Ever since I can remember, I have been in love with sports. When the weather was good, you could find me with all the neighbourhood kids playing football, baseball, and soccer. In the winter, I was at the outside rink playing hockey every day, even on the coldest winter nights.

In high school, I played everything. I was on the school basketball, volleyball, football and rugby teams. Looking back on those days, I have to thank sports for keeping me from dropping out of school.

When I got married, I played in all kinds of men’s leagues until I had kids. Once the children arrived, it was their turn to play and my turn to be their coach. This worked well until their skill level outgrew my coaching abilities, and I had to hand them off to someone else. All of this paid off in the end as my son went on to play Junior and University level hockey while my daughter received an NCAA Division 1 scholarship to play in the USA (Yay, free education!). For most parents, this is their athletic dream for their children, but most do not realize that it comes with a cost.

As my children advanced through the ranks of their sport, I saw some crazy stuff: parents pressuring and even bribing coaches so that their children could get extra playing time, NCAA coaches breaking rules to recruit my daughter, parents spending tons of money they do not have for their children to attend skills camps and clinics, fathers yelling at their children after games because of how they played and these children crying due to the abuse they received from their dad.

I even know of one father that refused to buy his daughter lunch on a drive back from a tournament. He stopped to buy himself a meal, but he punished his daughter for making a mistake on the field by letting her go hungry while he ate in front of her! I also had to deal with an abusive coach at the highest level of one of my children’s sports. This coach was emotionally and verbally abusive, pitting players against each other in order to motivate them. The result was that some players quit the team, others turned on each other, many had to go to counseling, and the coach was eventually fired.

Idolatry is best defined as allowing something other than God to control your life. With this in mind, it’s safe to say the North American obsession with sports can be a destructive idol and can control people in negative ways. I admit that our experience raising athletes was, at times, stressful and even damaging, but the positives far outweighed the negatives.

I experienced countless opportunities to talk about Jesus to parents and children on my kid’s teams. Some even came to faith. My son now coaches, runs hockey skills training camps, and is a fitness trainer. My daughter finished her NCAA career, and the trials she faced on and off the soccer pitch helped develop her character. Both are following Jesus.

Ever since our children were born, we constantly reminded them that our calling as a family was to use all the gifts God has given us to His glory. If they scored the winning goal or were the reason why the opposing team scored the winning goal, it didn’t matter to us. All that mattered was we did our best with what God had given us to serve others for His glory. This strong belief was what sustained us through it all. It was what kept our perspective pure and correct. It was a great lesson to teach our family that was proven and strengthened through athletic triumphs and defeats. It still is our purpose statement that echoes throughout everything our family does.

So, was it worth it? I would say yes, and it can be worth it for you too, as long as Jesus remains Lord over everything – including sports. If not, then the idol could destroy you and your family. The totality of our lives is to be surrendered to God – on and off the field. So, come out and play on God’s team in bringing the wonderful kingdom reign of God wherever we go and in all we do.

COLIN MCCARTNEY is an ordained minister, speaker, and a bestselling author. He is also the founder of UrbanPromise Toronto and now leads Connect Ministries in Toronto where he, his wife Judith, and their two children reside. For information in booking Colin as a speaker, please visit connectministries.org.

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