Column: CYO’s job is not to create athletes, but saints

Peter Piscitello
Peter Piscitello is the executive director of the Catholic Youth Organization of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties.

by Peter Piscitello

Sport can be a powerful thing. This is not lost in Kansas City, where an estimated 800,000 people gathered in downtown recently to celebrate the world champion Royals.

The team’s run united people like few things have in our hometown: a baseball team becoming a unique testament to the ability of sport to encourage hope, foster community and create joy for so many.

That unique power of sport drives our approach in CYO. While it’s great to “take the crown” as those Royals did, we’re focused on leading families to the “imperishable” crown to which St. Paul refers (1 Cor 9:25).

To do so, we must remember that Christ belongs at the center of our sports culture. It is he who gives us sport as a means by which to grow in virtue and skill. The joy that we experience while participating, cheering on our children or celebrating a local team is all a gift from our creator.

It’s also a small taste of what’s to come. For as much fun as this is, as Christians we believe that we have an even greater joy awaiting us in eternal life.

“Leading Youth to Christ through Sport” is our motto in CYO. It’s a philosophy that reflects our belief in the power of sport, while understanding that sport is not an end, but rather a means by which we can come to know God, grow in virtue and experience the joys of competition.

It points toward an environment where championships are well and good, but the ultimate goal is something even greater.

I like to say that our job is not to create athletes, but saints. We certainly hope that kids grow in athletic skill along the way — achieving goals, learning teamwork and developing sportsmanship. We just desire they achieve even more.

It is our prayer that God may use the staff and volunteers who make youth sports possible to provide kids an experience that leads them to God, that sanctifies sport in such a way that it becomes not just an end, but a powerful medium on the path to holiness.

Kansas City’s celebration of the Royals shed light on so many things that are great about sports. I pray that, as we return our focus to our children and teams in the seasons ahead, we may not lose sight of the joy that sport can provide or the power it can have in our community.

May we use these blessings to refocus our goal on “Leading Youth to Christ through Sport” and developing saints who also happen to be skilled athletes.

May we revel in competition, but always remember that an even greater prize awaits us.

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