2░ SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
Dutch historian, J. Huizinga, said that human culture comes into being and is
handed on mainly through game-playing; for him, man is " homo ludens
". Along similar lines, the media prophet, M. MacLuhan, advances the thesis
that one discovers the code to a culture by looking at the way a whole
generation plays its games. Furthermore, polls conducted among children,
adolescents and youth also manifest the prevalent role that recreational
activities, particularly the practice of sport, play in their lives.
SPORT AND EDUCATION : MULTIPLE MEANINGS AND AMBIGUITIES
this does not mean that sport is free of ambiguities. Relations between sport
and education have never been simple. In ancient times, gymnastics, which were
an expression of vitality and an integral component in the training of the
aristocratic youth, had to withstand the excesses of competitive sport. In the
early Christian tradition, sport, understood primarily in its passive, spectator
dimension, was viewed as a stumbling-block to living the faith and was even
considered a form of idolatry.
episodes of violence among spectators in our own age once again raises the
question about the social, ethical and educational value of sport. Increased
access to consumer goods and free time has caused sport to grow as a leisure
activity known as " amateur " sport. It has led many people, youth and
adults, men and women, to even become " fixated " with physical
fitness to the point of giving it and the body a certain " cult "
status. Politics also enter the scene making sport a means of channelling or
strengthening social cohesions, political consensus, and the popularity of
dominant social currents which may suit any ideologies whether democratic,
totalitarian, right, left or centre. Others also see sport simply as a means of
" self-improvement " whether on a personal, relational or cultural
level. Yet for a great majority of people, sport is a basic "
self-betterment " activity and an attractive resource for an ongoing
formation that is achieved through physical exercise and training, as well as
through social norms and group interaction.
SPORT AND SOCIAL-CULTURAL ISSUES
various reasons, sport is often a difficult resource to use properly. One reason
is the lack of sound examples. Sport celebrities with their victories or
scandals make the headlines and are encouraged by the media. For better or worse,
sport " stars " have become models for our youngsters as well as for
sports have become consumer goods - shows to watch rather than activities to
play. They have become a commodity to be traded, and a tool for political
manipulation of the masses. They are used to channel needs and aspirations, and
to subtly create " made to measure " Mindsets by those favouring
certain forms of conduct in preference to others.
it is not only the professionalization, commercialization or politicisation of
sport that threatens its educational purpose, for sport faces the same
difficulties that exist in everyday life and in other associations. The
exaggerated emphasis placed on success and self-fulfilment, sometimes to the
point of creating a cult of self (channelled by the mass media and the dominant
" neo-capitalist " and " neo-liberal " socialization
forces), is now combined with the wearing down of inter- personal and social
relations, the deterioration of political and civil life, a lack of interest in
the common good and a rise in organized crime.
existential suffering of the masses and their desire to escape from these social
dangers does not always find a secure exit route.
pressures - whether on an individual or collective level - can easily spill over
the brink of resistance. As a result, some people seek to unload their
frustrations via sport and it becomes an escape valve for these social disorders.
THE EDUCATIONAL EMERGENCY
the same time, sport becomes a mirror and a sounding board for these maladies
affecting both youth and adults; it is a kind of " litmus test ". In
the 21st century, we have to
face both the complexity of a globalized world in terms of business, production
and the market place, as well as the ever-invasive onslaught of information
technologies. Not only have socio-economic structures and material production
standards changed (efficiency, functionality, utility, productivity, subjective
well-being), but life and culture are also changing. At the global level we
express this in terms of the knowledge-based society, the " information
" society, or the " digital culture ".
we wish to overcome relativism and fragmentation on the one hand, and an
exclusive and fundamentalist way of thinking on the other hand, we must believe
in and practice social dialogue (cultural and interfaith dialogue). This is a
dialogue that is capable of overcoming intolerance and destruction by terrorism
or imperialist domination because it moves beyond prejudice, rethinking the way
we form individual and group thought patterns, and because it is grounded in a
cultural anthropology that recognizes the fundamental human rights of each and
every person, at all times and everywhere.
are not easy as one has to come to grips with the following phenomenon:
international economic power which over-rides regional politics creating a sense
of helplessness; the prevalence of a state of flux: flows and processes ("liquidity")
rather than " consolidated " forms of culture causing an emphasis on
flexibility, but also uncertainty and insecurity; a vision of time that is
compressed into specific, unconnected moments, preventing us from having a sense
of history and belonging; an emphasis on the " virtual " and computer
images to the detriment of a sense of what is real and its limitations; the
subjectivization of possibilities that were once more objective, and the
overemphasis on the values of the moment, without a sense of limit and without
" fundamentum in re " that is to say, without objectivity, truth, or a
communitarian sense of life and human existence.
