Sports and the Battlefield of Life

By Colleen Hammond

Most women can’t understand the attraction men have to sports–but some women want to be right in there playing with (and defeating) the men. What kind of role should sports play in our families’ lives?

I grew up in the Title IX era, when team sports became more available–and almost required–for girls to play. I didn’t really want to, but because I was nearly 6 feet tall I succumbed to peer pressure and joined the basketball and volleyball teams.

To offer some balance (or maybe due to the masculine walk I was developing), my father held the tennis player Chris Evert up for me as an example. A gifted athlete, Chrissy tried to maintain her femininity on and off the court…especially if you compared her to Martina Navritilova!

But what would be considered ‘feminine’? The definition is under much debate in our society. At least we can all agree that there are physiological differences between men and women, and that men struggle with custody of the eyes issues and women with custody of the lips.

For a clue to God given femininity, I observed our little girls. Among other things, I found them to be more sympathetic and sensitive than their brothers (not to mention more civilized at the dinner table). The boys were rougher, played war games, and made truck and airplane sounds.

Every year our barn cats give birth to a new caboodle of kittens. Inevitably, our girls select the runt of the litter as their favorite and name it Bitty or Baby. The boys? Their favorite will be the biggest and strongest kitten, and they’ll name it Hercules or Hector.

“Pulling for the underdog” is just something that we women do. We protect the innocent and the weak. We look for those who need our help–the one least likely to survive in a cold and uncaring world.

On the flip side, when I was playing team sports I was taught to look for the weakest link and eradicate it. To play my strength and to attack their vulnerable areas.

I remember my last volleyball game. I had a killer spike and picked out the opposing team’s weakest player. When we were both playing at the net, I spiked the ball right into her face–breaking her nose and causing blood to spurt. I rejoiced and high-fived my teammates, but that rejoicing caused something deep inside me to finally crack. I quit.

In addition to the indecent garb, being involved in sports eroded my nurturing spirit–the one that makes women compassionate to the losers, the runts, the underdogs. I was trained to go after the “weak link” and get rid of anything that stood between me and winning. I found that attitude had permeated into all areas of my life.

Could this be part of the reason why women today have little problem eliminating the baby that they call ‘the unplanned pregnancy’ that would inconvenience their life? The baby that stands between them and winning their goal? Why they don’t have a problem leaving their children at home to pursue the brass ring? I wonder.

But what about boys? In raising Catholic Gentlemen, what role do sports play?

The Greeks used competitive sports to prepare their young boys to be warriors in battle, and the same can be said today. In a world ready to chew us up and spit us out, we’re training our boys to be leaders–fathers in the home or on the altar.

A sport, played with honor, is how a boy learns to cut the apron strings and be a man. By leaving Mother’s Arms and learning to get hit, fall down, and get back up again, they learn that life is tough–and they can be tougher. They are instructed in manliness. They learn that their passions are to be subordinated. They learn to deal properly with success and failure.

But isn’t that something we all need to learn?

Sure, but boys especially must learn to have mastery over their bodies. Why?

Because as testosterone begins to surge through a young man’s veins, 6th and 9th Commandment issues will blossom. Wouldn’t we rather them learn to channel that male aggression into sports instead of talking back, bullying, or getting into worse mischief?

Enduring physical hardships is something that a boy must practice early. They must train their reason to triumph over physical exhaustion and pain. They must become proficient at using their body as a tool for their mind–to do the work of the spirit, and not the “deeds of the flesh”.

That’s why I try to be vigilant about not feminizing my boys–especially as a homeschooling mother. Boys need to fall, break bones, and bleed. I’m pretty sure that mothers are responsible for all the padding used in football!

Seeing my sons get battered and lose blood is nearly impossible for me, but at least it gives me a better appreciation of what our Blessed Mother went through watching her Son suffer through the Passion! So I’ve learned to offer a bit of sympathy and concern, then let my husband handle it. It’s been very difficult, and I still find it hard not to want to coddle our boys.

By the time they’re pre-adolescent, our young men will shrug off our concern, push us away, and say, “Aw, Mom. I’m all right!” as their arm dangles at an unnatural angle from their body. If they don’t, maybe we’ve pampered them too much! A bit of blood and a broken bone is their initiation into manhood. I really don’t understand it, but I respect it as a necessary stage in their development for the Church Militant.

But the camaraderie men develop on the field as a youth can also lead to making sports a god.

Instead of learning from sports as a young man and moving into the battlefield of life, many men’s ‘daily meditation’ is on the sports page. They would rather live life vicariously through their sports teams–reliving their ‘glory days’ but letting the athletes take all the hits and get all the bruises.

Yet where men are needed most is on the gridiron of life. Praying outside an abortion mill. Fighting to “win” their families, neighbors, and friends to the Truth. Sweating out the salvation of their families and themselves.

Competitive sports in youth can make men out of our boys. But following the sports teams (or continuing in an inordinate amount of competitive sports as an adult) makes little boys out of our men.

So where is the balance?

Honestly, I think Dennis struggles with this more than I do. As a former college athlete, he was raised with sports as a god. We don’t have television, but he sure knows the standings!

In our family, we use sports as a means of health and exercise. And now that I better understand the importance of competitive team sports for our boys, we’re looking for a good league to have them join. They’re hard to find.

Since physical fitness is an important part of a proper education–for boys and for girls–we recreate together as a family. We take family bike rides. We arrange long hikes. And I’m not surprised when a family game of tag soon turns into tackle football with Dennis and our boys! If the blood flows, I suppress the urge to fuss and rejoice that our son is learning to become a soldier for Christ. It’s all part of their spiritual training for the battlefield of life.

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