WHY SOCCER? (Or, why fill-in-the-blank of any other activity for our kids)
I often get asked, as I imagine a lot of other classical educators do, “Why Latin?” The question is usually politely asked, but the unasked question behind the question is usually something more like, “What will my kid ever use that for?”
Before I get too far into answering that, I’d like to ask a question too, if I may: why soccer? It doesn’t have to be soccer per se, but you can insert any other activity that your child is involved in if they don’t happen to be soccer players. Why____? You can insert band, cross country, basketball, etc. Let’s ask the unasked question too: what will your kid ever use that for? It seems to me that parents do not drive their kid to scores of practices and games a year, make snacks for the team, book hotel rooms for travel tournaments, sign their kid up for specialty camps, do countless loads of smelly laundry, and sit outside in all manner of weather because they have a reasonable expectation that their kid is actually going to use soccer skills someday for a livelihood. Sure, there are the elite level athletes who will go on to gain a scholarship to play at the college level, and from there become semi-pro or even professional soccer players. But with millions of kids in the United States who play soccer every year, the statistics aren’t in your kid’s favor to become a professional soccer player.
Well, no, you say, I never expected that my kid would be a professional athlete, and neither did he. It’s not likely he will ever really need to use the skills he learns in playing soccer. He probably won’t be asked how many saves he made on a job interview, or to demonstrate his footwork. He has done hours and hours of conditioning, ball handling, passing, throwing in-bounds, diving for saves, but not because those particular skills will be of practical use to him someday in a way that will contribute to the betterment of his life or society. No, our kids play soccer because there are other reasons kids plays soccer.
For instance, kids play soccer because it teaches them the benefit of hard work, personal discipline, winning graciously, and losing with dignity. Kids play soccer because it teaches them that being part of something where you have to work as a team can be valuable, even if that means sitting on the bench. Playing soccer teaches kids that their integrity is revealed in the most difficult moments, and sometimes, your parents are watching when that happens. Playing soccer also teaches kids to balance their time wisely with homework, youth group, family, and play. It also teaches them to be coachable, and to be respectful even when they don’t like the call. It teaches them that there are rules, they must be followed, and sometimes you don’t win when you should have.
Learning Latin is, in some ways, akin to playing soccer. That is, while lovers of Latin will argue (convincingly) that there are skills and applications of Latin that we use in everyday life, there are also numerous intangibles to learning Latin too. Mental discipline, language acquisition, organization, and memorization are just a few things that students learn within the construct of learning Latin. Latin provides a framework that is applicable in various ways to other languages. Latin teaches us to think carefully about language, how it is formed, and its application. It broadens our vocabulary and enables us to express the subtle and sublime in a way we may not have been able to do otherwise.
There are other benefits, and Latin linguaphiles have written much better and more thoroughly than I can do.
But before we glare at Latin suspiciously and wonder what it’s for, we may want to remember that we see the value in intangible lessons all the time. Because soccer is part of our general culture, we just don’t ask the question anymore.
In His service and for His glory!