Guys Play Sports

Photo by Aline de Nadai

I can't play basketball. I really can’t.  In fact, I have trouble with all sports requiring hand-eye-ball coordination. It’'s embarrassing to show it (especially as a boy from Kentucky), but also embarrassing just to say it.

Why? Basketball is only one sport among many enjoyed by kids and adults everywhere. So why does it matter so much?  Because I’m supposed to play it, at least with some kind of proficiency.  It’'s a guy thing.

I remember starting my first youth ministry summer internship years ago with the intense fear that the guys in the youth group would want to play basketball with me. I just knew that as soon as it was revealed that I couldn’t play, my ministry would be over.  No court cred, no relational cred (and this was a mostly white suburban group).  Trying to be proactive, I advertised myself as a runner (which was at least true) and started an early morning running group.  This gave me slight proof that I was some kind of athlete, but I have to admit I carried that fear of having to prove myself on the basketball court all summer long (and well into my youth ministry career).

As we talk about in this month’s first article on adolescent guys, there’s a subtext in “Guyland” that talking about and participating in sports is simply what it means to be a guy.  Sociologist Michael Kimmel concludes after hundreds of interviews with young men, “Guys like sports because it’s the easiest way to choose “guy” over “gay”—and make sure everyone else gets the right idea about them.” ((Michael Kimmel, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (San Francisco: Harper, 2008), 128.))  If you can prove you love (and actually play) sports, you’'re a real guy.  And if you can’t play, well, you’'re out.  In many of our youth ministries, that subtext lives loud and strong.

We make some suggestions in the article, but I’m curious what other thoughts you have about how we’ve perpetuated these and other stereotypes in ministry with guys, and what ideas you have for creating an alternative way forward for thinking about and ministering to young men.

And when some guy like me shows up in your youth ministry who can’'t play basketball, what happens next?