The young people in our care face many ‘giants’ on a daily basis, and sport can play a considerable role in skilling them to learn, grow and win!
It is really concerning to observe a generation that is largely staying indoors. Apart from the much-researched negative health spinoffs of sedentary behaviour in young people (often through prolonged engagement with electronic devices), other detrimental side effects come into play.
One of these is the lack of engagement with the ‘great outdoors’. Richard Louv highlights this so passionately in Last Child in the Woods, pointing out how our young people are suffering from a nature deficit disorder.
Being out in creation raises in each of us a heightened spiritual awareness – and for Christians, a closer connection with our Creator. I remember clearly a Scripture Union (SU) hike along the Wild Coast in the mid-eighties, where about twenty-five teenagers got to learn about each other and our God, with breath-taking coastal views during the day, and star-gazing at night around the campfire.
I know many teachers who confidently claim not connecting well with young people in their classrooms before having met them out-of-doors, perhaps on the sports field or drama stage. Somehow this creates a reference point, a basis of mutual understanding and respect, in turn supporting learning in the classroom.
Sport is one of the key teaching activities we can use, either inside or outside. Apart from the health and well-being benefits, sport can help teach critical life lessons to a generation in need of help!
One of the grittiest sports persons around currently is the Romanian, Simona Halep (currently world number one in ladies’ tennis). Simona more often than not has to grind out a win, often from being a set down.
Her performance in the recent French Open was a clear example of a mentally strong and physically fit young lady ready to take on the best. She even did this with injury niggles.
How does she do it?
She’s incredibly fit, chasing every ball down and so often making her opponents play that extra ball or two, resulting in unforced errors on their part. And her footwork is key: she gets into position so well, ready to take on each shot.
I loved her acknowledging her coach after the semi-finals and pointing to her head, showing how she had thought through her win and achieved her goal.
So, like Simona on the tennis court, or the Russian team in the FIFA World Cup, how do young people punch above their weights, becoming tougher, grittier and better at persevering when coming up against stiff opposition?
Through sport, we as facilitators / coaches / mentors / cheering spectators, can teach them: how to find the way back after losing the way, how to re-strategize when being outplayed, how to take a timeout, how to win or lose gracefully, how to show courage against a heavier, quicker opponent, how to accept coming third or fourth despite giving it all.
The good news is that we don’t have to be professional coaches to help in this game. There are FANTASTIC resources ready to download, the result of international collaboration in sports ministry.
On an international level, the Ready Set Go site is full of ready-to-use materials. At this site, you’ll also find the Ubabalo whole life coaching materials, covering a range of sports.
The modules in these materials also use appropriate Bible stories which help young people apply their experienced learning to real life.
SU England and Wales currently are offering the Jumpers for Goalposts programme around the World Cup.
If traditional games are appropriate for your context, these can be used too, in safe areas created for kids to play.
The giants our young people are facing are MASSIVE: drugs, absent dads, bullying, lack of employment prospects, poverty, abuse, insecure self-esteems and peer pressure, to name a few.
Here’s an invitation and encouragement to grab a bat and ball of your choice and get out there with kids in your sphere of involvement! Apart from a huge lot of fun and getting the blood pumping, you’ll be creating opportunities to teach and demonstrate a better way of living, Christ’s way.
Ready, set, go!