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Catholic Activity: Athletics—Yes and No


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Newland weighs the benefits of sports training for children.


Children learn speed, grace, co-ordination, accuracy, many things from the athletic skills. We have to be careful, though, that they do not overestimate their capacity or their talent, and we can do them grave harm by encouraging feats obviously beyond their ability. This applies not only to athletic activities but to creative activity and vocational experiments as well. Few children can get too much of praise and encouragement, except when we delude them into believing that they possess talents they do not possess, or goad them on to heights they can never attain. Art schools, music schools, dancing schools are full of students who are pursuing will-o'-the-wisps, whose parents have so overrated their natural gifts that instead of seeking the right end with their talents — how to use them to enrich a useful life — they become the means of gigantic frustrations.

Not all boys who are star pitchers on school teams are called by God to be professional ball players. But given no means of fitting such gifts into the whole purpose of life, they become ends in themselves, as a newly-signed ball player put it recently. "A chance to make as much money as — and marry a Hollywood star like — —." This is not the end of the talents of ball players, nor the purpose of sports. The gifts are supposed to give glory to God, from Whom they came. If we can teach children that this is the whole point of their play and the use of their talents, it might not be so difficult to keep sports where they belong instead of elevating them to the status of a national religion. The point of games is to play them, not to watch them, and the purpose of athletics in schools is frustrated when the majority of youngsters watch a few burn off energies in sport while the majority must find outlet for their energies somewhere else. Fathers and sons watching televised games participate in only the most barren way in the real joy of sports. It is much more to the point if the fathers turn off the TV set and get out and pitch balls to their sons.

Group play, school athletics, are important not only because they are a means of expending youthful energy but also because they teach the value of teamwork, obvious to us but not often to children. Instinctively each wants to star. "See what I can do." "Watch me." "I do this best, don't I?" Stars soon learn in group play that they are not stars without support, and those who do not star learn the satisfaction of being good support, find happiness in being needed.

Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961

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