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Sunday Morning Rituals: Church or Soccer?

Mary Beth Hicks writes an interesting column today for the Washington Times in which she speculates that one cause of the waning interest of Americans for religious affiliation and, perhaps, also for simple morality may be the rise of Sunday morning youth sports and sales at department stores. I know about the sales because we often hit them after mass (and I see nothing wrong with that) . . . but I confess to being a bit stunned to hear about sports. I’ve had my kids participate in any number of sports and activities (and I’m a big fan of them when they are conducted in the proper spirit) but I’ve never heard of or experienced anything scheduled for a Sunday morning. To this day I know that in one particular suburb of Cleveland, there is a law against scheduling any youth activities on Sundays. There, it is so strict that the town even shuts down the public pool on Sundays. I know this because my sister complains loudly about this last thing--mainly because it means that her husband almost never gets to spend time at the pool with their children. But, much as she and her husband enjoy youth sports, I doubt even they would be thrilled by the prospect of a Sunday morning game or, worse, practice. Is this really something that is becoming a wide-spread menace? I could see some validity to Hicks’ point if it were, but I’m skeptical. I can’t imagine that even Atheists want to get out of bed early on a Sunday just to go to a kids soccer game. But then again, maybe it’s an east coast thing . . . in which case, I wouldn’t understand. I’m still trying to understand the appeal of soccer, after all . . . thank God my kids like baseball.

Discussions - 20 Comments

Rich man and poor alike have but 24 hours a day and seven a week, so everything competes for time. This isn't a new thing or fact by any measure. Back when I was in the sixth grade, I played Optimist league football...most games were scheduled for saturday but some came on sunday. Just as your sister complains that her husband had little time to enjoy the pool with his kids because sunday was his only available day, so often some of the coaches had difficult schedules. The Optimist league left it open to coaches to work out schedules and declare sunday or saturday the day of choice for the home games they hosted, with the promise that they would show up to the away games other coaches were able to schedule. After all the football coaches were mainly parents of the kids. The opinions of the parents with complaints were acomodated to the extent that they were willing to give time being part of the solution.

I am sure that the basic problems of running a youth league haven't changed much. But reasoning along these lines is probably a very good explanation for some of the appeal of a Barrack Obama, the folks who do sacrifice time to running these events often times do crowd church out of the equation, and if this alone makes them more likely to vote democrat then little tensions such as complaining parents when it comes to Sabbath activities certainly has an additive effect upon this disposition...then again a large number of these folks seem to be catholic...involved with catholic private schools/YMCA, and the home school set, very active parents or clergy/nuns...once you get into the higher levels of high school sports sunday is sacrificed more readily, but at this point you are talking about the 1%ers...Coach Jeff Jordan for example holds sunday practices/clinics/camps for wrestlers that wish to make the commute to rural ohio, his brother Jim Jordan of course is the distinguished republican congressman(So appologies are in order if I mention him in a post with Obama)...if you are going to travel the United States for National Tournaments, then sunday does get squeezed at least in terms of it depends on how zealous and dedicated the kids and parents are, depends on the league, and age level(which is often catholic). Also it depends on the sport since gymnastics is something of an intensive early bird sport...but I digress.

Sunday morning sports for kids is big stuff in our town. Little League games are scheduled for those days and Lion's Club football fills the high school field, as Sunday morning is when the school system is not using the facility for either games or practice.

One friend said you just get through the season and then go back to church as usual. She also said her kid's team starts the practice or the game with a prayer. God is not only available to worship in church or on Sunday mornings.

Still, don't you think that only "15 percent of Americans now claim no religion" is pretty remarkable given the persistent attack on religion in schools, in media, just about everywhere? Still, given the moral climate in the country I question the utility of the moral training of that remaining 85%.

Maybe Hicks was right in the first place and we all ought to lay off chicken.

Who woulda' thought that Southern California could crank out a town that is (at least on the surface) more pious than a Midwestern one . . . well, all I can say to Kate and her friends is that Catholicism is accepting converts. We have the very sensible option of Saturday evening mass (among many other sensible things)!

Any thoughts on the proposed law in connecticut that would strip authority from bishops. Link

My 8 year old daughter is on the swim team and they tried to reschedule a meet for a Sunday and the parents complained so loudly that we just forfeited.

