“People aren’t born winners, they aren’t born losers, they are born choosers.”
That is the slogan of Sports World Ministries, an organization that sends professional athletes around the country to speak to students about making positive choices. The speakers are former athletes — currently the ministry’s lineup all played in the National Football League — and one of them has been in Brown County this week. On Monday evening Steve Grant, who played linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Bucaneers over a seven-year career, spoke to a group of adults during a reception held at Howard Payne University.
According to Grant, part of the reason the programs are so successful lies in the fact that students often feel more comfortable opening up to athletes than they do their own parents. They will ask questions and seek advice from him during and after one of his programs — things they often are afraid, ashamed or embarrassed to share with their parents. He doesn’t like that dynamic, but said if that works to help one student make the right choice, it’s a role he will gladly fill. Over the past seven years he says he’s heard about every type of situation imaginable, and that he hopes he’s through being “surprised” by the stories he hears.
Children face a lot of tough choices today, with seemingly more lasting consequences than previous generations faced. Parents lay the blame on numerous causes, but rarely themselves. Instead, heaped on top of those choices is the pressure many children feel to “please” their parents - in the classroom and on the playing field. Schoolwork and athletic endeavors now consume nearly every waking moment, all year long, for many children. The pressure to perform well starts early and grows through the years. It seems the more successful our kids are at something, the more we as parents push them to reach an even higher level.
The programs the students will hear this week are a ministry, and during each one Grant shares his Christianity with the students. That is not the sole focus of his message, and he says he has to be careful how he approaches the subject, but as long as the kids are asking questions he can answer them honestly. Grant and the other speakers with Sports World Ministries are able to first grab the students’ attention because of their backgrounds as athletes, and then with their life stories. But he says that in many communities his frank answers about his faith are generally accepted and even appreciated.
Grant was asked how he overcomes the negative image that some professional athletes are creating — where they become better known for activities off the field than on it. Although there is no simple answer, he said, it all begins in the home and how children are raised. Part of that process involves parents setting aside time to speak with - and more importantly listen to — their children about what is going on in their lives. Parents asking questions about what their children learned in school, what their friends are doing and then answering their child’s questions honestly are all vital to a healthy home life. The answer “because I said so” won’t cut it. Taking the time to explain answers is also important. Building a strong moral compass in our children, which many families choose to do through their faith, is important and is accomplished through two-way communication.
Grant will be spending three days this week, beginning Tuesday, speaking at several high schools and middle schools around the county. He will be trying to spread a message to several thousand students during his stay, but said his visit will be a success if he reaches just one of them.
That leaves plenty of room for parents to take a leading role in helping their children make the right decisions.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.