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Tom Smiley: Encouragement key in sports, life
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I love sports. I love athletics. And as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in some facet of sporting competition.

As a young child, I was always on some kind of ball team. During my middle and high school days, I was involved with sports, although opportunities were less than kids today enjoy. Most of my options centered around basketball, football, baseball and for some wrestling.

In college, I played in competitive sports. While at Young Harris College, I joined a fraternity primarily because of its sports emphasis.

As a married adult, father and now grandfather, I’m still very much engaged in competitive sports. I have played golf for more than 20 years and now am learning to play tennis.

Looking back over my participation in sports, I realize some very real benefits. Sports are a way of making exercise an enjoyable and social event. They can improve confidence through learning skills and success. Sports can build lifelong friendships. And very importantly, sports can teach youth about winning and losing, as well as controlling impulses.

But for the young, all these benefits are dependent upon parents. I’m learning and seeing this firsthand as I’ve been involved in umpiring high school and small college fast-pitch softball.

Parents can generally take two courses of action with respect to these benefits: to help or hinder.

A prime example of a parent hindering the successful benefits of competitive play is what happened to me just a few weeks ago. While behind the plate, I made a quick decision of “out or safe” at home plate. The play involved a throw, catch and sliding player, with dirt and dust flying everywhere. I looked, paused and made the call. You can guess the rest.

Several parents sitting many yards away, looking through a fence, were convinced I got the call wrong.

It gets worse.

After the inning was complete, the coach was walking back to the dugout. As she passed by me, a parent screamed, “I would kick dust on him!”

Really? Kick dust on me? I don’t think that kind of attitude is really helpful to a kid participating in a sport.

Besides, I’m really out there umpiring a few weeks in the fall to pay back all those men and women who provided a safe environment for my sons to play and gather some good sermon illustrations I can use on Sundays.

So to all who read this, here are some friendly tips:

Encourage children and help them focus on improving their own skills and doing the best they can do.

Give children encouragement for what they do well.

Show children how to be a good sport by how they react to winning and losing.

Help children learn the rules of the game and explain why rules are important.

And show courtesy and consideration at sporting events, especially to the umpires and officials.

Remember umpires are people, too. By the way, I made the right call.

At least umpires have the Lord as their advocate.

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” Psalm 10:17

So, whether it is at a sporting event or just in “doing life together,” the words of scripture found in Hebrews 3:13 offer great counsel.

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”


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