Kids, Sports and Grace

This article got me on edge. Here is a quick quote:

While neighborhood games become increasingly scarce, year-round travel teams have never been more prevalent. The U.S. Specialty Sports Association, the dominant organizing body for travel baseball, said it has around 1.3 million players spread across 80,000 teams, more than double what it had 10 years ago. The company’s website includes national rankings for teams in age groups that begin at “4 and under.”

Ismael Gonzalez, who manages the Miami-based 9-and-under team MVP Juniors Elite, said his team travels throughout the Southeast, playing more than 100 games a year and practicing two or three days a week. “These kids work like machines,” he said. “This is not just for fun. This is their lifestyle.”

That is child abuse. I don’t remember playing organized sports other than baseball before 7th grade. In High School I played a sport each season. I loved Basketball, but the thought of playing nothing but would drive me crazy. This is the hard saying nobody wants to hear. If your kid is going to make the big leagues in any sport, the level of innate physical talent, usually speed, is such that they will make it dedicating themselves to it starting in High School or later. If they aren’t going to make it, it doesn’t matter how early they specialize, they aren’t going to make it.

The problem with many rec leagues is that the zealots have taken over. The casual league is managed and run with the express purpose of giving travel teams free reign and developing a star player. That is not the purpose of rec leagues or rec facilities. The purpose is to give the average kid something to do for a few hours other than play x-box. To learn the love of being part of a team. To learn that just playing, win or lose, is valued and important. (Not that winning isn’t more fun.)

There are a couple of interesting theological ideas playing out here. The first is the freedom that the idea of election actually gives. Theologically election might be expressed in the biblical phrase, “those that have more will be given, those that have not even what they have will be taken away (Matt 25:29).” Knowing that God gets what God wants or that “my sheep hear my voice” takes the burden off our effort and allows for grace. Baseball wise, little league is not going to make or break a future big leaguer. When you reject election, it is all on you. When it is all on you, life gets out of whack and grace disappears. The second is that the law always accuses. When grace has been abandoned for the law alone, baseball wise when leagues are run for producing the future hall of famer, all who don’t measure up to that level are condemned. The law is unyielding. What grace does is not take away the chance to be a hall of famer, we still have saints. What it does is say is play it for love.