all this applies in general terms to everyone and everywhere, it also has
particular repercussions on the youth. For it is they - children, youth, young
men and women - who are the first to feel the effects of globalisation, for
better and for worse, in their personal, group and community lives. They share
in the opportunities provided by technological innovation and the international
and worldwide market. The globalized social communications system enables
everyone, and primarily young people, to access an immense volume of
information, and provides them with the possibility of communicating very
rapidly with people and situations near and far, virtually doing away with
physical time and space, stimulating their imaginations and their subjective
fantasies to the point of effacing the borderlines between the real and the
virtual. The generation born after the 1990's has had to deal more with
innovation and its frantic pace than with change itself (as was the case, and
still is, for the adult or older generations).
the present generation, while demonstrating a considerable capacity to handle
technologies and navigate the Internet and the " second life " world,
also exhibits more than other generations, fragility and weakness in their
relationships and in their capacity to lead free and responsible lives. (In
addition, we can add to this list a deficiency in being able to reflect and
conceptualize ideas.) In recent times we have seen depressing episodes, almost
daily, of violence and abuse inflicted by youth on other youth, often younger
than themselves, and on disabled children, and on girls simply for being girls.
It would appear that the culprits have no perception of the damage they cause,
no knowledge of the suffering of the victims, and believe that they can play
with impunity at the expense of others, or amuse themselves irresponsibly,
almost as if it was their due, glorifying in being seen by an anonymous, but
morbidly curious, public on the Internet.
light of this epidemic of deviate behaviour that not only involves youth, many
have come to the conclusion that education is in a historic " emergency
" situation. The task of educating, that is to say, of helping people to
grow and to develop as conscientious, free, and responsible individuals and
members of society, has never been easy. But today it is more difficult than
ever. At the June 2007 Conference convened by the Rome diocese on "
Education to the faith, discipleship, and witness ", Pope Benedict XVI
spoke about the great " educational emergency ", and the increasing
difficulties facing schools and families and every other educational
new theoretical-pedagogical reflection is needed in order to reevaluate the
ultimate aims of education or at least reflect upon its cornerstones which, up
until now, have been the foundation of the Western educational culture:
confidence in the individual's capacity to exercise his freedom worthily, the
human capacity to transform reality, and faith in rationality, science and
Education ", said the Pope during that meeting, " tends to be broadly
reduced to the transmission of specific abilities or capacities for doing, while
people endeavour to satisfy the desire for happiness of the new generations by
showering them with consumer goods and transitory gratification ". This has
cast a shadow over what it is " the essential purpose of education ",
namely, " the formation of the person to make him or her capable of living
a full life and making their own contribution to the good of the community
several months earlier, in his address to the fourth Italian Ecclesial
Conference in Verona of October 19, 2006, the Holy Father recalled that one of
" the fundamental and decisive questions is that of the education of the
person ". The Pontiff went on to say that " the formation of his mind
must be a concern, without neglecting his freedom and capacity to love. This is
why recourse to the help of Grace is necessary. Only in this way can that risk
for the fate of the human family be effectively opposed, which is represented by
the imbalance between the very rapid growth of our technological power and the
more laborious growth of our moral resources ".
THE NEED FOR AN ETHICAL-EDUCATIONAL APPROACH TO SPORTS
sport, with its social, civil, cultural, religious and historic dimensions, make
a specific contribution towards meeting this educational emergency? I believe
that in order to answer this question in the affirmative it is not only
necessary to overcome the ambivalence, ambiguity, difficulties and risks
inherent in the practice of sport as such, but also to make a broad sweeping
choice in favour of education that will attempt, as a preliminary step, to steer
the educational potential of the individual and group practice of sport in a
manner that is correct and humanly worthy. It is only in this way that sport can
be a significant means of human development and a major educational resource.
for all those involved in the direction and management of sporting activities, I
would like to mention a few points that need to be taken into consideration in
order to advance this choice in favour of educating through sport: The integral
good of the person.
the many legitimate intentions that can animate sport organizations, the desire
to " educate through sport ", particularly in amateur youth sport (but
also in semi-professional or fully professional sport) consists in procuring the
growth and development of the individual, not only with regard to those values
immediately related to physical activity (for example, developing their motor
skills or competitiveness, the sense of corporeity, the value of working as a
team, the sense of discipline and effort, playing by the rules, etc.) but also
with regard to the overall, integral good of the person, taking into account
their personal situation and the historical-cultural context that surrounds them.
