There is no way to make adolescence injury-proof. Competition and sports can be very good things (Photo: GettysburgFlag site). But when you see stats like this in a NYT article, you have to wonder about whether the harmful side effects of high-contact sports are worth it:
“High school athletes in nine primary sports sustained an estimated 137,000 concussions in the 2007-8 school year, according to a study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Football had the most, with more than 70,000, followed by girls soccer (24,000), boys soccer (17,000) and girls basketball (7,000). These were only reported concussions; more were almost certainly sustained but went unrecognized or ignored.”
These figures should sound alarms in the minds of many parents. Again, sports are not inherently evil, but it is clear that many children–yes, children–are experiencing harmful effects from athletic competition. These effects can harm a child not only for a short period of time, but permanently.
This data from a secular source reminds us that morality in Christianity is not limited to questions of virginity, abortion, and television watching. Moral questions confront us in many areas of life. We are often blind to them, to our shame.
In a sports-crazed society, when every parent wants a future All-Star (and scholarship collegian), it can be hard for us to see the morality of sports. We can limit our understanding of this subject to questions of sportsmanship and spiritual mindset. We should consider these things carefully, of course, but there are other matters to think about as well.
- Parents all around us are starting their children in sports at incredibly young ages. Children as young as four or five will be going to weeklong sports camps this summer. This practice is so recent that little data exists to speak to its effects on childhood development. Is it really healthy for kids to be entering athletic competition at age five?
- Whether right or wrong, what in our cultural water would prompt us to make it? Why would we put five-year-olds in athletic competition with one another? What is our heart motivation in doing so?
- How much importance should we place on sports in general in the lives of our families? Knowing that serious teams will require lots of time and energy on the part of a family, should Christian parents commit their children to serious competition?
We need to think about these questions. We need to avoid child sacrifice–not in the literal sense, but in the sense that we push tiny kids into high-contact athletic competition that is physically and spiritually distressing to them. We should train our children well and let them experience the joy of athletic competition. But we should do so carefully, making difficult decisions even as parents all around us unthinkingly chase dreams of glory–and scholarships–for their children.
To conclude: think hard about what age your children start competing. Think hard about what sports your children play when they are old enough to do so. Whatever you conclude, do not let the culture unthinkingly dictate your decisions. Use wisdom, get counsel from church members and wise Christian friends, and above all, do whatever is necessary to care for them spiritually. Give them to Christ; do not sacrifice them to Molech and other earthly gods.