‘Elite?’ examines how an unhealthy focus on youth sports can jeopardize our faith
Adam D. Metz had my immediate attention with two early items in his treatise “Elite? A Christian Manifesto for Youth Sports in the United States.”
• His reference in the table of contents to “The Youth-Sports Industrial Complex.”
• His statement on Page 3: “This book is written for Christians who feel unprepared for and at a loss to deal with a youth sports scene that seems to be spiraling out of control.”
In light of recent scandals involving coaches, student athletes and parents, Metz seems right on.
Metz, who has ministered for the Alum Creek Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, since 2003, explored the relationship between Christianity and sports for his doctoral research at Fuller Seminary.
With a bibliography of 185 pieces, citations on half of the 184 pages, 66 scripture references and just enough 50-cent words (“autotelic” and “autocharatic”), his work will certainly make one involved in this subject give it complete attention.
This is not a casual read or a feel-warm-and-fuzzy-when-done kind of book. Points are varied, well-supported and highly documented.
Much credibility is gained from quotes by, and references Metz makes to, such notables as Dwight Eisenhower, Pierre de Coubertin, Vince Lombardi, Herm Edwards, Bo Jackson and countless theologians, psychologists and lay people. Metz’s point is addressed from a wide variety of perspectives with the goal of resolving the sports-industrial complex and the mission of God’s people.
As a retired educator with 12 years as a teacher and coach — and 18 years as an athletic director — I am a strong advocate for the value of sports participation. My experience and passion have been in education-based athletics (school sports). All too often, efforts in that arena can be severely compromised by the “elite, select and travel teams” that Metz examines.
As I paraphrase from Chapter 2, in general, play (and sport) is intended to be voluntary and therefore fun, a critical element for children. With the proliferation of parents and the sports-industrial complex, sports participation is no longer “voluntary” and therefore, increasingly, not fun. So agrees my friend and noted youth sports psychologist Dr. Greg Dale of Duke University: “Kids quit when it stops being fun.”
Metz writes that the world of “elite,” “select” and “travel” teams has helped foster a national youth-sports climate built on unrealistic parental hopes and dreams of college scholarships and a culture of favoritism and celebrity where gifted athletes are often excused from bad behavior and given special treatment and privileges. Noticeably absent during the rise of these trends in youth sports has been a clear and distinct voice of the church.
“Youth leagues increasingly resemble professional leagues,” he writes, “not because of the desires of the children playing, but because of the coaches, parents and other adults in charge.”
“Elite?” produces three summary statements relating the juxtaposition of youth sports and faith:
• For many families, sports have taken the place of the full life Jesus has promised.
• Parents are raising their children with an identity primarily formed by their experiences as athletes instead of as faithful Christians.
• We have not taken seriously enough the many challenges youth sports present to the identity formation of young people during their very formative adolescent years.
As I work to defend my professional experience, even at a Christian school, I find little support for arguments with Metz. As he and others state, “The tail often wags the dog.”
Doug Killgore is the recently retired assistant principal and athletic director of Central Arkansas Christian School in North Little Rock, Ark. He and his wife, Sheila, worship with the Sylvan Hills Church of Christ in Sherwood, Ark. Known as “The Bow Tie AD,” he is a motivational speaker and high school athletics professional development specialist. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @BowTieAD.