Upward Sports: Christian Development in Competition

Recreational leagues have been a longstanding tradition in the American church. Just like youth ministries or Vacation Bible School, Christian sports leagues are designed to engage believers and their families in a way that a traditional church format may not. Not every church has the ability to run their own recreational leagues and create a program for success. That’s where an organization like Upward Sports can come in handy.

History of Upward Sports

Created in the mid-90’s, Upward Sports is an organization that saw a need for Christian sports leagues that are easily replicable.


As anyone who has ever played in a church rec league can tell you, they are not all the same. Depending on what church you go to or who is running the league, these can vary from highly successful leagues to a very barebones after-school activity.


Any program that is getting kids to interact at the church is better than there not being a league, but some churches do recreational activities better than others.


This kind of dichotomy is how Upward Sports came to be founded. Caz McCaslin was running a basketball league in South Carolina in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The program incorporated themes like teamwork and respect for authority. After experiencing big success, the league quickly became too large for one gym to contain.


In 1995, Upward launched its first season on a national scale with seven churches participating in basketball leagues. Reaching hundreds of players in the first year alone, the organization quickly expanded across the country. Upward quickly added soccer and cheerleading to its programs, introducing them to even more kids and parents.


Today, the organization has exploded across the globe. Clinics and recreational leagues can be found in South Africa, Canada, Ukraine, and a host of other countries. The sports have also grown more diverse as flag football, volleyball, baseball, and softball have joined their earlier programs.


Over 1,000 churches have participated in Upward events and more than half a million kids have donned their uniforms.

Upward Sports: Christian Development in Competition

Why Should My Child Participate in Christian Sports Programs?

Parents may be thinking “My son already attends church with us twice a week and goes to church camp, why is this so important?” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with participating in school athletics or a traveling competitive team, Christian sports leagues give your child the chance to interact with the church in a fun, exciting way.


Instead of thinking about church as simply a place where he or she has to dress up nicely and sit quiet for 2 hours, Christian athletics offer an outlet for kids to have a good time and let loose.


Upward Sports and other similar programs usually take place in a local church, so it can also be a good witnessing opportunity for you and your kids to interact with the community.


There are also many pressures, influences, and temptations when it comes to non-Christian leagues. In many sports, kids are starting to get recruited in 7th or 8th grade. Earning a college scholarship for playing a sport is fantastic, but you or your child may not want to get caught up in the drama.


Another area where a church league or Upward could be beneficial is that the environment is safer. That may sound like parental paranoia, but you can rest assured more easily if you know your kid is playing soccer at church rather than at a complex in a bad part of town.


The people involved in Christian sports programs are more likely going to be positive influences for your kids as well. Coaches, referees, and players all come with different attitudes, demeanors and philosophies, but a church league is a safe bet for mild-mannered people.


Don’t forget the costs associated with kids playing sports. Many competitive teams come with fees for gear and/or travel, whereas Christian sports often have a minor registration fee that covers administrative tasks and a jersey.

The Upward System

Now that we’ve gone over what makes Christian leagues a good fit, let’s talk about how Upward Sports does things.


Upward Sports is a group that is dedicated to teaching the basics to kids from kindergarten to their senior year of high school. While teaching the sport at hand, the leagues also address the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork. In basketball, this may work by ranking the players according to skill level and spreading them evenly across the league. This eliminates those teams that are the same every year and dominate because they always have the best players.


Players are also given playing time no matter what their skill level is. There’s nothing worse than being that one kid who rides the bench all game, only to see playing time when the team is up 30 points. It’s hard to blame a coach for playing their best players more often than not, but an organization like Upward Sports allows for everyone to have a chance.


As far as coaches go, they are asked to deliver devotionals from time to time and to be of upstanding character. Everyone is different, but Upward Sports encourages their coaches to excel by providing materials for them to be a great influence on and off the court.


Upward’s curriculum is designed to engage kids of each age bracket differently. Younger children learn the basics of the game and how to be good teammates. As players get older, there is more focus on finding a role on the field and thinking about the future. The organization tries to train kids to be better people, instead of just good athletes.


This isn’t to say that Upward is just a “participation trophy” league. There’s also a program called Upward Stars. These leagues are considered more competitive and feature coaches that are more experienced. If your child plays volleyball or basketball and wants a serious challenge, these programs offer a chance to play at a highly competitive level.


No matter what kind of team your kids play for, it’s important that they prioritize their lives around the things that matter. Becoming a more developed believer is much more important than a free throw percentage. Treating others with respect is a better attribute than having a blazing fastball.


At the K-LOVE Fan Awards, we recognize the importance of sports in the culture as well as our daily lives. That’s why we honor coaches and athletes that have made a difference in the world each and every year. With past winners like Benjamin Watson, Steph Curry, and Adam LaRoche, there are plenty of athletes serving as role models in the world today.


To find out how you can attend the K-LOVE Fan Awards, click on the link below.

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