Recently, I have been deliberately reflecting on news stories from the Christian Worldview, considering how we can use such stories as talking points and teachable moments for our children. In this example I am thinking about how we might talk about the controversy over Serena Williams and her behaviour at the US Open. (For the full story – go here)
It all began with a conversation between Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou after she was defeated in the first set, outplayed by Osaka. Umpire Carlos Ramos observed what he believed to be Mouratoglou making a “coaching gesture,” and issued a formal code violation. Williams continued to deny that she was “cheating.” This is in spite of the fact that her coach later admitted that he did offer coaching advice on the court. Mouratoglou added, as an explanation, that although it is a violation of the rules, his action was no different from what all tennis coaches do.
Despite frequent protestations from Williams throughout the next few changes of ends, the umpire didn’t reverse his ruling. Later in the game, a frustrated Williams threw her racket after losing a point and was issued with her second code violation. Under the rules of tennis, two violations results in the awarding of one point to the opponent. This only further fuelled Williams’ ire, who accused the umpire of “stealing a point” from her.
Despite frequent protestations from Williams throughout the next few changes of ends, the umpire didn’t reverse his ruling. Williams claimed she was being personally attacked by Ramos, and repeatedly calling the whole thing ‘unfair’.
Later, things got so heated that Williams called Ramos a thief. This caused Ramos to issue Williams with a third code violation for “verbal abuse”. Three code violations in a single match means that an entire game is awarded to the opponent. Despite the rising consequences of penalties, Williams didn’t repent of her behaviour, claiming she was being personally attacked by Ramos, and repeatedly calling the whole thing “unfair”.
When Osaka sent the final serve of the game through at 183 km/h, which Williams could only tap, sending it wide, there were no cheers from the crowd for Osaka. Instead, the stadium erupted with jeers and boos. Fans booed again when Osaka was given her trophy. In what should have been a defining moment of joy in her career, Osaka wept; they were not tears of joy, but anguish. In a subdued acceptance speech, Osaka acknowledged the crowd’s disappointment: “I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”
What can we as Christian parents take away from this?
Reflection 1 – Sportsmanship
I don’t play tennis, but I can reflect on these lessons from what I’ve seen, and done, on the soccer field. I’m sure we’ve all had moments on the field when, as for Serena Williams, the umpire’s call hasn’t gone in our favour – the soccer ball is called out when clearly it’s still in. Similarly, I’m sure we’ve all had moments when calls have gone in our favour when they really shouldn’t have – like a goal that’s scored even though we knew we were offside when the ball was passed to us.
The best lesson our children can take from sport isn’t how to win, or what skills are necessary to play, but how to graciously submit to the decision of the referee, rather than bickering and arguing.
Part of playing the game is to accept the good with the bad, and to submit to the authority of the umpire’s call. This can be a lesson for both parents and children alike, as I’m sure many of us have stood on the sidelines of our kids’ games and exclaimed “come on ref!” when we’ve been unhappy with the call. The best lesson our children can take from sport isn’t how to win, or what skills are necessary to play, but how to graciously submit to the decision of the referee, rather than bickering and arguing as Williams demonstrated.
Reflection 2 – Integrity
When we play a sport—even though we are all aware of the rules—sometimes, we’re often tempted to blur the lines ( especially if we know that “everyone else does it”, as Williams’ coach admitted). Maybe it’s an “accidentally” timed tackle aimed at the player, not the ball, or a not-so-subtle barge of the arms when chasing down an opposing attacker. One of the reasons that Williams and her coach were happy to break the rules about on-court coaching was because they’re so rarely enforced.
But integrity is about what we do when noone is paying attention. Integrity has an impact outside of the sporting field. Here are some common scenarios your children might face at school:
- The teacher has left the room briefly – do they stay on task, or immediately start talking to their friends?
- They’re using the word processor app on their ipad or laptop for the day’s lesson – do they stay in the app or switch to a game as soon as the teacher isn’t looking?
- There’s no monitoring software on their iphone – do they make sure the content they’re accessing is helpful, excellent, praiseworthy, even if no one will ever know if it’s not?
Reflection 3 – Selfishness
In some ways, it’s easy to understand why Williams reacted the way she did. I have no idea what the pressure of a Grand Slam with an international audience of millions would feel like. I can only speculate that such pressure would shrink the entire world in those few hours to the size of that tennis court. How else could an elite sportsperson function without such intense focus? The result of such focus is evident in Williams’ focus on herself. In her experience SHE was wronged by the umpire’s call, SHE was accused of cheating, SHE was “robbed” of a point and a game, and ultimately the trophy.
The problem with such self-focus is that it easily becomes selfishness. Williams wasn’t the only person on the court that day. In HER outrage, Serena stole the focus from HER opponent. As a result, the superb tennis Osaka played throughout the match became something she felt she had to apologise for.
The problem with such self-focus is that it easily becomes selfishness. Serena stole the focus from HER opponent. The superb tennis Osaka played throughout the match became something she felt she had to apologise for.
I’m sure you can’t struggle to think of examples of times your children have acted selfishly. I find it harder to find examples of times they act selflessly (in fact, the same is true for myself!).
One way to help counteract our children’s (and our own) selfish tendencies can be to practice empathy. The story of Williams and Osaka is a great example of this. We can ask our children about how they think Williams’ actions made Osaka feel. We can ask them to imagine what it would be like if we had won a match, only to have the opponent complain that they were “robbed” by the umpire. We can encourage them to consider how sad Osaka must have felt when she won the game and received her trophy, only to hear the stadium erupt in booing.
Conclusion: How can the Bible help us approach these issues?
As followers of Jesus, Paul encourages us to be ruled by God’s spirit, rather than by our fleshly desires. The works of the flesh are listed by Paul as “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5:20-21). Instead of acting in this way, Paul encourages us to exhibit “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Much of Williams’ behaviour during the game can be placed in the former list.
How can we help our children learn from this?
- We could encourage our children to think about what would happen if instead of following the flesh Williams played the game in a way that was reflecting the way of the spirit.
- We could encourage our children to think about a time they have acted in such a way – either on the sporting field, the playground, at home, or with friends.
- We could share with them such times we have failed in these ways, too.
- And perhaps most importantly, we could pray with them, thanking God that he forgives us through the death of his son Jesus, and praying that his spirit will help us to live a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Photo: Původní Soubor, wikimedia
First published at https://womanoftheword.blog