Quick, can you tell me what could possibly be the most effective character-building tool or program we can offer the youth today? If you were given this important task of creating the perfect environment to build up our youth, what exactly would you do?
You’d probably say you’ll need some charismatic teachers that kids would listen to; and you’d look for a great venue that would keep the kids interested; you’d find an activity or a series of activities that children would love to do, an activity that could simulate life’s many different episodes and trials.
What activity would you have in mind that could best imitate life? That could keep kids interested? That could provide an ample number of adults who could support the activity for free? If there’s one activity that could best fit that mold, it will have to be sports.
To my mind, sports is the most effective character-building tool available out there. It is a wonderful gift, not just for the kids themselves, but for the entire community as well. It provides the venue to exercise and develop the basic values of leadership, discipline, respect for authority, sportsmanship, fair play, teamwork and more. It is a microcosm of life itself, giving us great opportunities to re-enact, study and critique life’s many challenges.
Sports for the youth is an easy program to carry. It is a fun activity, thus kids are just too willing to play, and there are plenty of volunteers willing to give a helping hand. And it’s not just the parents who volunteer to assist; it’s the family, the neighbors, the entire community that are easily mobilized for such exercises.
Sports provides a great bonding experience, rallying communities for a common cause. It is a virtual classroom, with more fun, more laughs, plus plenty of life’s lessons and thrills. It is really a non-controversial event, when offered as a development tool for the kids. One of my greatest realization lately when we in Habitat organized a sports competition in Bantayan recently with our dear partners, March For Christ, last Christmas was that bonding and learning comes oh-so-easy with sports.
But here lies a crucial point. Sports needs to be offered to the youth in its purest, noblest form – that is, where the object is to develop the kids to become physically, mentally and morally strong in preparation for life’s future battles ahead. Unfortunately, there are some people who wittingly or unwittingly play the sport card with the dollar sign in mind. Once sports is presented in its business form – where the primary objective is to win, to profit, or to cash in on a prospective professional career – the noble intentions are lost and the burden becomes heavy.
What gives youth sports a bad reputation is when parents or officials spoil the game. By picking a fight with parents on the other team. Or by berating the referees. Or by influencing table officials. Or threatening the opposing team’s kids. Or cajoling the coach to give his own son more playing time. These are just some of the ways to take the fun out of the sport.
Or when officials manipulate results for financial or personal considerations. Or when certain players or teams are favored so that a business profit is made. When the intention of sports leaders is sullied by malicious intentions; when ‘winning becomes the only thing’; these eventually will undermine the entire program.
Youth sports then must be offered primarily as a character-education tool. It is meant to develop our kids to become future leaders and fair-minded citizens. It offers not just physical benefits, but social, psychological and mental benefits as well. But first, it should be about developing our kids into becoming better individuals, better people; and not focused entirely on developing better athletes.
Coaches – and parents – have a crucial role to play then. They must put emphasis on developing the values of sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, nationalism, pride, etc above anything else. The winning, and the possibility of a future professional athletic career must be sidelined as a mere bonus. There is a difference between coaching to win a game, and coaching to win in life. Youth sports is about teaching kids to win in life. Coaches then must resist the temptation to look at simple short-term gains, and look at the long-term objectives of molding better citizens, and thus, creating a better society for the country.
We need to work on propagating the development of our people through sports. We can do that, not just by making our players better athletes. That will come, when the time is right. We can make our players better, our team better, our community better and our people better by teaching the fundamental values, even as we have fun with the sport.
There is a line I grew up with as a cadet in the Philippine Military Academy that aptly conveys what we need to do as we strive to lay the proper foundation among our kids: Teach us to make our play in every game, whether in mere sports or in life’s mightier struggles, one where our desire to win is second only to our love of the game itself, where we triumph as considerate victors or lose with grace and a determined will to win.
Let us invest in sports for our youth. Let us do that properly – with the noblest of intentions. By propagating sports for the youth, we support our country and people, we support our future.
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