The problem in my Northwestern PA town is not kids sports but adult ones. An adult baseball/softball league that is quite popular plays every Sunday from May to September. I've never went, as we are always in church, but what I have witnessed is that once one gets out of the habit of going to church, it is hard to get back into the habit once ball is over. The people who put sports first tend to be the ones that find other excuses once ball season is over. Personally, I have no problem doing this things after church, but in our family church is the most important thing to do on a Sunday morning.

I guess it is a "northeastern" thing, because you can hardly even get to church around here (Long Island, NY) because of the traffic jams surrounding the ball fields (of various kinds) on Sunday mornings. I think it's a shame, because I agree that attending service as a family is very important to a child's healthy development, but I have to lay most of the blame on parents who have allowed this to take place.
However, since I am not a parent, perhaps I should give them the benefit of the douubt. But what does it say to your child when church comes second place to sports?

In the case of my friends, it says to the children that they and their interests are important to the parent - at least through a season of sports. It might also say that love of God is more than a religious observance.

Lori, I don't know anyone who has abandoned the church over sports. It occurs to me that those families I know whose kids have morning sports activities have one parent take that kid and the rest of the family goes to church. Maybe I just know people of such an amazing spirituality that spending a season carting a kid to a sport does not wholly corrupt them.

I can see you ladies are enjoying your outrage, but this a red herring. There are so many deeper and sadder reasons for lack of church attendance: our increasingly rootless society, broken families, (In the case of a Christian divorce, who gets the church in the settlement?) the urge to prosperity, or lately the fear of financial survival, and a loss of faith or embarrassment over it in an increasingly secular world. This is nothing to all of that,

Kate, I humbly disagree. I think that telling your children that sports is more important to them than church is leaving a much more harmful legacy than one season of soccer. Wouldn't you say that the simple fact that communities condone these events happening on Sundays is just one example of the decline of our morals in this "rootless society?" People don't feel compelled to go to church anymore because there is so much out there that competes for their time. I used to be one of those that made lots of excuses on why I couldn't go to church, and yet, since I have put church first and foremost, our family has gotten much stronger and has grown in ways that I previously thought unimaginable. I just don't buy the argument that attending a child's game on a Sunday shows that you care--raising them with Godly morals and a sense of what is right and wrong is what shows children you care.

Um, perhaps maybe some of those folks on the Sunday soccer field/baseball diamond are Jewish?

Sorry, I tried to get worked up about this, but I find that I'm far too preoccupied about the fact that we're apparently not using forks enough. Oh, the humanity!

John is right . . . some of those folks skipping church for soccer and then shopping might even be guilty of the trifecta as they eat a donut--with their hands(!)--while standing on the sidelines! We can only hope that it is a trans-fat free donut.

You can always choose to have your kids participate in a sport with no practices or games on Sunday, or go to church and forget the sports. Otherwise, take up piano. It's up to the parents to choose their priorities and model that for their children.

If you hit the sales on Sunday, aren't you contributing to a disgraceful and shameful violation of the rule about working on the Sabbath? If you, and others like you, could resist these sales, then the cashiers and their capitalistic bosses would have no reason to work on Sunday.

Sometimes, we should consider what we SHOULD do, rather than merely what we CAN do. Who said that?

Not only is there something to this, I would also say that the American obsession with sports crowds out mental energy and time that might otherwise go to keeping informed about our government. The American rat race requires relaxation, and sports -- including vicarious sports -- is an attractive alternative for those who find religion mentally distressing and go only because of social expectations. Civic engagement falls victim to the same dynamic. As American culture becomes increasingly dumbed-down, vulgar, and selfish, and as a moribund economy makes life more difficult, both religion and politics will become less and less attractive except to zealots. More average people will increasingly turn to sports as an opiate. At least there are clear winners and losers, and at least it doesn't require you to think about mostly unpleasant realities. Better than drugs, anyway, even if the athletes do them.

12: Tony -- yes, but that presumes parents who have the character to force their children to be a little "different," and to stick with that decision when their kids endlessly whine about it.

