Because Soccer Doesn’t Matter

Guest post by Allison Salerno 
Yesterday afternoon, our ten-year-old recorded nine saves during his two quarters as goalie, helping lead his traveling soccer team to a 4-0 victory over the U-10 team a few towns over. I watched intently from the sidelines and felt oddly indifferent to it all. My lack of reaction was so apparent that parents sitting next to me were saying things like, “Did you miss it? Your son just made a really great save.”

I’d like to think it’s a sign of spiritual maturity that the farther into my faith journey I walk, the less attached I feel to my son’s God-given talents. I now also cherish the parts of his life where our son struggles, because I have come to see challenges as gifts, too. I feel content to know that the talents and the struggles are all part of God’s plan for my little boy.

Our 10-year-old acquired the nickname “Lucky” a few years ago because his Little League team deemed it lucky when he was playing. The boy was gifted with athletic abilities. He never crawled; he started walking at nine months, the same age he started throwing and catching balls.

At one time, I was emeshed in his athletic successes. When he was seven, he made the regional swim championships as a summer swimmer competing against boys who already were swimming yearround. “This is our big moment,” I said out loud as one of Lucky’s races was about to begin. A wise acquaintence next to me said gently, ‘No Allison, this is his big moment, not yours.”

One of my midlife epiphanies is that God created humans to worship. If we don’t worship God, we end up worshipping something else. In the case of many of us middle-class parents in the United States, we worship our children.

We build our lives around their schedules and end up treating them like little gods. Our son plays on two travel teams: summer baseball and spring-and-fall soccer. I estimate we’ve logged thousands of miles in the family van, shuttling him across Central New Jersey for games. I’ve stood on the sidelines of soccer fields, swimming pools, and baseball fields, cheering Lucky on in all kinds of weather, acting as if my destiny depended on how well he played that day.

As I have grown older and, I hope, wiser, my husband and I have brought our own family’s internal rhythm in sync with the Church’s. The great drama playing out is not the ref’s latest call, but our own ability to grow in holiness and faith. The challenge before us is to help our sons mature in all their dimensions, to ensure that they treat themselves and others with the exquisite care that God has demonstrated for them.

I have also come to cherish my son’s challenges as much as, if not more than, his talents. Lucky is a bright boy who struggles with school. Speaking came with difficulty; by age four my husband and I could understand only about five percent of what he was saying. His older brother understood him and served as a translater for us and everyone else.

Lucky has worked hard to speak, to read, and to write. He doesn’t expect anything to come easily to him. Neither my husband nor I know anyone who works harder than Lucky does on whatever task lies before him. The kid has grit.

Sure, I like the fact that my son’s good at sports. It gives him the chance to have fun and use his talents to help whatever team he’s playing for.

What really matters, however, is what we do with the multitude of gifts God gives us, including our hardships. This might sound blasphemous in some circles, but at the end of our days, soccer is irrelevant

  • Anonymous

    Unless it is. Give it all up to the Lord. All gifts have been given to us by Him, and should be returned to Him with interest.Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28

  • EPG

    "God created humans to worship. If we don't worship God, we end up worshipping something else. In the case of many of us middle-class parents in the United States, we worship our children."How true, and how sad. Neither my wife nor I are particularly interested in sports, so we found it easy to avoid enmeshing our daughters in weeking travel leagues. For us, having time at home on Saturdays was more important, and attendance at church on Sundays far more so.Now, as if there was any doubt that God has a roaring good sense of humor, he has blessed us with a daughter who loves sports, especially softball, and who appears to have some real gifts, or at least real potential. She works hard at it, and, in the process, learns all sorts of things about diligence, persistence, grace under pressure, grace in defeat and in victory, the joy of using one's body well, the bonds that can develop among teammates.Is the outcome of any one game irrelevant? You bet. But the mere fact of her participation is a great gift, and an opportunity for her to practice, and to model, Christian conduct.

  • Frank

    I agree with Anon 10:25 and EPG. It all matters, and all can be done in the spirit of Christianity. All experiences can serve the King.but at the end of our days, soccer is irrelevant.Using this logic, does school work matter? Mathematics? Science? Reading? Writing? Of course it does. How about how you conduct yourself at work? Of course it does.Can everything be tied together with the Faith? Of course it can. Is it easy to do so? This ain't easy street LOL.

