My son has desired to play baseball for the last two seasons, so back in the summer, I visited the local park and signed him up. After trying to figure out how we would balance out his church soccer league and his baseball schedule, I was suddenly confronted with the overwhelming reality of sports for a family of four children. My oldest daughter is playing soccer, my oldest son is playing soccer and baseball, my youngest daughter is in dance, and my youngest son Judson (almost two) is enjoying college football season with his dad. This is a busy sports season for our family.
I grew up playing sports and I have a lot of great memories from the baseball field, track, and karate tournaments while I was in college. Beyond college, I continued to progress in running and started marathon running which has been an off and on (when time permits) part of my adult life. If you know me well, you can testify that I’m very competitive. I don’t enjoy losing at anything (even board games). That competitive nature comes out even as I coach my children. I want them to be the best they can be at whatever they choose to play. In fact, I was elated and overjoyed as my son hit two home runs in his baseball game on Tuesday night. I was the dad screaming and trying to film it on my phone at the same time.
Spending time with our children in organized sports can be a great learning adventure and a wonderful way to build memories that will last a lifetime. However, if we aren’t careful, it could be on the field that you meet the god of sports. The god of sports is a false god that consumes families and disciples children in the worship of competition. It’s the god that demands practice as an offering and winning as the primary goal. The god of sports promises you joy and fulfillment through success, but in the end, it’s just another lifeless false god (Psalm 135:15-18). This false god is alive and well in America and many families worship at this alter every weekend.
Today, all across America, there is a staggering number of children being sacrificed at the alter of organized sports. For some, it was just a natural thing. They grew up at the ball field and after having children, they signed up their children and got them involved in the sport they once played. For others, they see just a glimmer of talent and taste just enough success to push their child to the “next level” in their sport of choice. Before long, they progress to a traveling team where every weekend is consumed with games and tournaments. Eventually, the coach encourages them to play in two consecutive seasons which spans the majority of the year. Almost without blinking an eye, their entire family life now revolves around their child’s sport. It has become their god.
Below are some necessary check points to help you evaluate your heart in relation to organized sports:
- What are my goals regarding my child’s participation in his or her selected sport?
- Do I love the sport more than my child loves the sport?
- Am I fulfilling unachieved childhood goals and “playing the game” through my child?
- Does the thought of taking a season off and spending time together as a family on Saturday cause stress and anxiety?
- Do I enter each season with my eye on scholarship plans for my child in the future?
- Do I have an obsession with thinking of my child’s future success in the sport?
- Will my commitment to sports have a negative affect upon my commitment to God and my local church?
- Do my children see me more committed to sports than God?
- Do I honor God with my family’s involvement in organized sports?
- Do I use my involvement in organized sports as an outreach opportunity to share the gospel?
- Has my child’s sport become a god to me and our family?
- Do I get more joy from sports than I do from God?
As we engage in sports and allow our children to play organized sports, we should evaluate our motives and examine our heart along the way in order to avoid disaster. Sports should not control our family nor should they be a burden on the shoulders of children. Life does not revolve around sports – at least it shouldn’t. Moderation is a good thing to learn in life – especially when it comes to sports. Too much of anything can take a blessing and transform it into a curse. Charles Spurgeon once said:
False gods patiently endure the existence of other false gods. Dagon can stand with Bel, and Bel with Ashtaroth; how should stone, and wood, and silver, be moved to indignation; but because God is the only living and true God, Dagon must fall before His ark; Bel must be broken, and Ashtaroth must be consumed with fire. 
As a Christian, whatever we do, we must do it for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We must work hard, practice, and develop our skills so that we can bring honor to God. However, as a Christian, we must likewise guard our hearts and our families from the god of organized sports. How can we possibly play sports for the glory of God when it literally consumes our family life and crowds out God? When our children grow up and leave our homes, we would much rather them have good memories from sports, but their best memories related to time spent with our family, time in family worship, and time spent with our church.
Does your family revolve around Christ or a specific sport? Does your family worship at the alter of athletics? Sports are a gift from God, but we must be careful not to worship the gift rather than the giver. Philip Ryken writes, “To identify your own idols, ask questions like these: What things take the place of God in my life? Where do I find my significance and my confidence? What things make me really angry? Anger usually erupts when an idol gets knocked off the shelf.” 
Exodus 20:3 – You shall have no other gods before me.
- “A Jealous God,” Sermon 502, March 29, 1863.
- Courage to Stand, Crossway, 1998, p. 90.