This past weekend, we took two buses of youth to Skyzone, an indoor trampoline park that takes simple things like jumping, dunking, and dodgeball to a whole new level—vertically and otherwise. Once we ridded ourselves of all potentially harmful jewelry and accessories and became decked out in their ultra-grippy orange socks, we spent 90 exhausting minutes playing all sorts of simple games as we maneuvered in their springy trampoline-filled world. Some of us jumped in the foam block pit. Some of us dunked basketballs, hung on the rim, and imagined for a moment that we could compete in the NBA dunk contest. Some of us played incredibly addictive games of dodgeball, where everyone got pegged by a rubber ball at least once. Some of us worked on our own gymnastic routines and mid-air dance moves. All of us played.
I played in about 10 dodgeball matches. I lost every one of them. So did everyone else from our group. Well, except for Rachel G., who managed to outlast all other players for one glorious game. Aside from that anomaly, we were all losers—no match for the guy in the tank top, or the guy in the superman shirt, or the guy who clearly worked at Skyzone but decided to dominate the dodgeball court during his break. Yep, despite our good efforts and best intentions, we all lost. And yet, I walked away (bounced, actually) feeling like we all won, ESPECIALLY since we had lost.
What am I talking about? If you were there to see those few overly-serious dodgeball competitors staring us down, you’d know what I’m getting at. The guys who frequent Skyzone every weekend and claim that springy dodgeball court as their own. (By the way, they’re also the guys who can do pretty amazing flips and airborne stunts. So I may be a tad bit jealous of their frequent trampoline time.) Of course, nowadays, you don’t have to go to Skyzone to see this sort of extremely-intense reality. Simply stop in on a kids’ soccer match or teenage dance competition. Stand behind the dugout at a little league game or on the dock at a youth regatta. Things that are technically for “sport” and recreation have virtually all been swallowed up into a state of hyper-competition, where kids and teenagers are pushed towards victory (internally and externally) at an often unhealthy pace.
Now, to be clear, I love to win. I played three sports throughout high school and took my roles very seriously. The guys who play “Old Man Basketball” on occasional Sunday afternoons know that I still take these games seriously, in that I play hard, talk a little friendly trash talk, and typically use all of my available fouls. BUT I also have fun and long for each player on the court to share in that fun. I realize that while some games, matches, and competitions have to be super serious and ultra competitive, all of them don’t. And really, as far as our teenagers go, they need a lot more opportunities to just play, devoid of any scoreboard, awards, winners or losers.
Here at First Baptist Church of Asheville, it’s very clear that we have incredibly talented teens. And diversely so, as they are competent and capable in everything from drama to dancing, volleyball to violin. They’ve been nurtured academically, athletically, and artistically. And that’s very good! But they’re also ridden with anxieties and social pressures around areas of life that shouldn’t be so serious. It’s the social stream they’ve been swimming in their whole lives, and it’s exhausting.
That is why when we have a chance to simply gather as friends in faith and play, it is a good thing. Absent of any winners or losers. It’s also why there is an increasing need for counter-cultural leagues that favor skill building, teamwork, and integrity over the contagion of hyper-competition and the winning-at-all-costs mentality.
When I was young, my grandmother made me memorize the 100th psalm. King James wording, of course. The first line proclaims, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.” Taking these words to heart, it is clear that the motivation behind the music should be the glory of God, and the means in which we do this should be joy. Not precision, though every musician strives for that. Not perfection, though that too would sound nice. Truthfully, if we concentrate on precision and perfection, we may very well end up missing the point of glorifying God, not to mention exclude all of those who are musically out of tune. This same concept should apply to our recreation and play. We need to recover the joyful intention behind sport, the kind that can make losing just as victorious as winning. The kind that recognizes the blind ambition to win as an unsettling defeat. Play a joyful sport unto the Lord, all ye lands. This is no easy mandate, but it should be worth a go at it.
Along the Journey…