  • Anonymous

    Every day is a gift from God.What we do with it is our gift to Him.It is not important what we do. However, it is absolutely essential that we do it.(presuming our hearts are disposed to seek out and do God's will, of course)Above all, pray.BTW, 5+ billion people on earth think that soccer matters. Civil wars cease during the World Cup. Soccer is a gift from God. People are the ones who can 'foul' it up…

  • Anonymous

    Nothing singly matters, but all matters together. Here are some Bible verses that are sports related, and hence life related. Think of the opportunities to teach Christian ethics through these programs to our children.In I Corinthians 9:24 Apostle Paul says, “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”2 Tim 2:5 Apostle Paul states that “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules.” How should the believer run the race? Apostle Paul gives us a clear answer in I Corinthians 9:26. “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches”.“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)Our goal is to be like Jesus. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews said “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)Here is a good link others may find of interest.

  • Anonymous

    This is a really good film that I bought for my children…

  • Allison

    @Frank: It is a matter of perspective, something many of us parents sorely lack. We need to make sure we do not devote ourselves so fully to our children and their sports schedules that we treat our children as gods, instead of as children of God. Salvation will not come through soccer. Perhaps my post would have been better understood had I titled it "Because Soccer is not a religion"Despite the prevailing attitude of the culture, I am trying to cultivate the understanding in myself that both the talents AND hardships we carry are gifts from the Almighty and I am trying to guide the children to see that too. And no, that is not an "easy street."

  • Allison

    and a footnote: Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2289 "If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships."

  • Webster Bull

    Well done, Allison. I'm with you on this one. God and family first, soccer somewhere down the list.

  • Warren Jewell

    Even when I competed at sports, it was more for the fun of it and companionability of my peers than winning, losing – though, how one plays the game is precisely what Saint Paul means about running the good race. His idea of victory had little temporal in it – it's about the eternal victory won for all by Christ. 'Be good, and better than good, that one day you may be perfect.'My daughter was never athletically inclined, though she still swims like a fish – I swim like an anchor, so I've been impressed all along. I can't find much fun in watching much of athletics. Oh, well – my daughter once quipped that 'my father might like some game they played in a museum or library.' Maybe, if we picked teams at Church after Mass and played "Worthwhile Pursuit" – "For the yellow pie piece, which apostle was called 'the beloved disciple'?" (Groans from the opposing teams)Uh – I don't know if anyone has copyrighted such a game . . .

  • Robert LaPorte

    A differing point of view:Having been an athlete all my life, and having followed sports, and even having bowled professionaly for a few years, I can attest that sports isn't the be all and end all of human existence.But, we are called to use the talents that God has given us to proclaim his glory. There is a saying, "Great athletes are born, not made."This in and of itself expresses that our athletic gifts are just that, gifts. Similar to the intellectual prowess of some, which is also a God given gift, we are called to use it for His glory. Hence doctors who pursue abortion practices, do Not give to God his glory, but rather utilize their talent for the destruction of life.Many of us fail to see that the "entirety" of life is meant to be evaluated, pursured, and experienced with greater acknowledgement of the Almighty. And that means having to sit with oneself, recognize our personal shortcomings, both moral, physical, and cerebral and otherwise. Every aspect of life isn't a moral one.The Apostles spent some time with the Lord fishing, and being human. The Gospel doesn't mention it because it lacks "theological punch." But to think that everything that we do needs to be "ecclesial" is to ascribe to life that which almighty God doesn't demand. If our life is a yes, and we love God, and love others as ourselves, it doesn't matter if we have an insatiable love for athletics, music, art, reading etc…. so long as it doesn't become first, foremost, and at the "exclusion" of more important things.I've always said, that sports can teach a young man, dependance on another, humility, the need to follow direction, diligence, patience, and the fact that no matter how perfect we are, sometimes things in sports do not go our way. Very similar to life. Jack Niclaus, arguably one of history's greatest athletes has the reputation of being the most gracious in defeat, as he was in victory. That is a tribute well deserved, and one that I teach my kids. Work hard, realize that ability is God given, and that your diligent effort, and the acceptance of criticism, sportsmanship, and the pursuit of a common goal, are one of "life lessons" that enable us become more resilient, and to turn the focus away from ourselves, and towards something bigger.And for those of us who have been given the opportunity to coach young men, it provides us with the opportunity to teach the secular, some of virtues associated with Applied Christianity. Without this venue, some might never come to know and see that there exists different ideologies than the secular ones that the world teaches on a daily basis.Pray for meRobert LaPOrte