Concretely, this entails placing the person first, over and above trophies and
victories, even though these are certainly not to be sneered at. Today, this
also entails the ability to identify the particular human values that are to be
strengthened, and conversely, to identify those perils that are to be avoided.
an integral humanism
through sport means having a clear awareness of sport's social dimension and its
contribution towards the comprehensive growth of the individual and the
community. In this perspective, the personal dimension of " mens sana in
corpore sano " is combined with a social development that favours an
equitable " civil " community life while each dimension is being
directed towards the sustainable development of the whole. In this way, sport is
linked to and implicit in the formation of a " integral humanism " or
if you prefer, a " new humanism ", not in the abstract, but one that
is " made to the measure " of specific individuals and communities,
and with concrete initiatives to be realized for the good of humanity.
through sport, especially through team sports, favours both in principle and in
practice the promotion of an open, democratic and solidarity-based society. In
fact, through team sports, children can learn to be tolerant of others, to
accept the " otherness " of their opponents, and to reach out to those
who might appear " different ", and to integrate what is "
non-homogeneous " to the group. The universality of sport can also favour
dialogue and communication with those who think differently. teaching people not
only how to peacefully co-exist (and " how to get along with others
"), but it can also teach children how to " give " themselves to
others and how to receive the " giving " (and the " for-giving
") which comes from others. It also can favour mutual collaboration and
social integration, in solidarity with our neighbours (friends, companions, our
loved ones. ..) as well as those who are not our neighbours for various reasons
(as in the case of being opponents).
on an " educational environment ".
decision to educate through sport both requires and strengthens a sense of
community. Consequently, the community is both an agent of growth, as well as a
reality that in itself matures with this process. Thus there is a need for an
" educational environment " or an organisational structure which has
the capacity to manage sports activities and initiatives while at the same time
being able to periodically evaluate itself so as to better improve its formative
dimension. This will not only make education possible in the general sense but
it will also equip an institution with the practical " know how " that
comes from experience in order to respond to the most pressing social, human, or
ecclesial needs in light of this " educational emergency " and to
better counteract the widespread plague of individualism and civic apathy.
concept of an " educational environment " demands continuity and
integration between social institutions and their common educational tasks. At
the ecclesial level, this requires integration of an overall plan for the
pastoral ministry of sport which can be animated by the laity at the local level.
It is precisely along these lines that we can come to view sport as a type of
" frontier of the new evangelisation ".
THE PERENNIAL QUESTION " WHO WILL TRAIN THE TRAINER ? "
of the priorities for anyone interested in educating through sport -
particularly when this is taken up as the prime purpose of a specific sports
institution or organisation - is to adopt a training policy that not only
inculcates its directors with technical aspects, but also is capable of
providing human, civil, social and pedagogical training for all those who,
directly and indirectly, promote and manage the practice of sport or the events
associated with these leisure time activities, particularly those for young
the perennial question " Who will train the trainer? " becomes
especially crucial today, more than before, in view of the " res novae
" and the multicultural character of globalisation and the prevailing
skills are certainly necessary, but at the same time they also need those skills
that are fundamental to educators so that they can be equally competent
inconducting themselves in such a way that is humanly worthy, civilly
respectable and socially responsible, while also attentive to growth and
maturation needs that are proper to each stage of life. Here, I would like to
make a few additional observations regarding the training of the trainers.
a sporting environment that is concerned with favouring the educational and
formative value of physical activity - and in particular those of Christian
inspiration - there is a lot of talk about " the centrality of the child
". Although this emphasis is made with the best intentions in the world, it
can run the risk of being one sided and reducing the children to mere "
objects " of an " educational treatment " applied by us, the
adults, who are obsessively concerned with applying all the right techniques in
order to reach " educational success ".
need to correct this with a " team effort " where the child becomes a
co-protagonist and co-responsible in this process (and not a mere object).
is not so much a matter of working " on " and " for " the
children who are being educated, as it is the result of a mutual educational
relationship " between " the teacher and the pupil with the goal of
achieving a " competent " personalisation and a quality of life for
all (including the life of the educators! ). The students are not mere "
objects " or " beneficiaries ", but active team players who are
coresponsible for their own growth. And they have to be increasingly more
engaged in this process as they mature. This is true everywhere and in every
educational situation, but in sport in a particular way.
that is not all... The educational relationship is not
enclosed within a dualistic " I-you " relationship, even though this
aspect is fundamental to it. Neither is it simply confined within a group that
was amalgamated into a team or assembled in a laboratory. The educational
relationship extends beyond this and embraces the whole breadth of life.
