The value of little league sports has shifted. In decades past, many parents and coaches believed youth sports were designed to teach valuable life lessons such as teamwork, friendship, healthy competition and how to lose. Now, little league sports have shifted to a utilitarian approach. Many parents use little league sports as a means to get their children college scholarships or make it to the professional leagues. Therefore, these type of parents no longer value as much the character-building traits sports provide, but rather desire coaches to improve physical performance to increase their child’s future happiness and success.
Should, then, Christian parents abdicate youth sports altogether? Or should these shifting realities encourage us to involve ourselves more in little league? I lean towards the latter approach.
As a father and pastor, I have experienced unique opportunities to influence players and parents in little league sports. Consider these three reasons why you should coach little league sports, too.
Coaches who believe the gospel don’t see players as a means to an end, but rather as unique image bearers loved by God.
1. Little league sports gives you a platform for the gospel.
Little league sports can help you connect with people you might not otherwise reach. Parents who see sports from a utilitarian perspective sign their children up to play sports in large numbers. Christians have an opportunity to meet people in their community, and as a coach, we have the means to lead these young men and women to Christ. We can use our words and actions both on and off the court or field to show them what Christ has done in our lives.
We can also build relationships with these families to intentionally share the gospel with them when they ask “for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). When parents notice our coaching style is different, their observations open the lines of communication for gospel conversations. These gospel conversations should allow Christian coaches the opportunity to correct the utilitarian position and redeem little league sports as character development for children.
2. Little league sports allow you to be an encouragement to young players.
Utilitarianism in sports has increased the pressure on young players. We have all seen young players severely reprimanded for not being perfect or for making an error in the game. We have seen coaches verbally abuse players for being unable to perform at a higher level. I’m not against pushing players to be better, but Christian coaches have the ability to push with encouragement instead of chastisement. Coaches who believe the gospel don’t see players as a means to an end, but rather as unique image bearers loved by God.
Therefore, we treat them with respect and seek to build them up with our words. We take intentional time to teach the fundamentals and understand that—in all reality—they are just young people having fun while playing a game. Yes, coaches should hold players accountable when they act foolishly or have a bad attitude, but the majority of the time we should seek to sharpen their skills through affirmation and encouragement. This type of positive feedback allows coaches the opportunity—going back to reason one—to use their platform as a means to share the gospel.
3. Serving in little league sports enables us to reclaim character formation.
At the start of every season and practice, I tell my players that we will focus on three concepts of character building: Fundamentals, Friendship and Fun. These words are connected to a Christocentric worldview:
- Fundamentals has to do with developing the correct discipline in order to play the game correctly. The Christian life is a life of developing biblical virtues, which takes the Holy Spirit’s power in conjunction with personal fortitude.
- Friendship has to do with developing social skills like honesty, integrity, sportsmanship and respect for players and coaches. In other words, we teachplayers about the Imago Dei and the golden rule.
- Fun is about enjoying God’s created order. God created a world in which we could develop games like football, basketball, baseball, and others for our enjoyment in his world. As a coach, I desire my players to enjoy the game because that, in my mind, is more important than whether or not they play college or professional sports.
While we may affirm that little league sports has shifted, this realization should not deter Christians from coaching in this extra-curricular activity. God created human beings in his image, and we have been granted the gift of creating out of God’s created order. This includes sports. Yes, little league sports have been corrupted by utilitarianism, but they can be redeemed toward good. The reality is that it will take Christian coaches with courage to get involved and help correct this cultural attitude. Therefore, my Christian brothers and sisters, get to coaching.
 A word of caution, because I know my own competitive limits: If you are an overly competitive person and believe your passion for winning might hurt your witness, it would be best for you to avoid coaching little league. The last thing we want to do is push people away from Christ in our commitment to winning ball games.