Published in The Messenger, June 29, 2018
The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life released its first ever document on sports, Giving the Best of Yourself: A Document on the Christian Perspective on Sport and the Human Person, on June 1. While several popes have spoken about sports and their role with humanity during the last century, this groundbreaking document provides a thorough account of the Church’s perspectives on sport. In addition, it challenges Church leaders to work with sports leaders to ensure sports are being used as an educational tool.
In a separate letter to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, Pope Francis affirmed the document, reminding that sports are a “formative vehicle” and “a means for mission and sanctification.”
Giving the Best of Yourself is presented in five different chapters:
1. Motive for the Document
2. The Sport Phenomenon
3. Significance of Sports for the Human Person
4. Challenges in the Light of the Gospel
5. The Church as a Key Protagonist
The Church has enhanced its role with sports during Pope Francis’s papacy but Francis has certainly not been the first Pope to engage in the relationship between sports and the Church. In 1904, Pope Pius X opened the doors of the Vatican to sports by hosting a youth gymnastics event. Later, Pope Paul VI presented his thoughts on the role of sports. Pope St. John Paul II offered dozens of addresses to sports groups during his papacy.
Under Pope Francis’s leadership, new work has been accomplished to recognize the Church’s role in sports. In May 2015 the Vatican hosted a seminar, “Coaches: Educators of People,” to address the role coaches play as ministers in the lives of youth. In 2016, the first “Sport at the Service of Humanity” Conference was held in Rome and similar follow-up conferences have been held in the U.S. Villanova University hosted one last year and Loyola Marymount University held one just last week.
Giving the Best of Yourself acknowledges the Church’s presence in art, music, and other human activities throughout its history because of the beauty that comes from God through these activities. It recognizes that sports can also be beautiful. We realize this beauty through the physical means of playing sports. A well-played game of soccer with crisp passes, spacing and proper footwork, and a football team executing their blocking assignments, route running and precision passing cooperatively provide examples of physical beauty in human movement.
The document recognizes the importance of the human dignity of individual athletes who participate. “Considering the rules and regulations of each sport along with the game strategies defined by coaches, each athlete develops personally as he strives in his freedom and creativity to achieve set goals within established parameters.”
One of the great qualities that all who participate in sports should demonstrate is joy. It is necessary that we not only protect this joy in our athletes but foster them. Jesus speaks often about joy in the Gospels. “These things that I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11) I watch NBA player Stephen Curry play basketball and see a youthful joy with which this famed celebrity and world champion still plays.
Sports provide an opportunity for people to learn to interact with others and grow in their humility. “To belong to a sports club means to reject every form of selfishness and isolation, it is an opportunity to encounter and be with others, to help one another, to compete in mutual esteem and to grow in brotherhood.”
In our Play Like A Champion Today “Coaching as Ministry” coach trainings, we discuss the words of St. John Paul II who observed that the cardinal virtues (justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude) can play a major role in developing the character of our athletes. The document reminded us of St. John Paul II’s words that the Cardinal virtues can facilitate growth in our athletes.
While many great qualities can develop within individuals through sports, there are still threats that we must be aware of and address, most notably debasement of the body, doping, corruption through sport policies and gambling, and spectators’ deviant behaviors. In combating these threats, Giving the Best of Yourself suggests parents continue to remain their children’s first teachers, encourages parishes to provide sport opportunities, asks schools and universities to promote an understanding of sport aimed at education, inclusion, and human promotion, and inspires pastors and educators to form alliances with coaches and sport managers.
The final chapter of Giving the Best of Yourself provides a basis of where the Church is in its relationship with sports and the potential of where it can go. As Pope Francis says, “the way of the Church, is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant…” Many of those who are distant can be found participating in sports.
One profound message that resonated throughout the document was that the Church considers sports as an instrument of education. As Pope Francis said, they are a “formative vehicle.” We must use sports as a medium to teach not just proper movement, techniques, and strategy, but also to form character, moral reasoning and social justice. We need them to work in solidarity with others. “Sport needs educators and not just service providers.”
To read the full version of Giving the Best of Yourself, access it here.