Beware of Busyness: Sports & Activities

Melissa B. KrugerBy Melissa B. Kruger13 Minutes

Excerpt Taken from Parenting with Hope: Raising Teens for Christ in a Secular Age by Melissa B. Kruger


We are a nation who talks about sports, watches sports, plays sports, and spends billions of dollars on sports each year. If you go to a sporting event, it can almost feel like a worship experience: there’s communal joy, sorrow, cheering, singing, and a sense of unified belonging. We collectively love the thrill of competition—exulting in the electrified delight of a win and mourning together the shared dismay of defeat.

Like all the cultural idols, sports and other activities are not bad in and of themselves, but so often they become the ultimate thing in our lives and our parenting. Let me acknowledge on the front end that there are many good reasons we encourage our children to participate in sports, play musical instruments, or join school clubs. My kids have been involved in each of these. We’ll start by considering the good of these endeavors, and then we’ll consider some warnings we need to be aware of as parents when it comes to how these activities can affect our families.

The Good News
As Christian parents, we hope to teach our teens the importance of honoring God with their whole lives. This includes properly caring for their bodies, as well as stewarding the gifts God has uniquely given them. It’s good to teach teens to eat right, exercise, and enjoy the world God has created. Some teens may enjoy artistic endeavors, others may love to play instruments, and some may find delight in a particular sport. God has created an amazing world, and we’re made in his image, so it’s right and good that our teens will want to create—whether it’s a beautiful painting or an amazing passing sequence.

In the book of Exodus, we read about certain craftsmen who were gifted by God to help build the intricate designs of the temple. Moses explained,

See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer (Exodus 35:30-35).

In a similar way, God has gifted your teen with particular skills. Perhaps they are talented with a paintbrush, an instrument, or a soccer ball. Whatever ways the Lord has uniquely gifted them can be a means by which they can honor and glorify God. While we don’t have a temple building any longer like the Israelites did, Paul said that in Christ, our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Christ lives in us, so what we do with our physical bodies matters: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Glorifying God with our bodies means we avoid using our bodies for sin, but it also means we actively use our bodies to serve others and honor him.

Developing our teens’ abilities can help them to care for others. A young athlete is able to help an aging church member with her yard work. A teen musician can encourage others by leading worship at church. An artist can add beauty and warmth to a home. An actress can perform and entertain others with her gifts. An after-school job can develop skills that help serve the community. It’s good and right for us to encourage our teens to develop their God-given talents so that they can serve others and glorify God as they do so.

Another benefit of activities for teens is that they gain skills needed for life. As any athlete will know, there’s a huge mental benefit that comes from playing sports. It’s not just physical. Athletes and musicians learn discipline through their training. Day after day of rigorous training leads to freedom. It’s only the student who has practiced for hours on end who can play their musical instrument with delight. (We’ve all heard the results of not practicing and it’s rather painful for everyone involved.) It’s the teen who has run sprints and long distances many times during practice and who is fit and ready for game day.

As the writer to the Hebrews explained, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). As our tweens and teens work hard in extracurricular activities, they can learn important spiritual truths. Just as it takes training to participate in sports, it takes training to run our spiritual races. This is why Paul instructed Timothy, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Paul understood that physical training has value. He knew that the training concepts learned in physical pursuits often mirror those learned in the pursuit of godliness. Yet he also was clear on which was more important. While physical training might have great value in the present life, it is powerless to help us in the life to come. Eventually, all our bodies will wear out. In contrast, godliness is beneficial in this life and the life to come.

Sports and activities allow our teens to develop and grow in ways that scholastic pursuits might not. They provide a mental break that’s needed after long days in school. They also give opportunities for teens to find mentors and people they can learn from, hopefully about more than just their activity. When sports and activities are kept in check, they can be beneficial for enabling our teens to grow their skills, learn discipline, develop mentors, and use their gifts to serve others.

The Hard Reality
While sports and activities do a lot of good for our children, it’s also evident that kids are buckling under the weight of too many activities. It’s tough for parents to determine limits because each child is different, so it’s hard to come up with clear guidelines for how much is too much. Some children are able to balance a difficult academic schedule and a sport every season. Some teens need more rest than others. Some teens love to be around people all the time, while others need alone time.

Whatever choices we make as parents, it’s important to remember that our teens need our guidance. They may think they can do more than they actually can do. Or, they may be overly timid and need our encouragement to take a risk and try out for a team. You know your child better than anyone. Prayerfully consider your family schedule. Listen to your teens— both their words and their actions. If your teens are frequently in tears or exhausted all the time, they are communicating to you that it’s time to slow down. Don’t let your teens set the pace in your home. You have a better understanding of what is most important, and they need your help to make wise decisions. We need to focus on raising the children we have, not the children we wish we had.

It’s also a reality that you’ll have to battle your own expectations as a parent. Perhaps you loved violin as a child and you want your teen to love it as much as you did. But they don’t. Or maybe you were the star soccer player in high school, but your teen prefers swimming. We all have to guard against wanting to raise kids in our own image. Just because you enjoyed an activity doesn’t mean it’s right for your teen. Just because you worked a job and played a sport and made straight A’s doesn’t mean those are reasonable expectations for your child.

As parents, we are called to love and encourage our teens, not attempt to satisfy our longings through them. We need to focus on raising the children we have, not the children we wish we had. It’s a gift to our children when we celebrate their unique abilities and help foster their understanding of the beautiful ways God fashioned and formed them. We have to let go of our own expectations and let God reveal our children’s strengths and weaknesses. If we keep trying to fashion them into our own hopes and dreams, our kids will suffer, and we will fail to honor the wonderful ways the Lord made them (Psalm 139:13-16).

Parenting with Hope. Copyright © 2024 Melissa B. Kruger. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 97408.

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