The Upward Sports Ministry is like Communism. It’s a great idea on paper but it just won’t fly. By Keith Geeding

I have a friend at work named ‘Jerry.’ Jerry is a great guy and you know he totally loves his kids with all his heart and he does what he can to rear them up in a Christ-centered home, but when he told me about the basketball league his son is participating in, I’m afraid he may be sheltering them too much.

His son is in the 4th grade and is participating in the Upward Basketball league, and I believe First Baptist Grapevine is organizing the whole thing.

This is what Upward is all about:
Upward offers an evangelistic sports ministry specifically designed for kindergarten through sixth grade boys and girls that promotes salvation, character, and self-esteem in every child.

What can be bad about that? Nothing at first glace. It’s great stuff to promote and instill these values, but I think Upward is going about it the wrong way, even for a ‘learning league.’

The Upward website lists some rules, but Jerry told me that the rules differ slightly. Here is what I was told:

  • Each player on a team is color-coded by a wristband or some other way of easily detectable identification. The color identifies a player’s skill level. Each player can only guard an opposing player with like color.

    I’m not sure I’m down with ‘labeling’ kids.’ It’s not like they can’t figure out if they are exceptional or stink at basketball on their own.

  • No scores are kept, and there are no league standings. “Such standings add unnecessary pressure and intensity.”

    I guess I’m OK with this, it is a ‘learning league,’ but I think there is something important regarding teaching youth healthy competition and how to deal with not always winning or acheiving a desired goal. It’s like that news story I read a while back where teachers are encouraged to grade papers in a purple ink because red ink is such a discouragement. Personally, I think the younger kids are taught how to deal with disappointment and over-coming obstacles, the better. But then again, I’m not a parent.

  • Each child gets to play equal time, and all will have a chance to be in the starting lineup. There are two 18 minute halves, and substitutions are made every six minutes.

    I have no problem with this, especially in a ‘learning league.’

  • “Because the end of a six-minute segment does not signal a change of possession, the team with possession at the end of the six-minute segment will retain possession. As such, there is no need for an “end-of-the-period” shot.”

    I can also deal with this one, but I think the ‘last second shot’ is part of the mistique of basketball.

  • Regardless of performance or outcome, each player is given an award at the end of the game. It is encourage for coaches to make sure each player at the end of the season has a mixed amount of awards.

    Not everyone should go home happy. Sometimes you have to realize you did not play well and you have to go home and work on something. Also, if some kid starts to curse and hits another player, this kid would still get an award. ‘Best Defense’ I guess. Just seems wrong. I’m not a fan of giving everyone an award, because it cheapens accomplishment and devalues hard work. I’m also not a fan of kindergarten graduation – celebrating one year of school at the easiest level. What an accomplishment.

The overall concept of a ‘learning league’ in a Christian atmosphere is a good idea, but I think this should be done without color-coding players and nothing but pat-on-the-backs and awarding players for doing nothing other than showing up. Any who, just my two cents.

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  1. Good post… I used to coach in the Upward League and I agree with some of the points you’re making (the color-coded armband thing is new since I’ve been there).

    Anyway, I think the point of the league is more on the “faith” side rather than the “sports” side. The great part about it is the practices… they are organized, two-part practices with a 15 minute devotional in the middle. This is really where the tire meets the road in my opinion.

    The basketball is just a way to get the kids in the door.

  2. thanks for your two cents, john. one of my best friends also use to coach in this league. unfortunatly the faith side wasn’t the center point regarding the Upward leage he was in in west TX,

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