At 36 years old, most of which have centered around being in a sport saturated culture, I have seen just about every type of parent imaginable. They can be categorized in six different ways based on my experience:
The Coach – The overly involved parent who constantly offers (unsolicited) tips and critiques to both you and (sometimes) your coach. These tendencies to remind you and correct you are done before, after, and even during the competition.
The Fan – God bless the fan parent. They are there for YOU. They cheer loudly and can at times be over the top by how involved they are in the game. They want to see you do well—and they have no shame in letting everyone around them know about it.
The Passive Spectator – I don’t mean passive in a negative way, but this parent shows up and simply watches the game. The nerve! They are present, but if you did not physically see them, you would not know they were at the game.
The Empty Seat – This parent does not show up to the game. For whatever the reason, they are habitually absent.
The Broken Promise – Perhaps worse than the parent who is absent, is the one who promises to make it, but rarely does.
The Perspective Parent – This characterizes a parent who is present, wants the best for you, cheers for you when appropriate, but also wants you to understand their love for you is not dependent on your performance.
The purpose of this piece is not to help your parents get their act together. It’s to help you, the athlete, to honor them, regardless of which category they fall under.
One of the challenges for anyone reading the Bible is asking the question “how do I apply what I just read in my specific context?” For the athlete, your context is sports. You don’t need to apologize for this. Read the bible like an athlete; that is, read it knowing that the avenue of sports is going to be a key area for you to apply what you learn about God.
So, when you come across a verse like, Exodus 20:12 which exhorts the people of Israel to “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” you need to ask yourself: How can I do this right now?
My pastor often encourages us that the Bible is not written to us, but it is written for us.
What does it look like for the athlete to “honor your father and mother?” Aside from being a commandment given to us from God for wise living, it’s also a pathway to joyful and healthy relationship.
Be honest about what you need
This is crucial and there is a reason it is the first one I listed. Frustration is always the result of an unmet expectation. You honor your father and mother when you let them know the best way to cheer for you at your competition or support you as an athlete. Do you not want them to offer tips and critiques? Tell them in a loving and respectful way. If you are embarrassed by things they do or say, don’t ignore them at the game or sweep what they did under the rug. Maybe instead of saying “You embarrassed me!” a better way to honor them would be to use “I” statements.
“I feel embarrassed when you cheer so loudly.”
“I get frustrated when you say you will be there and you’re not.”
You can also be honest about what you do like. Affirmation is an honor ascribing quality!
Forgive them for their shortcomings
Ephesians 4:32 encourages us to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This includes our parents.
Listen, most parents will screw up from time to time when it comes to how they handle themselves at a sporting event. There probably needs to be a Parent’s Guide to Not Saying or Doing Stupid Things at a Game. Last I checked, there isn’t. Most parents are trying their best but will get caught up in the moment and would love a re-do. Forgive them when they ask for forgiveness, but especially when they don’t.
Assume the best
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’re parents love you. They may not be very good at showing it all of the time (I realize even that may be a massive understatement), but I would encourage you to think the best of them. A great way to honor them is to assume the best about them—even if they have given you ample evidence to think otherwise.
Acknowledge their presence
A simple way athletes can honor their parents is by acknowledging them at a competition. Obviously, there needs to be a level of appropriateness here. A cross-country runner should not wave to his or her parents while the race is going on. A basketball player should not be expected—or encouraged—to look for their parents in the stands during a timeout. When the time is appropriate, either before or after the game, acknowledge that they were present to cheer you on.
We can step outside of competition for this one. Find ways to thank your parents for ways that they have supported you as an athlete. Whether that’s through coaching you at a young age, driving you to and from practices, attending games, paying ungodly amounts of money for you to be on travel squads and anything else they may have done to help get you where you are today. Honor them by recognizing some of the sacrifices they have made and thank them.
Don’t gossip about them to your teammates
A great way to honor your parents is to speak well of them when they are not in your presence. Especially in moments of frustration—of which there are plenty in sports—be careful not to unload all of the mounting frustration on the closest listening ear. Proverbs 15:28 offers us wise counsel: “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”
If speaking well of your parents proves too difficult, the timeless advice of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is worthy of your consideration.
If they said something, did something or didn’t do something that did not meet your expectations (did you communicate that expectation to them?), go to them directly.
Honoring does not always mean agreeing with them
One final word on honoring your parents. The job of any parent is to raise kids who grow up to be adults and make godly adult decisions. Sometimes making difficult decisions, even if it is not the decision your parents would have you make, is the best way to honor them.
Here are a few diagnostic questions that are God-honoring (and parent honoring!) to wrestle with when confronted with a difficult decision. Did you spend time in the Word and listen to God? Did you ask for their opinion? Did you ask in a respectful, open-minded manner? Did you pray about it? Did you seek advice from other godly individuals you respect? Is the choice you are making further enslaving you to sin or does it have great potential for you to fall prey to sin (ie. living with someone before you are married)? In light of all of the information you have from the Bible, parents, and respected friends, is the choice you are making the wisest one possible?
While they may not be thrilled with the choice you make, you can still honor them—and God—with your decision-making process.