten by someone who is bigger, stronger or faster. When this happens to my boys, I have the option to sign them up for more clinics and private instructional sessions. And make no mistake, this will develop character, just not the kind I want them to have.
Of course, there is another option. I can remind them why we play sports by teaching them that winning is fun, and a goal worth striving for, but that it should never be the ultimate goal.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
Maybe one day my boys will play for a World Cup or become karate champions. But if they do, they will still stop competing at some point in their lives. Time, talent or some combination of the two will eventually betray them. It’s my job to ensure that whenever that time comes, they don’t walk away from their sport as mere characters who have lost their identity but rather as men of God who are moving on to the next means of glorifying their Master.