Yesterday, I received an email from our son’s junior high basketball department. The athletic director wrote that the program “can best be compared to a gifted academic program.” He stated, “Students will not play equally,” adding that effort will be made to play every member but that it may be “impossible” due to the “competitive level of the opponent.”
After reading the letter, I had some thoughts and feelings regarding the athletic policies, in light of the fact that our son, a sixth grader, is not “gifted” athletically and spent last season on the bench, except during games when the team had such a significant lead in the final two minutes that his lack of talent would not jeopardize the team’s victory.
I am a solid supporter of Christian education and, in particular, our son’s school. The teachers are dedicated Christians, intent on instilling Christian values as much as providing quality academics. However, when it comes to the athletic programs, I am concerned about the possible message being broadcast to school families as well as the greater community by the values we display in our athletic program philosophy at the junior high level when children are developing physically at vastly different rates. In junior high, the desire to win as top priority made me ponder the value of competiveness and the potential consequences.
I understand the desire to be competitive–to be the best–to win. My genetic inheritance provided me with numerous talents and, consequently, I experienced success in many of life’s arenas deemed valuable by society. Additionally, I have experienced and enjoyed the social rewards of such success. What many do not know is that, in addition to all the outward accolades success brought, I became conditioned by the praises of people to place more importance on society’s values than on God’s values and ended up experiencing a hollowness of soul. In His mercy, he has worked through three children, “disabled” by the world’s definition, to teach me about His own special economy and to heal me from my addiction to achievement and winning.
For certain, God is not opposed to us using the talents He has bestowed upon us. We are commanded to use them responsibly for His glory and the good of others. However, we must be ever vigilant to avoid embracing the world’s values and those who epitomize them, while ignoring or marginalizing those who do not. How often do we insensitively or ignorantly cheer on the “gifted” in public venues while ignoring the “challenged”? Such attention from our fellow mortals is subtly seductive and potentially dangerous emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and even physically if one loses their spiritual bearing.
At the end of the basketball season I asked Nick how he felt about being benched most of the time. He smiled and chirped, “Mom, my job is to help my teammates be happy!” Whether or not he ever played, he saw himself as an important part of the team. He was delighted to don the team uniform and eager to cheer for his buddies from the bench.
Nick inspires me. He is not “gifted” athletically, academically, musically, or theatrically—all the arenas that bring attention and praise in school. But he is “gifted” in bringing smiles to others’ faces. He’s also “gifted” in bringing the Kleenex box when a hurt heart causes eyes to tear.
Nick may never win the attention or receive the applause of others on a basketball court, but he has won my heart and broadened my perspective on what it means to be “gifted”—to be a “winner.”
I hope God used Nick last basketball season to inspire others who might question their own specialness and value on the team of humanity as they watched him on the bench cheering for his teammates. On God’s team, we all play an important position and we all get to play as much as we want.
Best of all, our loving Father and best coach of all is right beside us at every life event cheering us on and applauding our efforts to serve Him, especially when we do it from the bench.
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing.”
“Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”