by Peter Piscitello
College rowing coach Susan Saint Sing has a quote that I use while presenting our Play Like a Champion coach formation programs in CYO.
Sing says, “A child at play is in touch with the purest essence of the energy of God.” Meant to refer to both the athlete’s connection to God and the importance of play among children, these words capture an essential element of the ideal youth sports experience. They speak to the importance of joy.
The presence of joy may be the difference between a positive youth sports experience and one a child would rather forget. In environments that prioritize joy, children participate with broad smiles.
The sound of laughter is heard echoing from the fields of competition. Children compete with a freedom and confidence that comes from being fearless. They work hard, but it’s evident they are enjoying the opportunity to give their best effort. In fact, they are not at work; they are at play.
Yet, too often, we see the opposite in youth sport. Where joy is absent, play quickly becomes work, and the child is burdened by expectation and afraid to fail.
Instead of smiles, the faces of children seem heavy with pressure. We wonder how God was lost amid the desire to win at all costs. It often seems that something is lacking in the experience.
Perhaps that’s because it is in joy where God feels most present in sport. It is in these joyful environments that God’s essence seems to consume the competition.
We are reminded that our children participate in an activity intended to be fun, one where we seek to develop virtue and to allow children to use their God-given gifts to glorify him. Watching a young athlete truly at play, it is as if nothing else matters but remaining in that moment, in that presence of God and a game he created.
Our CYO strives to embody the connection between authentic joy and sport. Our goal is to provide opportunities for children to play, to develop skill and to grow in their relationship with God.
Because the ultimate source of joy is God, if we use our athletic gifts to glorify him, then competition can exist as a manifestation of the joy we find in him. Too often, we believe that joy comes from winning a game. While winning is great, the joy we seek is not contingent upon results, but comes from the approach to the journey of an individual or team.
We invite you to join us on this journey. Together, may we find joy in the great gift of sport and glorify God as we watch our children play. Visit the website at: cyojwa.org to learn more!