Throwing Our Children Off a Cliff, For Sports
History knows the Spartans as tenacious warriors. Legend holds that the Spartans were so dedicated to war that any male with a physical abnormality was thrown into a pit known as Apothetae soon after birth. At the age of 7, boys were removed from their homes to be raised by the state for next 12 years in a strict disciplinary academy aimed at producing physically elite males. In Sparta these academies were called agoge. In Greece they were called gymnasiums. Validating these stories is historically difficult, nonetheless, this is the stuff of legends.
A June 25, 2006 article that appeared in the money section of the New York Times explores the growing costs of raising athletes. Across America sports academies are becoming big business as parents are willing to spend thousands of dollars to give their children a competitive edge. According to the article, some parents confess to having spent upwards of $30,000 over the course of several years on specialized athletic training and coaching. Read the entire article here.
Many parents will not be able to shell out 30 grand to help their child make the baseball team, but cultural extremes often serve to dictate cultural norms. Without question we spend far more time, energy, and money for our children to be involved in sports that we used to. $30 used to get you an entire season and a jersey. Most leagues now cost several hundred dollars per season, which does not include the extra costs of custom jerseys and highly specialized equipment. Why are we willing to pay such a price? Because its normal!
Has our children’s success in sports become the American Apothetae? Many parents may regard the time and money spent on kid sports as sacrifice, but what are we really sacrificing? Are we sacrificing time and money, or are we sacrificing our children? Are we teaching them that if you don’t win, life is over? Our nation’s infatuation with sports, the media coverage, and the exorbitant salaries for athletes have created a new class of cultural elites. The money trail has trickled down to the American family and beckons parents to count the cost. How much are you willing to pay for your kids to be elite?
The cost may not be simply financial.
As we are experiencing in American sport, athletics is not only creating a new economy but a new morality. It is not just how much are you willing to pay, but how far are you willing to go? I hope to explore this theme, the morality of sports in American culture, tomorrow. Yet as Christian parents the question of cost is simple. What does it profit if you gain the whole world, but lose your own (or your children’s) soul? In the end success is not measured in batting statistics or passing efficiency, but in obedience to the Word of God. If our children become All-Stars but have no spiritual life, we have failed them.
In Hebrew society parents had one mission in training their children, to teach them the will of God. Parents were not to rely on the specialized academy, but the home was to be the foremost academy designed to help children become morally and spiritually fit. The mission was simple,
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)
If we are not far past it already, Christian parents are at a cultural crossroads. Do the rising costs and pressures of athletics in our country fit the gospel mission, or should I say its demand? I would surmise that Christian brothers and sisters from other nations who observe our culture would judge that our addiction to sports has caused us long ago to forsake the gospel call. Before you respond, please note that I did not say sports has caused us to leave the mission, but rather our addiction, our idolization of them, our love for them. My daughter is a swimmer. Some of my fondest memories of childhood revolve around sports. But sports in America is not what it used to be - I think we all share my observations here. All I am asking is that before we throw our children off a cliff and lose their souls, for us to return to a more Biblically balanced view of life, parenting, and sports.