Editor’s note: This article has been submitted by TCM Guest Contributor: Mr. Garret van Beek. 

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

“Ulysses,” Tennyson

Playing sports is more than just playing a game.

When athletics are presented to young men with just skills and techniques in mind, what benefit do they gain when the season is over? What can come into play with a family, or a job, or a vocation? Does it help to know how to do a lay-up, curve a soccer ball, throw a spiraling football, or make a rugby tackle? Such things in themselves are of little real-life service besides strengthening the physical body. This is important, no doubt, but men are body and soul. What is often missing in athletic training and competition is development of the soul toward victory in virtue.

The Virtue of Sports

Devoting time to compete well in a particular sport not only expends energy that can be used unproductively, but it also has the function of giving young men the opportunity to develop the virtues necessary in becoming a strong Catholic man. Players should be coached not only in technique, but also in those virtues that will benefit them both in the sports they play and the lives they live. By giving virtue emphasis, sports can give men a real chance of cementing these character strengths into their person long after the season is over. These virtues are Diligence, Discipline, Sacrifice, Focus, and Courage.

1. Diligence

Players quickly learn that if they just go through the motions of practice, they will be unprepared for the match. Not only will the game be lost, it will also be unenjoyable. To put in the effort to work harder than the opposition, to strive for seemingly out-of-reach goals, will greatly increase the chance of success on the scoreboard. Concentrated effort is essential regardless of any God-given talent.

The virtue of Diligence is essential in spiritual exercises as well. Men should constantly labor for the ideal despite failure, sin, and difficulty. Catholics especially must struggle for what many see as the unreachable goal of heaven. Diligence in sports helps to establish the habit of diligence on the spiritual field.

2. Discipline

Athletes should strive for nothing less than perfection. When they perform a technique, it is not good enough just to be able to pass the ball, but rather to pass that ball as quickly, efficiently, and accurately as possible. Athletes should never be satisfied with mediocrity, but only the best—and the same can be said for every activity in life.

No one can be a great player when they allow other aspects of life to be in disarray. No one can be a good man if he does not seek the good and do the good in everything. As in life, Catholic men are not called to be Catholic just on Sunday, but everyday and in all that they do. Without discipline, the perfection that Our Lord demands is impossible.

3. Sacrifice

A team must have trust binding its individual members together in order to succeed. Trust is won through self-sacrifice. The sacrifices of a truly great athlete do not make his teammates small, but great, because he puts them in a place to score. Each individual that makes up a team must make the necessary sacrifices for their teammates not to gain personal victory, but to give victory to every man on that team.

What people do on a daily basis greatly impacts others. Men must examine their actions and ask, “What can I do to help others succeed?” No Catholic is alone, but part of the universal team that makes up the Church, and every member of that team must act in the interests of others. As the saying goes, there is no “I” in the word “Team.”

4. Focus

Players need to be focused on their specific role on the team, despite heckling spectators, poor refereeing, or dirty opposing play. By focusing on his own responsibilities and doing them to his best ability, a true athlete is performing for the good of the team as a whole.

Similarly, every man, no matter what his vocation, needs to focus on doing the right thing. Everyone has control of themselves, and are therefore responsible for their own actions. A man who is focused on the good will never do anything that would jeopardize that good. In other words, when people focus on God, they will make it difficult for the Foe to distract.

5. Courage

Players must always be ready to play above their weight with unwavering tenacity, undaunted by size, record, scoreboard, or time on the clock. The true competitor never backs down at any stage. The true competitor is courageous.

Catholic men always come into situations where strength and faith and resolve are put to the test. Nothing should wear a man down and make him surrender. The true perspective—and one that a real experience of sports can foster—is to see every obstacle and every trial as a challenge to overcome.

The Victory of Sports

A sporting contest that is won or lost gives an individual player a concrete experience for victory in life. A player’s firm resolve to incorporate these five virtues into his core will give him the platform for success both on the field and for the rest of his life. They are the strengths required to live a confident Catholic life; a life where not only the athlete is victorious, but also all those around him.

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  • Rocco

    I survived 4A Catholic high school football in the late 1970’s. As a result, I do not fear death.

  • Steve

    The world of high school sports would be a better place if more coaches had this perspective. Nice Article.