Are Sports and Extracurriculars Eclipsing God and Family Time? Try a Sport Fast …
I was recently asked to write an article on this subject, but the following submission was believed to be too radical for the magazine’s readers.
What do you think?
Does this sound familiar?
It’s Sunday morning. Your kids had sporting events or extracurriculars all Friday evening and all day Saturday. You’re all exhausted.
You also didn’t sleep well. Your belly is full of the toxic mixture of ballpark nacho cheese and McDonald’s McSpicy chicken sandwiches.
Everybody is fixated on the next round of kid’s sports or extracurriculars Sunday afternoon. Everybody’s sleeping in Sunday morning, but wait … you’re forgetting something.
What is it? Then, with a sickening feeling, you realize … It’s Sunday Mass you’re forgetting. You yell, “Everybody wake up! We forgot about church!”
What ensues is basically a re-creation of that Home Alone scene: the mad frenzy to get to the airport after the alarm clock malfunction. Maybe you even realize you’ve forgotten a kid halfway to Mass.
Hey, at least you honored the one-hour fast before Mass (since there was no time to push down that frozen waffle).
Not exactly the day of rest that God intended, is it? Nobody has a holy or reverent experience in Mass in the midst of all that frenzy. It’s not that sports and extracurriculars are bad, but what happens when you have too much of a good thing?
What do you do? What can you do?
The Compromise between Sports, Extracurriculars, and Family Life: What are we compromising?
There are ways to cobble together a compromise between the mad rush of children’s extracurriculars, family life, and the most important part of family life, church attendance. Regardless of the method, the long-term success of these time management strategies will likely require heroic virtue on your part as parents. But perhaps there is an easier way, provided by He whose “yoke is easy,” and whose “burden is light.”
We could talk about strategies and hacks to make it all work, to do “all the things,” but I don’t want to talk about that. Lots of other people talk about that. I want to encourage you not to compromise, which just happens to be the greatest parenting hack of them all.
If you’re considering pulling your kids out of sports and extracurriculars because it’s destroying your family life and eclipsing your church life, I want to encourage you. It seems like everybody is telling you to get your kids involved in as much as possible. If you don’t, your kids will be “mal-adjusted”: lacking in social skills, life experiences, and teamwork skills. Right? These are all good things, if the foundation is strong, if all these skills are built on the solid foundation of Christ. Otherwise, it will all just disappear into the sand.
If you’re considering a “sports fast” – pausing, reducing, or even ending your kids’ participation in sports and extracurriculars – you’re not the only one. You’re not the only one thinking it, but you might be the first to actually do something about it. And you might help lead others to make this choice for their families.
I want to encourage you to be bold: “to put out into the deep,” as St. Pope John Paul II so often encouraged us.
The problem is real. A 2013 Protestant study of 16 declining congregations in the US and Canada named children’s sport activities as the primary reason for declining Sunday church attendance.
As the time of Christendom recedes further and further into our past, even the simplest choices we make for God and for a holy family will take on a radical character. That is, as society supports Christianity less and less, just getting our kids to church may require a seemingly extreme action on our part.
THE SPORTS FAST: Should you just take your kids out of sports and extracurriculars?
What’s a “sports fast”? A sports fast is opting out of the fast life of fast sports (or extracurriculars). The fast could be hitting pause on sports for a year or a season. The fast could be reducing or limiting kids to just one sport or extracurricular. It could also be ending your kids’ participation in sports and extracurriculars altogether.
A slow, strategic approach may be better than going cold turkey, because your kids may need time to adjust and for their relationships to reconfigure. But, if by some miracle, your kids give you an opening – like “I want to spend more time at church” or “I’m just happier at church” – take it and don’t look back.
These are viable and extremely effective ways to bring peace to your family life, but they’re not for everybody. I get it. Some people may even be horrified that such a thing would even be suggested. Might as well deprive my child of oxygen, right?
If you are considering this option for your family, do not feel ashamed. You may be judged harshly by your peers for taking your kids out of sports, especially if you kids are really talented. “You’re letting the whole team down!” Do not make this decision lightly. Pray about it with your spouse.
In the end, though, will you regret making a bold choice for Christ for your family? Even if you’re wrong, your priorities are right. This is what your kids will remember you for—it won’t be for doing what everybody else did. As G. K. Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
What about Church-based extracurriculars? Don’t have any at your church? Start some!
This is the option my wife and I chose for our family. My kids may not be involved in sports, but they have plenty of extracurriculars, all centered on church. My daughters and I have daddy-daughter dates to the Missionaries of Charity food kitchen. My wife and I have church date nights, after brought a “Supper & Substance” program to our parish. My boys and I started a father-son altar server program. Total game-changer! My boys weren’t very well-behaved in the pew, but they’re angels on the altar. We have also started more church family picnics and activities at church, trying to make church our second home or “third place.”
SIDENOTE: What’s a “Third Place”?
What’s a “third place”? This is actually an idea from the evil empire, Starbucks [for more on the evil-ness of Starbucks]. Starbucks’ corporate vision to become people’s “third place” after their home and office. The third place is where you go for community, to hang out, when not at home or work. The Church should be every family’s “Third Place” … or even “Second Place”.
>> Back to starting church extracurriculars …
This could be an extremely healthy option for all of your family. There are a lot of benefits to this option, even if the perceived negatives are scary: the judgment of peers, a competitive disadvantage for your kids, etc. The benefits: More family meals; less fast food. More leisure time, more time for academics, less rush. But the biggest advantage is more time for Jesus – the highest-quality quality time.
Wait! Won’t my Kids be Disadvantaged Without the Team-building Skills of Sports?
Any disadvantage your kids receive for not participating in sports should be heavily outweighed by the advantages of putting God first. Nevertheless, secular research points in this direction, too. According to psychologists and economists, the main factors that determine a child’s future success are doing chores, who your kids hang around, parental involvement and affection, and enthusiasm for learning—not the amount of sports and extracurriculars that a kid is involved in.
Another example, this one was covered in Freakonomics:
The Chicago school system, the third largest school system in the country, allowed parents to enter a school-choice lottery. So what happened to the kids whose parents won the lottery and were allowed to move their kids to a better-performing school? Statistically, the kids who won the lottery did no better than the kids who lost. The factor that determined future success in life was not winning the lottery, but entering the lottery.
Just being the kind of parents and kids who cared enough to make a big, decisive choice for their education was the greatest factor in their later success. So, be bold in choosing Christ as a family.
Other families are having the same experience as you. They may be just waiting for someone else to take the lead – to do what everybody else is thinking. Your courage could have a huge evangelizing impact.
As mentioned earlier, as we move from Christendom to Apostolic Mission, simple choices will take on a radical character. That is, as society supports Christianity less and less, just getting our kids to church may require a seemingly extreme action on our part.
Don’t be afraid to “put out into the deep!”
Footnotes: Sports Fast, Family Life vs. Sports
 Duc In Altum! St. John Paul II encouraged us to “put out into the deep” multiple times, including at 2005 World Day of Prayer for Vocations and in Novo Millennio Ineunte.
 Steve McMullin, Review of Religious Research, Vol. 55, No. 1 (March 2013), pp. 43-59 (17 pages)