To Do Or To Be

In his play Hamlet, Shakespeare famously wrote "to be, or not to be, that is the question.” That question has survived in our lexicon for some 400+ years. However, I think a not so subtle shift has taken place to that question in the past couple of decades. In the 21st century we have moved from “to be, or not to be?” to asking “to do or not to do?”

Asking the Right Questions

“To do, or not to do?” this is really the question that most parents and players face when it comes to extra-curricular activities, especially competing in athletics at a high level – “to do or not to do basketball/football/volleyball/golf/swimming/tennis, etc.”

For many, the answer is purely logistical – Can I make it work with our schedule? Can we afford it? How far will we travel? Will this help my child receive the college exposure that we are hoping for?

These are necessary questions to ask and answer, but I also contend that these are not sufficient questions to answer when considering participation in extracurricular activities. These questions answer the “to do” question. I am challenging myself and so I challenge you as well: when we consider extracurricular activities for our children, we cannot just think about it in terms of accomplishing a “to do” list.

I believe there is an even more important filter for making these decisions than merely can it fit in our "to do" list? The better question is – does this activity help the player and our family “to be” the type of person we desire him/her to become someday.

Shifting our Mindset

The “to do” question is concerned with immediate logistics. The “to be” question is focused on the life-long trajectory on which we set our children. Are we more interested in their short-term enjoyment and accomplishments or are we more interested in their long-term personal growth and character development?

Don’t get me wrong, I think extracurricular activities can be an excellent catalyst for personal growth and character development, but this happens almost exclusively at the parental level not the organizational level. Most (though not all) high level, extracurricular athletic organizations are focused exclusively on the “to do” question with little to no emphasis on the “to be” question. That’s not intended as a criticism but merely a statement that reflects the reality of most organizational philosophies.

While a very high number of young people participate in athletics as an extracurricular activity, we all know that very few will go on to have a career in that sport. Regardless of career choice, we do know that our children are almost guaranteed to grow up to be a husband or wife, father or mother, neighbor, employee or employer, coach, church member, community volunteer, and so on.

By thinking about what we want our children “to be” rather than thinking about what we want them “to do,” we bring a new paradigm for decision making to the question of extracurricular activities. This paradigm is concerned with personal growth and character development through the experiences of winning and losing, teamwork, self-sacrifice, discipline, self-control, respect for authority, helping others to succeed, and so much more.

Impacting our Children for the Long-Term

When nurtured and directed by intentional parenting, all of those experiences can shape your child in a way that can positively impact them regardless of their future profession. But if we allow extracurricular involvement to be merely another line item on the family “to do” list, we miss the opportunity to allow the impact of that experience to shape the future character of our children.

If your child beats the odds and does become the next professional athlete whose poster is on the wall of millions of children around the country, he/she will have an exceptional platform to influence numerous young people in a positive way. We certainly need more “role models” who are willing to stand for truth, accept the results of fair play, live a life worth imitating, and help people understand that life is about so much more than fame and fortune; it’s about loving God, loving others, and living with integrity no matter the circumstances.

Maybe Shakespeare was on to something all those years ago – perhaps we have lost the impact of the question what do we want our kids “to be” because we have focused far too much attention on what do we want our kids “to do.”

Written by Mike Poelzer, Connection Pastor at Spring Creek Church in Pewaukee, WI.