Consequently, its supreme benchmark is not a test score but rather, humanity
itself, in every form - historical, personal and cultural, past, present and
say it in sporting terms, the task of education becomes a " pedagogical
championship " where the educational community is not just the passive
field, but also an active participant as both a player and the goal towards
which all activity revolves. In this great educational " championship
" the different " teams " which come into play are the
various individual and community players, each within their own sphere of
competence, all interacting and collaborating together (just as soccer is made
up of players with specific roles, as well as referees, linesmen, coaches, fans
etc.) with their focus on the educational goal that is held in common.
educators and trainers have the task of awakening, stimulating, and promoting,
the use of freedom in pursuit of values in their students, sustaining them and
accompany them, orientating them responsibly. It is up to them to help bring
into play all of the persons and components who make up this educating community:
the sports associations, the families, the municipality, and the local church
" pedagogical championship " demands that the educators and trainers
themselves receive thorough and ongoing training. Here are some fundamental
points to keep in mind. First of all, one can never take their eye off the task
of education. It is necessary to see everything from this perspective, and the
child's education particularly. Secondly, we must give priority to a personal
approach. Experience tells us that whoever wants to teach a child math needs to
first know the child in his context and environment. One must know their
students by their first and last name. They must consider their potential (as
based on the individual and their context) as well as their current results.
Taking into consideration their pupils immediate surroundings - interpreting
people, facts and events - they should encourage the positive values therein and
not discourage them. There is good in everyone. Or as the great educator, Don
Bosco would say: " There is a point leading to goodness in everyone ".
must also continually think, judge and act in terms of far-reaching goals and
not get too bogged-down in the ordinariness of routine. On the contrary, an
educator must think in terms of a continual growth, where all are being educated
together, both as a community and inter-generationally. Finally, " keeping
an eye on education " requires staying close to each pupil, accepting them
as they are and for what they are.
what it may, this is the only way to stimulate youngsters to grow and to foster
their personal capabilities.
from fear to trust.
is based on trust: and this requires educators to be trust- worthy people who
are skilled in the art of helping others, which is what education is all about.
Therefore, this requires one to be " authoritative " but not "
authoritarian " ! Some appropriate preconditions that create what I call a
" platform " for fostering communication and facilitating trust are
the following: the ability to reach out and to welcome; the capacity to listen
and to dialogue; to know how to play by the rules; to know how to be near to
their students but at the same time maintain a certain distance; and the
patience not to expect students to be " good ", " polite "
or " in our image and likeness " from the start.
Secondly, one must not expect to fix them all at once but rather to lead
them little by little by directing their questions; that is to say, an educator
must help them to express their questions in words, helping to expand upon these
questions, elevating them to their highest and most beautiful expression.
involves a personal decision; it requires taking a personal stand with regards
to one's own life and regarding the life of others. To be consistent in how one
thinks and how one arts, to be faithful in one's relationships, to be true to
one's ideals, proposals, duties and tasks - in a word, to be responsible - is
not any easier today than yesterday. In fact. I would like to mention four
obstacles that need to be especially overcome today in order to be a witness for
the youth and to establish an authoritative and educational presence among them.
also have to overcome a certain idea and practice of relationships which is
often reduced merely to its empirical, public, " correct ", "
horizontal " dimension, neglecting the dimension of inferiority and
personal diversity, or the " vertical " dimension that relates to
truth and the transcendent. Or, on the other hand, we must also avoid a
relationship restricted solely to the interpersonal " I-you "
dimension, not open to the personal, institutional and cultural " we "
we have to move beyond an emplace on action rather than being. In today's
performance and efficiency based society, it is common to think of, and to
attribute value to, what one has rather than who one is; to focus on the
externals rather than on the ontological: roles rather than persons; processes
rather than substance: change and innovation rather than continuity and
durability; standardisation rather than regional identity; appearing rather than
being; the present rather than the future; the fašade rather than the profound
identity of the other; functionality rather than the true basis of relationships.
In such a perspective, what is spontaneous and free, the moment of
contemplation, the deepest sense of being, are easily overshadowed.
educators must overcome the myth of " eternal adolescence ". Young at
heart: yes; immaturity: no. A childish attitude that consists in always living
for adventures and for whatever comes their way has caused many adults to
prolong their adolescence to the point of never growing up. In reality, such a
mentality is harmful both in itself (as it never allows one to mature and enjoy
what is beautiful and proper at each stage of life) and for the youth, as it
robs them of finding adequate adult role models in their parents and educators
and in the other adults with whom they are in contact. In lieu of this
deficiency of sound examples to follow, the youth are turning to the "
virtual ", or to cerebrities to seek inspiration and orientation.
