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What Does the Bible Say About Sportsmanship?

Snap Decision by Nathan Whitaker 9780310737001,American Football Helmet on the Field at Sunset

My seven-year-old boy loves sports. So far, he has played soccer, baseball, football, floor hockey, lacrosse, and basketball. When I ask him which one is his favorite, he has a tough time choosing. While the sports he plays will change from season to season, I hope the one thing that will remain the same is his good sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship is the ability to win without bragging, lose without complaining, and play while respecting others.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul frequently used athletic competition as a metaphor for the challenges of the Christian life. You can also find fundamentals of good sportsmanship weaved throughout Scripture, all of which can be applied both on and off the playing field.

Here are just a few of the things the Bible says about good sportsmanship.

  • Learn as much as you can about your sport, play by the rules and don’t cheat. A victory gained as a result of cheating is hollow. According to Colossians 3:23-24,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

  • Act courteously and treat others kindly. This includes the officials, spectators, and teammates before, during, and after games or events. Even the opposing team, their coaches, and fans deserves your respect. In Philippians 2:3 it says,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

  • Don’t lose your cool. Even if other players and teammates lose their tempers, it doesn’t mean you have to. It’s tough when the ref calls a play that you think is wrong or you lose the game. Remind yourself that the Bible says in 2 Timothy 1:7

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

  • Be a team player. Just like in the body of Christ, we each have different talents and strengths, that when used together, can accomplish great things. (1 Corinthians 12:27) No one person can win without the help and support of others. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

  • Encourage your teammates. Criticizing teammates for a strikeout or a missed catch distracts from the focus of working together and gives your opponent an advantage. Also, avoid trash-talking the other team. Words are powerful and you don’t want to use them to harm others. Ephesians 4:29 says,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

  • Acknowledge and applaud good plays, even when it’s your opponent that makes them. Whether you win or lose, congratulate the other team on a game well played.

Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

  • Listens to and follow the directions of the coach. If you have a disagreement with the coach, discuss it privately. We are told in Hebrews 13:17 to

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

  • Respect the officials. When they make a call you don’t agree with, accept it gracefully. Remember that referees sometimes make mistakes but they’re doing their best to be fair. A game is made up of all the plays and calls throughout the game, not one. 1 Peter 5:5 talks about respect for those in charge, no matter who they are.

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

I imagine, that eventually my son will choose one or two sports he would like to play competitively, whether on a travel team or at school. Until then, this mom will teach him about good sportsmanship. In addition to the Bible there are great books that he can read that will nurture his interest in sports while teaching him the importance of good character.

One of those books is Snap Decision by Nathan Whitaker. It’s the story of Chase, a seventh grade football player who gets a chance opportunity to play for the varsity team. Things don’t go as expected and he is faced with the choice of whether to do what is right or please his teammates. Once he makes his choice, he’ll have to live with the consequences. What I love about this book is the questions at the end. It provides a way for me to connect with my son and talk about the story as well as the themes found in it, such as honesty, fairness, and good sportsmanship.

I have no doubt the lessons my son learns, on and off the playing field, will follow him throughout his life. That is why it is great to have books like Snap Decision to reinforce what he learns from the Word of God and at home.

Watch the Video for Snap Decision by Nathan Whitaker:

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Your Turn

Do you have a sport-o at home? Have you ever asked the question – What does the Bible say about sportsmanship? How do you encourage good sportsmanship with your kids? How do you relate lessons on the field or the court to lessons of the heart and the spirit?