There exists a league in which success isn’t measured in win-loss columns but rather in the relationships fostered during play.
Upward Sports, a nonprofit based in South Carolina, utilizes athletics to promote the Christian faith, as well as build strong bonds between teammates, coaches and family members.
In West Orange, Family Church, with campuses in east Winter Garden, Oakland, Windermere and Horizon West, offers a plethora of Upward Sports programs. The church hosts 10-week leagues throughout the year for kids to be involved in either soccer, basketball, flag football or volleyball.
“We want families to be involved with their children,” Family Church Director of Sports Christopher Roberts said. “We’ve seen a lot of really cool interactions between sons and daughters and moms and dads. Some of the sons and daughters who age out will come back to coach with their parent later, so you get to see a lot of growth in that.”
The organization provides parents the opportunity to volunteer as coaches. Parents don’t necessarily have to be literate in the world of coaching to become a coach for one of the Upward Sports leagues.
Warren Kenner has been coaching at Upward for seven years. When he brought his kids to the initial evaluation, he had no intention of being a coach. In fact, he had never been a coach. He was just looking for his kids to grow spiritually and within the true aspect of a team. He remembered seeing how high-schoolers helped and encouraged all kids doing the evaluation.
He immediately walked up to a tent and said, “Sign me up.”
“I get a lot of praise for the coaching, and, quite honestly, I feel bad, because I am getting more out of it than anyone,” Kenner said. “On the score sheet that we receive, it shows what church (the kids) go to, and some have none. The most rewarding thing to do is to see that child who may not know Christ — or may not even know about Church for that matter — and become friends with another player who is very involved in church.”
Using the Upward coaching app, coaches can ensure every child receives playing time.
“Every child is given the exact same play time — the same time out there as all the other players,” Kenner said.
Hanna Quintana’s son, Liam, has been playing at Upward for two years.
“I’m really impressed with their positive attitude and how they have a lot of team unity,” she said. “They really talk to the kids about trying to encourage one another and trying to build each other up, and that is something that has really impressed me.”
Upward Sports also makes time for faith. Every practice lasts an hour. After 30 minutes of practice, coaches gather the kids together for a devotion. This provides a time for coaches to give each player a baseball card with a certain word. The coaches discuss the word with the kids and focus on it for about two to three practices.
“You can see the twinkle in their eyes of them wondering and wanting to know more,” Kenner said. “For me to be able to be a conduit for (the kids) to discover Christ or discover more about going to church and the benefits of going to church and what true fellowship means — it’s priceless.”
In addition, Upward utilizes a star system to recognize the kids’ efforts during a game and during practice.
“What I do is I will reach out to the parents and I will ask what star their kid has not received yet,” Kenner said. “I take the stars very seriously, because I see the children light up.”
Upward Sports was founded in 1995 and is based in South Carolina. Today, Upward partners with more than 5,000 churches in the country, has more than 7 million kids playing sports through different leagues in 46 states, and has provided more than 45,000 sports experiences.
“We view sport through the lens of a greater purpose, which means the impact can extend far beyond the game,” Director of Partner Relations Andrew Provence said. “Sports break down barriers and create a powerful catalyst for churches to build relationships and serve others.”
THE STAR SYSTEM
- Blue Star: Represents effort, which means giving your best at all times regardless of the circumstances.
- Gold Star: Represents sportsmanship, which means treating your teammates and opponents the way you want to be treated. You show respect to yourself, teammates, opponents, referees, coaches and the game by demonstrating sportsmanship.
- Red Star: In basketball, flag football and soccer, it represents defense, which means coordinating with your team to slow down or stop the opponent from making a play or scoring. Defense requires an awareness of being in the right position, hustle and hard work. In volleyball, it represents hitting, which means returning serves, passing to teammates and working to get the ball over the net.
- Gray Star: In basketball, flag football and soccer represents offense, which means working with your team for a positive play or a score. Offense requires being aware of your teammates and their opportunities, as well as using your skills to advance the goals of your team. In volleyball, it represents serving, as a strong serve to start each possession is essential.
- White Star: Represents Christlikeness, which means doing your best to imitate Jesus in every way through your words, attitudes and actions.
- Green Star (for practice only): Represents learning, which means being part of the team and participating in the weekly huddle to learn about God’s work.