  • Stefanie

    Hi, Robert — your comments reminded me of one of our new RCIA inquirers. He was a top athlete — got an athletic scholarship — drafted into and played professional sports. Had to give it up before he was 30 due to injuries and is now trying to figure out 'what now?' Yet, in his search for 'what now', he is now seeking to be baptized, to join the Catholic faith of his wife (his college sweetheart and now wife of three years) in anticipation of the family they will one day have. He tells us that being a religious family is vitally important. Since he was raised without religion (although a Catholic high school recruited him and he graduated from it), he feels strongly that when everything else fails, God can't. He says that the more you get to know God the better you can put everything in the proper perspective. He's getting a quite a kick out of studying the Bible with us and looking at Catholicism without worrying about your grade point average. Heh.

  • Frank

    There isn't a second in a day without the interplay of the Cardinal and Theological virtues. Every circumstance, every activity, even this comment I am writing, involves the virtues and the application of them. Whether applied with precision, or not…that's another thing!* Prudence – able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time* Justice – proper moderation betweenself-interest and the rights and needs of others* Restraint or Temperance – practicingself-control, abstention, and moderation* Courage or Fortitude – forbearance, endurance,and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation* Faith – steadfastness in belief* Hope -expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair andcapability of not giving up* Charity – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such ashelping one's neighbors.Pax Christi,

  • Anonymous

    I think the point of Allison's post got lost — even on the most uber-bright and well-versed of you folks! As a parent in the 'helicopter generation' (those millions of us who parent like a 'hovering helicopter' over our children) I agree with Allison that, as parents and as Christians, we are called to put into perspective the triumphs of our children: stop living vicariously through them. That is ALL!! @ Warren Jewell: you 'get it.' In the spirit of Christian charity, Good Morning to you all! ~ Robin


    I must weigh in here! Our CYO boys basketball has literally become a 'slap fest' with mothers getting into each others' faces and dads high-fiving their sons as they trip the opponant. My daughter's Catholic School League Volleyball had to remove a mother from my school because she was bullying not only another mother, but other children! You get the picture. Perhaps it's a Northeast-thing, but this behavior can be abhorrant. @ Frank: give us folks in the North some tips on appropriate sideline sportsmanship please. @ Allison: I've been the victim of the sparring mothers. So thanks for reminding ALL of us to behave more lovingly. Pax Christi.

  • Webster Bull

    @Mujerlatina, I think it's time I weighed in with the Wakefield youth hockey murder of 2000. Anyone remember the hockey dad who killed "for love of sport"? Do you think sports parents can overdo it a bit?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post–I've got a nephew who appears to be quiet and pretty bright, and his younger brother who is five is one of those who talks talks talks but is really difficult to understand speechwise, but appears to be more athletic. They are two totally different peas in a pod. Today on the website I see one of the headlines is that there is a community of nuns for women with Down Syndrome. God is creating a place for everyone, and what a great thing it is! Soccer is great fun to play. I played backyard soccer with neighborhood kids all the time. And our gradeschool had a team for only one of the eight years I attended. I signed up that year, and we lost every game we played but one, which we tied. I think we only scored one goal the whole season, but it was great fun! But is soccer overrated? I think in general all sports are overrated–witness the steroid problem. To an extent we have lost the proper view of what sports are for.

  • Allison

    Catholic children in the U.S. today, assuming their parents have just two or three kids, are growing up with the myth of self-sufficiency instead of the interdependent sense that anyone who grew up in a large family within a community of large families develops. So I agree with you, Anon 12:43 that soccer, and most everything else they do, ends up being given an importance by us parents out of proportion to what it should.If you are raising four, six or eight children, you likely don't have the time, money or inclination to devote to making minigods of your kids.