The City That Raised Me - The Virtue of Sport
Oceans of ink have been spilt writing on how to raise a child well. The goal is for our youth to be “good citizens dedicated to the preservation of the moral fabric of the nation and continuation of its great traditions” — Fulton Sheen. So what exists as a training program for virtue? How do you teach the common good over individual gain? How do you safely put someone through hardship in order to ingrain the teaching properties of pain?
As the Alberta Winter Games flood our city, many of us will probably be slightly higher on the subtle drug of competition and camaraderie emanating from the athletes. It’s the same buzz we get from the Olympics every four years. Even if we aren’t athletes ourselves, we watch with swelling hearts when the red and white flag is raised after the impressive feats of our Canadian athletes. Why is this? While nationalism plays a part, I think there is also a distinct admiration. These athletes have put in work that 99 per cent of people won’t do. It’s impressive. We want to be part of it, even if it’s just adding to the cheers. We support the effort behind challenging things.
Aren’t sports then, an incredible training grounds, not just for athletic progress, but for life itself? What does sport teach except self-mastery, discipline and sacrifice for the sake of a team goal? Benjamin Franklin wrote: “It is of far more consequence to a man, that he has learned to govern his passions in spite of temptation; to be just in his dealings, to be temperate in his pleasures, to support himself with fortitude under his misfortunes, to behave with prudence in all his affairs.” Aren’t modern translations of this painted on gym walls? A deep urging for athletes to embrace the pain, and fight against the lower parts of ourselves that want to be comfortable. Is that not good advice for our children?
Life throws punches. At all of us. Wouldn’t it be helpful then to be taught how to take a punch and keep fighting? How to take a loss. How to suffer well. Sport builds character. Wins and losses can teach humility WHILE igniting a fire for personal progress. What a rare, powerful balance. Sport shows us how to feel pain and charge forward anyways. Whispering that pain is often essential to get where we want to go. Man, it’s something I wish I learnt sooner. Proverbs says that “Just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We don’t coast into being amazing people; strong people, virtuous people. It takes powerful effort. It takes pain. It takes discipline.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said: “Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization - an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same.” Healthy competition can be seen as a training ground for our children, no matter what field they wish to enter. Business, politics, entertainment - success in all these require the basic fundamentals of striving forward, competing well and self-mastery accomplished through pain.
While it is important to guide a child’s mentality toward their personal effort and measurable progress - not only on winning - introducing them to the joy of sport can be an introduction to a life of self-managed personal growth. Reaching for big things, losing gracefully and pushing yourself are golden mindsets to instill in our kids. To all the athletes competing in the Alberta Winter Games, cheers! Have fun, work hard! Stronger, Higher, Faster.
“Live in defiance of weakness and decay. Fight them as they creep in with their offers of instant gratification and immediate rewards.”