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Competition… or Pride?

Yesterday, Heather and I attended a Sportsmanship Workshop in Peters Township presented by former Steelers center Jeff Hartings. First of all we were very impressed and pleasantly surprised because we didn’t know Jeff was a believer, and when I heard him speak openly about his faith in God my ears perked up. There’s always a sense of joy that comes over my heart every time I meet other Christians.

His speech focused on the mentality youth sports has today, and how obsessive it has become over winning and losing. It’s come to the point where kids can no longer enjoy a sport for the sake of playing. Jeff admitted that he himself grew up worshipping football and became sick and depressed over the years losing to the Patriots in the playoffs. (The city of Pittsburgh can sympathize with that, Jeff). It wasn’t until after he retired from the NFL that he became convicted believer.

I never grew up in high school sports, because, quite honestly, I’m not much of an athlete. Heather however played softball, volleyball and participated in competitive cheerleading in Springdale. She agreed with Jeff’s sentiments over the obsessive mentality that exists in school sports. It was something I never really considered being an arts guy myself.

Jeff made several interesting points, but as he went along he said that the problem is with the competitive nature of sports. He questioned why parents agree that competition is bad for young kids up to a certain age, but suddenly it’s acceptable as they mature. He argued that competition is what’s at the heart of the problems. It’s competition that has eroded sportsmanship in our youth.

At that point, I reflected over what he had to say, and ultimately I would have to disagree. It’s not so much the competition itself that’s evil, but rather the pride behind it. With a genuine sense of humility, competition brings out the best in us. It allows us to improve and become innovative. Competition is what drives us to find new solutions and stay on top of our everyday challenges. It gives us a sense of purpose, and it prevents us from become apathetic.

There is nothing evil about competition. But when competition becomes an idol, when it becomes the ultimate goal of our lives, then yes, it can become a serious problems. Playing games while keeping score allows players a way of measuring themselves. The point that Jeff made was that some players will measure themselves ONLY by how many points they score, how fast they run, and where they stack up along the ladder to the top. In that case, I agree with Jeff in seeing the harm of kids focusing solely on their own achievements and measurements.

But again, the problem is not competition. It’s pride.

Pride is at the heart of every sin. It’s a violation of every commandment.

Ultimately we have to teach kids not that winning and losing doesn’t matter, but how to win and how to lose in humility. That’s easier said than done because we’re fallen creatures, but it’s something we must do in raising our young athletes. Humility means work hard, but give credit to God for all of our achievements. It means being satisfied by what our bodies are capable of doing, and not become obsessed by the desire of perfection.

That’s not something only athletes struggle with. I myself lack contentment in the blessings God has given me and my family. The truth is that we should be thankful even for the things God has NOT given us. If we don’t have something (a certain wealth, an athletic talent, a higher level of fame) is because God knows we can’t handle it. There are way too many examples out there of men and women who squander everything they own. We should see these people as cautionary examples, not glorious plateaus we ought to reach.

One of the many things Chirst came on earth to teach us is humility. I pray for a growing process in that every day because I certainly need to.

(Jeff is a big part of Urban Impact located in the North Side of Pittsburgh. It is volunteer organization to bring new life and love to kids and teens who live in the city. To learn more about Urban Impact visit their site at www.urbanimpactpittsburgh.org )

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