Francis gives coaches game plan for building team spirit and ethical players, urges young athletes to find balance

By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service     6/21/2015

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Coaches need to show integrity, fairness, patience, joy and kindness, especially toward those who are struggling, Pope Francis said.

Like any good educator, a good coach or trainer is extremely important in helping kids develop into mature, well-balanced and well-rounded adults, he said.

Instilled with solid values and Christian faith, athletes can help prevent sports from becoming distorted by “pressure from many increasingly intrusive interests, especially economic,” he said in a written message released May 14.

The pope’s message was presented to participants at an international seminar on the role of coaches and trainers as educators of human and Christian values. The seminar at the Vatican May 14-16 was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s church and sport office.

Good teachers and coaches are vital for children and young adults because they are at a “delicate stage in life” as their personalities are developing and they are looking for role models and approval from others, the pope wrote.

It’s a stage in life when “the danger of getting lost by following bad examples and seeking false happiness is more real,” he wrote.

Therefore, coaches, like teachers, have a great responsibility because they often “have the privilege of spending many hours each week with young people and have a great influence on them,” he wrote.

But their influence depends more on “who they are as people and how they live than on what they say,” the pope wrote. “How important it is then a coach be an example of integrity, consistency, correct judgment, impartiality, but also joy for life, patience, ability (to show) esteem and kindness toward everyone and especially those most disadvantaged.”

Being a person of faith is just as important, he said, because being able to raise people’s eyes up to God helps put victories and losses into better perspective.

“Faith gives us that gaze of kindness toward others and it makes us overcome the temptation of a rivalry that’s too heated and aggressive; it makes us understand the dignity of every person, even those less gifted and at a disadvantage,” he said.

Coaches can do much to help make sports an occasion for solidarity and inclusion by giving those usually left out a chance to play and socialize.
For this reason, Pope Francis said, resources and time must be invested in educating coaches and trainers so that they can be “authentic witnesses of life and lived faith.”

In earlier remarks to an Italian sports association, Francis urged young student-athletes never to let practice and competition get in the way of going to Mass, studying for school, being with friends and helping the poor.

And never let Italy’s infatuation with soccer — like in the pope’s native Argentina — crowd out all the other sports, which are just as important for teaching kids the benefits of teamwork and sacrifice, he said May 7.

In the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall, the pope met with athletes, coaches, sports fans and team owners that belong to the Lazio Sports Society, which was established in 1900 by young people who wanted an organization that was open to everyone and upheld sports’ ethical and moral values.

Back then, organized sports were geared toward those who had natural athletic talent, the pope said, but the group’s founders wanted people of all abilities and backgrounds to be able to take part.

“I encourage you to continue to be welcoming, to value diverse talents” and offer a way for people to experience friendship and harmony “without discrimination.”

The pope read out a saying by the 4th-century philosopher Sallustius, in Latin, and jokingly remarked how “interesting it would be to ask one of your kids for the translation.”

“Hmm. Better not to,” he remarked. Instead he provided his own translation to the quote “Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur,” saying it means “With harmony, small things grow; with discord, great things decay.”

He praised the sports association for giving “equal dignity to all sports. In Italy, like in my country, too, in Argentina, there’s the risk of always talking about soccer and neglecting all the other sports.”

Every sport has its worth — not just in physical and social benefits, but also morally in the ways it can offer people, especially kids, a chance to experience a more balanced life, “self-control, sacrifice and loyalty toward others,” he said, especially today when it seems “betrayal” is on the rise.
The Bible teaches that the human person is both body and soul, he said.

“Sometimes it happens that a boy or girl forgets about Mass, catechism because of work-outs and competition. This is not a good sign” because it means they do not have their priorities right, he said.

“Studying, friends, serving the poor” also are important and should not be “neglected in order to do just one thing. No. Everything together,” he said.

Sports done right helps build a more caring, brotherly and just world that helps overcome “human and social disadvantage,” the pope said.