My love of sport always seemed built in. As a kid, most of my free time was consumed with playing just about everything in driveways, vacant lots, backyards, and on organized teams—a practice that persisted through my high school and college years.
My parents were keen enough to recognize my interest in sport early. They nurtured it with rides to ball games, needed equipment, and being sure not to miss the sign-up dates for sport seasons. I am grateful for this, but more so for the way they framed sport within a Christian home. They followed, supported, and encouraged while never making too much or too little of my sport interests, achievements, or failures. With no formal expertise, they seemed to have an easy sense of how sport can either enhance or consume life. And because of their grounding in an authentic Christian faith, they navigated my sport experiences like seasoned veterans.
Now a professor of kinesiology and men’s golf coach at Calvin, I have a platform to coach, teach, research, and share how sport intersects with Christian faith in our everyday lives. Don’t think this topic is for you? Wait! You may be more connected than you think.
Sport is everywhere. Let’s follow some numbers. The current estimated global market for the sports industry is $1.3 trillion, mostly connected to the 4 billion people who participate in and follow soccer. In North America, the sports market in 2014 was $60.5 billion and is expected to eclipse $73 billion by 2019. This money is not all reserved for big time corporate sport and player salaries. The youth market in the U.S. alone, which includes things like merchandising, equipment, private coaching, travel, and tournament organization, is now a $15.3 billion market, a 55% increase from 2010.
“But just as sport cannot ultimately drown out the concerns of the day, so supposed real life cannot deny the important place of sport in our humanity, our culture, and God’s world.”
With all of its dollars and attention, it is no wonder sport has drawn the eye of the church, perpetuating a familiar pattern. Repeatedly in history, the church has been suspicious of sport, prompting prohibitions and bans over concerns about culture, youth formation, and Sabbath keeping. Yet the power and popularity of sport has always won out, compelling the church to assimilate, accommodate, and leverage sport for its own purposes.
Today, Christian intellectuals continue to debate the ethics of sport and the moral implications of its centrality in culture, while most pastors and other church leaders focus on meeting people where they are and highlighting the positive and useful aspects of the sport.
This Calvin Short, Sport. Faith. Life., uses stories and examples to describe what sport is and how the Christian church has dealt with it in history. It goes on to analyze the challenges of competition and presents ways to navigate through both exciting and difficult times of sport within a Christian life.
Sports are always situated in a larger culture with serious and important things happening every day.
But just as sport cannot ultimately drown out the concerns of the day, so supposed real life cannot deny the important place of sport in our humanity, our culture, and God’s world. Sport is a part of ordinary life that does not seem so ordinary. The experience draws us in and brings us back, day after day, season after season. We love to play—and yes, to win, or at least to invest enough of ourselves to have a chance.