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Can sports bring kids closer to God?

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Here's how to help your kids get the most spiritual benefit out of playing sports.

Our current infatuation with virtual reality gives us plenty of cause for worry. Children suffer real and dangerous consequences from a lack of physical activity. Children’s physical development is an important aspect of their overall growth, and we all know how much sports can help with that. But what is unknown, perhaps, is how sports can have a positive influence on a child’s spiritual growth as well.

A healthy mind in a healthy body

“Mens sana in corpore sano.” This Latin quotation, taken from the 10th of the 16 Satires by Latin author Juvenal, is familiar but often misunderstood. At the time of its writing, its spiritual meaning was implicit. Today, with secularism, this meaning has disappeared, as the word “mind” has lost its connection to spirituality.

Rephrased in a less Latin vocabulary, one might say, for example, “Let us ask Christ for our healthy bodies to hold healthy souls.” Physical activity is part of a Christian lifestyle, so we need to choose to take care of the body that God has given us.

Staying fit is a time investment. It requires fighting our own weaknesses and learning humility when we fall short. All of this helps forge character, and can play an important role in a child’s overall development.

Sportsmanship, a Christian value

St. John Bosco considered sports an excellent activity for education and evangelization. Having observed that “the stadium attracts more people than the church,” the Italian priest began working with some young people from underprivileged backgrounds by offering them sports activities. For many kids, being able to let off steam while developing athletic skills was a starting point for returning to the “right path.”

One of the basic principles of sports is the constant effort to improve. Young athletes who learn to love that constant effort often end up applying the same principles to daily life. Playing a sport can lead, little by little, to mastering social norms and rules, and then to practicing fundamental Christian values. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a sports value! In addition to being the second greatest commandment of love, it is the very essence of fair play, which is indispensable to sports.

When professional athletes are also Christian models

There are many budding soccer players who dream of a career, and they have many role models to look up to. Each sport has its stars, its heroic figures who are sometimes excellent role models. Their example helps young people find the motivation for intense training and constant self-improvement. The posters on the walls of their rooms call them to follow the hero’s example with a healthy diet, constant practice, and perseverance.

Who better than a top athlete to encourage our young people in the path of Christian life? There is no shortage of examples of celebrity testimonials. The soccer player Olivier Giroud, for example, no longer needs to attest to a faith that his tattoo proclaims: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Lionel Messi makes a sign of the cross before each game. Lewandowski and Gortat acknowledge that their faith is a support not only on the field but also outside it, helping them to be better people and avoid mistakes. Many professional athletes, like Tim Tebow, talk openly about their relationship with God. They confirm that Christian values apply to the sports world.

A Christian mode of athletic training

How can a child benefit from sports’ spiritual potential? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Having fun is important. If athletics are to be the starting point for your child’s further development, it is important to choose the sport he or she enjoys most.

A good coach is key. A competent and charismatic coach will become an important teacher and role model.

Be careful about choosing the people who supervise the practice times. It is so important for coaches and management teams to have a healthy mindset about sports.

Positive heroes will be your supporters. Show your child that his idol shares faith, and that that faith helps him to overcome himself, to conquer his own weaknesses, to live.

Offer your motivation as a gift. Parental support and approval is one of the main drivers of a child’s development. Your child should know that even if she loses the game or doesn’t win the race, she will always be the winner in your eyes.

Help yourself with prayer. Developing athletic skills requires time and constant effort. The same principle applies to spiritual development: systematic, persevering prayer will be the cornerstone of your child’s progress toward God.

Practice together, praying for a healthy mind in a healthy body.

This article was originally published in the French Edition of Aleteia.

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