Building Communities of Faith Through Sports
Ok so let’s get a few things out of the way. My name is Jon, I’ve lived in St. Louis for most of my 32 years of life, I’m Catholic, and since you are wondering what high school I went to, it was Hazelwood West.
That’s right, I was a public school kid. I went to public school from Kindergarten through 12th grade. We went to Church on Sundays, but outside of that, I always felt like a bit of an outsider at my parish because I wasn’t a part of the grade school.
In a time when mass attendance is dropping, fewer couples are getting married in the Church, and fewer families are having their kids baptized, we need to find new ways to pull people back to the Church and make them feel engaged in the community. For me growing up, the answer was CYC Sports.
Youth sports as a way to engage families
CYC Sports has been operating for almost 80 years in our Archdiocese, and currently 50,000 young athletes participate every year. These are athletes of all skill levels, socio-economic classes, and ethnic backgrounds, with all corners of St. Louis represented. These athletes have the opportunity not only to compete in nine archdiocesan-sponsored sports, but to grow in virtue and leadership. The potential for sports to bring people together was outlined in a recent letter from Pope Francis:
“Sports is a meeting place where people of all levels and social conditions come together to reach a common aim. In a culture dominated by individualism and the gap between the younger generations and the elderly, sports is a privileged area around which people meet without any distinction of race, sex, religion, or ideology, and where we can experience the joy of competing to reach a goal together.”
This is what sports is all about.
When I was growing up, playing for my parish sports team kept me connected to a faith community. Families that are not Catholic, or families that rarely attend Mass, are already spending time each week on church grounds at practices and games. This is an amazing opportunity to bring them home to life in the parish and to relationship with Christ and His Church.
From division to communion
I recently read an incredible document from the Vatican’s office for Laity, Family, and Life that said, “If sport runs the risk of being the occasion to divide a family and to diminish the sanctity of Sunday as a holy day to uphold, it also can help integrate a family with other families in the celebration of Sunday, not only in the liturgy but in the life of the community. This does not mean that sport matches should not take place on Sundays, but rather, such events must not excuse families from attending Mass and should also promote the life of the family within the community.” (Section 5.3, paragraph 2)
This is a big vision and exciting statement about the power of sports from Pope Francis; why do we so often not see this vision realized? Many times we picture youth sports as hyper-competitive coaches, parents yelling at officials, and families becoming less connected due to busy schedules.
Maybe we need the right people to step forward.
We need Missionaries, not just Coaches
The impact a Coach can have on a young person and the family is potentially greater than any other role at the parish. Kids that feel like outcasts at school, or overlooked at home, can experience Christ’s love through a dedicated Coach. Parents that have stopped bringing their family to Mass can see the generosity of a volunteer Coach and be inspired that someone in the Church would give so much back to their children.
In a recent survey, a parent expressed their appreciation for the ministry of faith-based sports; “I think that being a part of CYC Sports allows my son to have positive, Christian role models in his coaches and a faith-based focus for games and practices.”
Another parent said, “Kids are able to learn skills, team spirit and sportsmanship in an environment that exhibits less pressure than other sports leagues. We are not members of the church, but have really felt at home with the athletics of this parish. Thank you.”
We Need You
Have you been searching for a way to give back or volunteer in your community, but just haven’t found the right fit? Every parish in the Archdiocese would love to have more adult coaches and officials willing to give of their time and to share the love of Christ with these young athletes.
Here’s a final message from the Vatican document on sports in the Church: “The common experience of sacrifice in sport can also help believers understand more fully their vocation as children of God. Maintaining a life of prayer, a rich sacramental life, and working for the common good, are frequently accompanied by many obstacles and difficulties. We try to overcome these challenges by our steadfast perseverance and self-discipline, with the grace that flows from God.”
What an amazing commission! We need joyful Coaches with missionary zeal to help connect families to the life of the Church, introduce them to the priests and resources in the parish, and help them become disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sports is not the end-all of parish life, but it can be the entry point for thousands of families in our area that are looking for ways to connect.
If you are interested in coaching or officiating youth sports, please reach out to me, and I will point you in the right direction. email@example.com