Back in the day I used to (gasp!) work on Sundays too. (And I worked at a pool that was open on Sundays!) But I always (well . . I was young, so almost always) made it to mass too.

Julie, I agree that there are times when people have to work on Sunday. My husband is a state trooper and he must work on Sundays. That is not the issue. What is the issue, and I think what was at the heart of the post is that people are not interested in church anymore. And that is sad. As a teacher, I can see the decline in values of my students year after year--and while that can be contributed to a lot of different factors, I truly believe that the decline of religion in America has hurt more children and families than bonding at soccer games could ever make up for.

David, I completely agree that parents need to instill in their children the right values and morals, even when their children don't "enjoy" it. For example, a friend of mine wanted to start bringing her children to church--she did so occasionally, but they always said they were tired or didn't want to come the next Sunday. I challenged her to come for two months in a row--regardless of what the kids whined about--and you know what, now they come every Sunday and it is the girls who make sure their mom is ready!

This is the deeper point, that parents are afraid to, don't know how to, have been told by experts that they will never be able to, build character into their children. That is such a pity.

We were not a big sports family, but many of those who are (like the people I write about, above) honestly believe that sports instills good character. I would suggest that one reason sports is so big in America is because of the prevalent belief that good sportsmanship is a character enhancement or evidence of good character. Why do you suppose there is so much of a fuss when a respected sports figure, like Michael Phelps, shows bad character and moral flaws? America is so upset and disappointed, as much as and maybe more so than when a politician fails in moral or ethical ways. I know people who were ready to hang some sports guy for the mistreatment of dogs while they had been mostly unconcerned about President Clinton's abuse of power and position in the Monica Lewinsky case.

I grant the pity that people have not got much left to believe in so that they are down to good sportsmanship as some ultimate demonstration of good character. Yet, I think that America longs for real heroes and will take what they can get.

Lori, as a regular church-goer, Sunday school teacher and dragger of 6 children to church over the last 31 years I have no reason nor grounds to say that making children go to church with the family is a waste of time or effort and I certainly hope the practice built my children's characters. My youngest, my daughter, at fifteen took a job at a nearby stable that required her to work on Sunday mornings. She lasted nearly three months without church and then quit so she could have her Sunday mornings back -- to go to church with us. I let her choose and was pleased with her choice. Yet, she does not love the sermons or Sunday school with her friends. She has been the mainstay of the nursery since she was 11 and after she worships, that's where she goes, to love and serve the babies and commune with the young mothers. I am hoping she does not have to love the sermons to have the right values.

I am loathe to judge others in their Sunday attendance. I also feel very bad for people who cannot raise their children to be the sort of people they like to have around. It is hard work, though, and I well know it.

I think Fung has it, though, about doing right and I hope David Frisk is wrong that everything is going to get worse and worse. But I don't think there are many people left who go to church because of social expectations. Maybe that is part of declining attendance, people who did not really wish to be there do not feel social pressure to go anymore. Maybe that is a matter of good riddance?

I think a lot of people go to church for the sense of community and the extra activities that it brings. The sermons seem to me to be less and less a part of the church and I base this on the amount of grown ups sleeping through them. I don't really think you need the church to fulfill your spiritual needs, and I don't think most of them are designed to do that. Most of the sermons dealt with prayer lists and who was in the hospital along with hymns. I don't really think its a bad thing as being a community organization where people help eachother is good. As for soccer, I like it better than baseball to play and watch. I grew up playing both a decade ago but I would rather watch UEFA champions league than the world series and I would rather play soccer than baseball. I can't really tell you why other than to say mabye baseball is about making the correct play while soccer can be more about creativity and imagination. Although that does not come through in American youth leagues at the highest level its about creating space and inventing a way to capitalize on it. I wish I could say there is something to be concluded about more kids choosing soccer over baseball but I really don't think there is other than its easier to disguise a lack of skill and athleticism on the soccer pitch (only one kid can play right field but four or five can sort of run around and not contribute without standing out in soccer.) Mabye all the drugging of kids has something to do with it since soccer is constant movement.

Fung is correct (per my parish priest). If the terms of your employment require work on Sundays, you are dispensed. However, discretionary purchases on Sunday (of goods other than food or medicine, &c.) are matters for the confessional.

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