Powell, one of those English educators noted for being a pragmatist, in his last
will and testament, invited the scouts " to leave the world a little better
than how they found it ". In educating through sport, as well as educating
in the family, in school, and in the parish or group settings, the time has come
to aim high. We cannot be content with the past or status quo, but must seek a
higher perspective. While a " reactionary pedagogy " is necessary to
respond to the most urgent needs
of youth, educators must also seek a long term " proactive pedagogy "
that anticipates these needs by helping the youth to discover the value and
meaning inherent in these activities.
must also go beyond a pedagogy concerned with personal growth in general to one
that focuses on the actual goals to be reached. In the world of sport, this can
be translated into an overall concern for the good of all of those involved in
sport, and not just the individual. This means keeping in mind the aims and
goals that the practice of sport seeks to achieve in all sectors: the personal,
the human, the social, the cultural, the institutional, and ecclesial level.
educators must reach beyond a pedagogy " at the service of the individual
" - that is, one simply concerned with their personal growth - with a
pedagogy that " promotes service ". That is to say, they
should foster a pedagogy that provokes an awareness of a sense of mission
and vocation, helping the youth to recognize their talents and abilities and to
place them at the serve of the community, participating and collaborating
actively in building a more caring society, more open and favourable to all. In
Gospel terminology and within the perspective of the salvation of the world,
this is the building of the " civilization of love " that is en route
towards the Kingdom of God, where justice and truth will live definitively and
A LIFE THAT BEARS WITNESS TO THE GOSPEL
more than ever, in a historical context that requires us to speak of a "
new evangelization " and before the religious pluralism that surrounds us,
it is necessary to take into account and bear witness to the " Christian
difference ". A probative educational stance demands that we as teachers,
parents, and coaches not merely call ourselves Christians but that we truly live
as Christians, make our Christianity some- thing very concrete and real, in all
areas of our life, but especially in that of sport.
This demands that we not only have a sufficient and up-to-date knowledge
of this " patrimonium fidei " in its fundamental points, but also that
we advance from a level of religious education equivalent to that of first Holy
Communion a level of a mature adult; today's culture demands that we should
possess at least a minimal level of Christian culture if not a deep profound
faith. We are in need of " well-made Christians " ! In fact cultural
and inter-religious dialogue will not make much progress without a clear and
profound Christian identity.
on a level still more personal and more profound. it is absolutely necessary
that the Christian faith become the very heart of a deep personal spirituality,
because today more than ever, education is dependent upon the personal witness
of the individual and the community.
is much needed today is an intelligence that is spiritually creative, and above
all bears witness to the goodness of the Gospel, that is rooted in the essential,
in Christ and his spirit and in the horizons delineated in the Our Father and
its seven petitions.
this perspective, I would like to call to mind the example of Jesus the Teacher,
who in his very actions made it a point to always make himself available for
others, always going out to meet others, with the desire of establishing a
rapport of " salvation ", of being a " good Samaritan ". We
can recall how he freed people from evil, consoled them in their suffering,
shared personally in the hopes and desires of those who approached him to ask
him for something (even those who approached him with a " bad conscience
" or malicious intent). Jesus accepted people as they were and attended
their requests. By well thought-out questions and active dialogue, he was able
to draw people out of themselves into the " horizon of salvation ".
there is not an " apriori " hardness of heart with those with whom he
is speaking, he shows himself to be more understanding than condemning, while
never " justifying " their erroneous words or behaviour. In him,
people always found a new path that was far more fulfilling than the rest. The
degree of commitment he required of them depended on their personal situation
and capacity. To some he required a certain degree of goodness as manifested in
his words: " Don't sin any- more ", " You also do the same
", " Do this and you will live ". Whereas, to others, he invites
them to follow him with all the radicalness of the Gospel: " Come also and
work in my vineyard "; " Sell all, and give the money to the poor
"; " Go out to all the world and proclaim the Good
I would like to end with a quote from the founder of the Catholic Union of italian high school teachers, Gesualdo Nosegno. What he says here to educators, I would like to extend to coaches, trainers, volunteers, and all those who work with youth through sports: " Teachers: if you slow down you will lose them, if you get discouraged, they will weaken, if you sit down they will lie down, if you doubt they will despair, if you go ahead of them they will pass you by, if you give them your hand they will give their lives, if you pray for them they will become saints! May you always be an educator who never gives up, who never discourages, who never doubts, who never goes too far ahead, who always offers his hand, and who always prays! "