Though my daughter now plays a team sport at the college level, I've spent years on the sidelines watching her on teams from elementary school through high school. On some teams, she was the apple of the coach's eye and on others, not the favorite. Through it all, she's retained a love of her sport.
But often, given the news coverage of youth sports, parents undermine this potentially positive experience for children.
Most parents of young athletes have heard at least a few parental comments from the sidelines that one wouldn't deem supportive. And occasionally an angry parent has resorted to violence.
This kind of behavior certainly doesn't foster a love of the sport or instill confidence and goodwill in the child.
A great help I've found over the years in being able to support my daughter in her athletics is studying the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science.
The ideas in these books have helped me understand more genuinely what youth sports is really all about. That, in turn, has helped me support and further my daughter's love of what she's doing out there – whether she's on the field or sitting on the bench.
The main idea that has guided me is from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he wrote: "The body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? ... If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? ... now are they many members, yet but one body" (12:14, 15, 17, 20).
Though Paul was not speaking of a sports team, his idea is founded in the truths of divine creation, and in my own thinking about teamwork, the application of Paul's ideas has resulted in a productive, supportive understanding that has helped my daughter greatly.
Mary Baker Eddy put a similar idea this way: " 'All things work together for good to them that love God,' " is the dictum of Scripture" ("Science and Health," p. 444).
To me, these two ideas – that each aspect of creation, each individual, has something important, even essential to provide, and that all individual contributions work together for good – are the essence of youth sports.
Applying Paul's observations to a sports team, each participant contributes something to the good of the whole. Some players are more technically skilled than others, some are faster, some see the field more clearly. Each one has a unique characteristic that only that player brings. That's the point to focus on: Each person has an important function.
And certainly, thinking more deeply about that word team is how we, as parents, might more helpfully focus our own thoughts.
In my daughter's case, in those seasons when she played the whole game, every game, she was happy at times to have a teammate relieve her. These times helped her understand the importance of her role when it was her turn to relieve another player; she saw that her actions on the sidelines were important to team support. She realized that players in a hotly contested game gain energy and confidence when they hear support of fellow teammates on the bench.
So what's a parent's role in all this? For me it has been a process of first correctly identifying the role my daughter plays as worthwhile.
Secondly, I need to genuinely value it. As Paul noted, at one time, my daughter might function figuratively as the eye and sometimes, the ear. Whatever her role, I need to value its importance to the proper functioning of the whole.
All things do, in fact, work together for good. And in this case, working for the good of a team results in the goodness our children find in teamwork – in the character traits they develop and in the lessons they learn. And those sorts of experiences will bless them in years to come.