I've really struggled with some emotions regarding children and their activities lately. Or rather, I struggle with the "adults" they encounter in those activities. See, my goal is not to raise a future Salt Lake REAL soccer player, or a Major League pitcher. My goal is not even a great surgeon, wonderful teacher, or brilliant engineer.
My goal, my hope and dream for my children, is to raise them to know their divine worth, and the divine worth of EVERYONE around them. My prayer is that they will be so "comfortable in their own skin" that they will want the same for all those with whom they come into contact.
So here's how I see it. I can't even begin to do this if I don't do the same, if I don't set the example. And I need to expect them to follow suit.
Many years ago, when he was in the "no-knee" soccer group (you know, where the shorts and soccer socks overlap because the child is so short) one son was having a very frustrating experience. A friend on the other team scored, again, and my child had had it. He pulled back and punched the kid. I missed it, but another friend had already heard me warn him about his attitude. She told me what she thought she had seen, but said I should double-check with the coach, because he had also been watching. So I asked, "Did he just punch the other kid?" "Yeah, but the other guy's not crying." WHAT??? The ball rolled out of bounds, dead. I excused myself, went onto the field, took my child by hand, and told the coach that he would be sitting out the rest of the game. After the game, I had my son apologize not only to his friend, but his friend's mom, because I have always felt that when you hurt a child, you also hurt the parent.
Fast forward to another game, many years later, AAA soccer on the high school level. I wasn't at this one, but when my son came home, he was really upset. In an effort to keep a kid from scoring, he came out of the goalie box and slide-tackled the ball. It was a clean hit, a good hit, but legs got tangled, and the other guy was carried off the field. There was talk of a torn meniscus. The upshot of that one was that I spent the next two days trying to track down the other team's coach's phone number to check on the young man and extend my son's concern and hopes for a speedy recovery.
Now, THAT is what I hope to teach my kids through their activities. He never let the fear of hurting someone hold him back in his playing, but he also allowed for compassion for the other team. He knew how much soccer meant to him, and how much it would hurt to not be able to play, and so felt for the other guy. He played "his" game.
So when I hear someone saying, "push them back, harder!", I'm telling my kids, "hold your head up and play 'your game' not theirs." Because, while I know that winning is the object of that individual game, winning at life, being able to look yourself in the mirror, is more important. So I tell my kids, "Hold your head up, play your game, do your best." "Don't lower yourself to their level, pull them up to yours." "When you knock someone down, if the ball is dead, help them back up, even, maybe especially, if they're not on your team."
But I think for many, religion gets "checked at the door" or on the edge of the soccer field, or as you approach the baseball diamond. Just because the player is in black instead of red doesn't make them a bad person, or someone who should be "taken out". Just because they put on the stripy shirt and picked up the whistle, they don't become some kind of sub-human. So when you're yelling at the other kid, berating the ref, don't forget, you've probably got your own kid there, too. And he's watching you. And he's listening. And more than anyone else at that venue, he's going to remember how you addressed that situation.
Me, yes, I have to bite my tongue sometimes. Once I had to get a book out and read instead of paying attention because I was so frustrated at the officials. But for me, I want my kids to know that my religion isn't just a Sunday thing. It's part of who I am, every day. And I want them to have the same peace that I have. THAT is winning, in my book.