Every year, we come together as a nation to watch the Super Bowl. Whether you are joining family and friends for the football, the food, or just to share time with your loved ones, we are all excited to gather together around the big screen.
Yet sports do more than just bring us together; they teach us how to be together, too. Part of the magic of sports is how they can unite people from all backgrounds, races, and religious creeds to join in the same game experience, share a common joy, and grow in companionship. I cannot tell you the number of lasting friendships I have seen forged in the fire of a shared enthusiasm for sports.
The NFL is experiencing very high ratings still. The Buccaneers’ win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game drew 44.77 million viewers.
At a time when Americans are suffering from ever-worsening political divisions and the ongoing isolation of a pandemic, we need that magic more than ever before. We need sports to help us heal, to grow and to rejoice together in these trying times. But nowhere is this truer than for our youth.
As Christians, we know that God created us to be relational and to be active. When we confront challenges like we have in 2020, we know that God will give us every tool we need to fulfill His plan for us, because God is always drawing us further in our experience of faith through every aspect of creation. Sports can be an important part of that plan and a tool for fellowship and spiritual growth. People are drawn to sports.
We see the power of sports for God’s plan in the effect they have on our communities. From neighborhood kids playing basketball in the street to families meeting on the soccer field for local sports leagues, we build discipleship, companionship, and communion through our shared participation in sports.
But sports communities play a particularly important role in the lives of young people. Every parent knows this who has witnessed their child grow in responsibility, personal strength, and confidence through participation in a sports league. For young people, sports are always about so much more than just kicking a ball or scoring a victory; sports communities serve as vital emotional and physical outlets for our youth to connect with their peers and shape their character.
For many young people, the coronavirus pandemic has jeopardized their access to these vital sports communities. While most kids are spending more time in front of video games and screens, the inactivity is becoming a habit. Nearly 3 out of 10 kids who played a sport prior to the pandemic are no longer interested in participating, according to The Aspen Institute last Fall.
We all lost a lot to COVID in 2020, and I know many of us have felt the loss of community in an especially deep way. But while it is hard at any age to experience separation from your friends and loved ones, young people in particular suffer when they lose their communities. Young people still need the unique environment of close community with their peers to become who they are.
This loss of community can seriously impact our youth’s faith, too. Not only can we meet other Christians through sports to build up our faith families, but we can also learn valuable lessons of faith through sports. We learn humility and kindness when we accept defeat on the sports field, just as we foster discipleship and build character through inter-generational interaction with coaches, players, and the community. Without sports communities for our youth, we are missing out on a great resource for raising the next generation of faith leaders.
The fact is that young people will benefit from sports. And they need us to remember how important sports are and work to make sure they have access to them.
That is a big reason why we at Upward Sports worked with churches over the last year to keep sports on the table for young people. It has taken a great deal of creativity and a whole lot of God’s grace, but we are proud of what our church partners have accomplished. From a new, COVID-19 safe indoor basketball league to a groundbreaking basketball and football league accessible to children with special needs, we have seen first-hand how Christian communities can come together to keep sports alive for the young people who need it.
With the new year ahead, we at Upward Sports are hope-filled to see what God has in store for us. As we come together this year to watch the Super Bowl, let us remember the special importance of sports in our friendships, communities, and ministries. It may have been a long time since your church last organized a sports league, but our kids are ready and eager to come back and experience the power of sports once again.
Kevin Drake is the executive director of Upward Sports.