High school sports can be catalysts to help your kids cultivate the four cardinal virtues.
When I was in high school, I didn’t think sports were a big deal. Sure, I played them (poorly), but mostly as an excuse to get out of PE class. I had no idea how extensively my character was being shaped and tempered during afternoon practices and day-long tournaments. To be honest, I doubt I’d ever have realized the role high school sports played in the formation of my character if I hadn’t been blessed with the opportunity to watch that same formation take shape in my own teenage daughter.
In the past few years she’s branched out from taekwondo to track, volleyball, and soccer — and her little sister is following her example, starting her second season of 5th grade volleyball. I’ve watched these different sports bring out both the best and the worst in my daughters, and I’ve been fascinated to see how sports bring all kids face-to-face not only with their strengths, but also with their weaknesses. Here are a few ways I’ve seen the four cardinal virtues — prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice — cultivated by various sports, in my own kids and in their friends.
1Soccer builds prudence
I knew almost nothing about soccer when Sienna decided to play last winter. Since then, I’ve learned everything from what a sweeper does to why Manchester City is unparalleled. But the greatest lesson I learned came from watching her play. Soccer requires a lot more mental agility than most people realize — the positions are more fluid than they are in basketball or volleyball, and players have to be able to read the field quickly and effectively. As her team came together this year, they learned to be aware not only of their teammates’ positions on the field, but also the skill level of those teammates. They learned to read the opposition in an instant and pass to the teammate best-suited to break the defense of that particular moment. They saw cues and signals I didn’t understand even after my daughter explained them–and they learned to play the long game, rather than go for immediate gratification.
2Martial Arts and football build fortitude
Fortitude is often called courage, and courage is certainly an element of this virtue. But what many people fail to realize is that courage is not the absence of fear. All athletes feel fear — all people feel fear, for that matter. And that fear is magnified when the prospect of physical contact in a combative sport is imminent. Fortitude is built by walking into a ring or onto a field inspire of that fear. It’s built when kids get knocked down and then get back up. It’s built when they stay in the fight, knowing they’re going to lose. It’s built with every split lip and bruised rib, because the courage it takes to overcome the fear of getting hit again is tremendous. It’s a different kind of fortitude, one that will serve our kids well for the rest of their lives.
3Cross country builds temperance
Temperance is often considered an act of negation — it’s temperance that helps us abstain from meat or chocolate during Lent, that allows us to resist temptation and keep our eyes fixed on God. But the will to turn away from our desires requires an active strength of mind. It requires a will that’s been tested and has learned to endure. And there’s no better way I can think of to develop that kind of strong-mindedness than long-distance running. After all, cross-country requires the willpower to resist the ever-present temptation to just stop running. Step after step, meter after meter, mile after mile, these athletes resist that very real temptation. And with every step, their temperance becomes that much stronger.
4Volleyball and basketball build justice
There’s something beautiful about watching five or six young athletes work together in harmony, each playing their individual parts so perfectly that they seem be one mind. That kind of teamwork doesn’t just happen overnight, though — it’s built through hours of work, hours of practice, and hours of learning to put themselves aside for the good of the team. It’s so hard for young athletes to learn to be content with a position that’s not the star role. Countless tears have been shed in our house over being relegated to the back row of the volleyball team, for instance. It’s understandable; it stings to be a supporting role, to never get the glory of spiking the volleyball or swishing that 3-pointer. But once my kids have managed to set that sting aside, they’ve begun to experience the bond forged among a team. They’ve learned to appreciate — even applaud — their teammates’ skills, and to begin to develop a new appreciation for their own skill, because it, too, is an essential function of the team. This is helping them to stop seeking glory by undermining their teammates, instead focusing on the good of the team as a whole. In doing so, they learn to stay in their own lane because it’s the right thing to do — and that lesson carries over to schoolwork, social gatherings, even family chores (well, sometimes!).
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