How I Teach My Kids To Deceive

Grandpa Swait (my dad) bought our kids a sweet basketball hoop for the driveway. The kids play basketball all day now, and L'il Joffre, the six-year-old, has especially made progress with both his ball-handling and shooting. We played two-on-two yesterday. I lined up, at 6'9" with my five-year-old, who for his age is the smallest of the Swaits. The eight-year-old and six-year old went up against us.

We played two games, and I made each kid cover me for one of the games. Everyone had a blast, and of course (of course of course) I took it easy on them, and passed a lot. There were a couple of things I had no mercy on, however, particularly with Joffre, who's more focused on the court than the others at this point. Whenever I checked ball I tried to pass the ball off to little Georgie, and Joffre started cheating over into the passing lane while leaving me with a wide open path to the basket. I told him what he was doing and proceeded to drive in for a lay-up every time he gave into temptation and left me. He finally beat the habit when I started outrageously ball-faking a pass and made him look silly as he would take a couple of big steps toward George and stumble as he realized I still had the ball and was going to drive in for a lay-up.

I used basketball terminology and told him to stop "cheating" into the passing lane, that he ought to show me "respect" and play "honest" defense.

And then suddenly I worried. I've been very proud so far of how Joffre has behaved on the court. He's aggressive and ambitious, while being kind to his teammates and a good sport with his opponents. Last year it frustrated him to no end that he couldn't even hit the rim when he shot the ball, but he never lost his enthusiasm for the game, maintaining his aggression and learning to contribute in every other facet of the game. I think he put one bucket in toward the end of the year, and he was over the moon about it. As you can tell, I'm very proud of how he's behaved on the court so far.

The court, as so many before me have said, is a microcosm of your world, or we could say, a magnified view of who you are. If you've learned to hide your selfishness at school, it'll come out on the court. If you've quietly been learning to be more confident in the classroom, you won't play like "the shy kid".

The temptation for "good kids" is to be legalistic and self-righteous. Our kids haven't shown us anything particularly worrisome in that area, but I think that for the next few years that would be more of a danger, than, say, them becoming playground bullies.

So as I told Joffre to be "honest", I began to worry about the moral weight of the words I was using. I have taught all the kids that there is moral weight to how they play, but it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't want Joffre to start thinking that deceit wasn't a vital and good part of sporting competition.

Once I thought about it I realized that, at least for now, that won't be an issue. I faked the kid out of his socks enough times that he'll remember it. Besides, the whole reason we'd all gone out there in the first place was so that I could work on their crossover dribble move into a drive to the basket. I talked about leading the defender one way, then suddenly switching directions and attacking. I talked about manipulating your opponent. And they relished the idea.

Which is how I want it. I want my kids to hate cheating, and hate lying. But when they play at war, I want them to understand the role of deception. The whole point of the game (note, please, that I'm not speaking of the reason for playing, I'm talking about the point of the game; we could be talking about Risk) is to create an artificial environment in which we can make mock war on each other. And deception, yes, lying, is a part of that.

[caption id="attachment_9134" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption=""All right, guys, I need you to go down there and TRICK those other little kids. Got it?""][/caption]

Like the midwives lying to Pharaoh. Abraham lying to protect Sarah. Isaac lying to protect Rebecca. Rahab lying to the men of Jericho. Or Jael lying at the battlefield. Even Tamar's lie to Judah in order to redeem the inheritance he had lied to keep from her is lauded in Scripture. Also laudable is a civilian lying to Nazi soldiers about the Jews he's hiding.

But of course, sports are not actually war. We're just playing a game, right? Well, we're playing a game, but we're not "just" playing a game. And I'm not saying that the point of sports is to train for war. Sports and games are supposed to be fun, which training for war is not. But we're not "just" playing a game; we're participating in a ritualized mock war, in which our character is tested in many ways. It is this moral weight, which we may be only subconsciously aware of, which make us invest in, for example, teaching concepts like fair play.
In football, everything is as level as you can make it. If one team is not allowed to clip, the other team is not allowed to do so. If one team has four plays to make a first down, the other team doesn’t get six attempts. From this, too many Christians have concluded that if the Pharisees don’t get to call Jesus demon-possessed, then we shouldn’t be able to call the man living among the tombs demon-possessed. But in warfare, and in life, there is a little matter called the truth. And there is also an important question about whether or not there is a condition of war. Deception is in war what killing is in war. (Douglas Wilson)

Fair play is an integral part of sports. I am actively teaching my kids how to play fairly, and how to treat both teammates and opponents well during games. But within the framework of the game, it's war, and deception is a part of it.
In a condition of war, deception is not the kind of lying we just noted. It is not a sin to paint your tank to look like a bush when it is in fact not a bush. But you are deceiving the enemy pilots .

We could make a very long list [of saints who were praised for deception in Scripture] if we wished. We want to be righteous, not over-scrupulous.

The issue is God’s law. Those who won’t deceive when God’s law requires it are likely to be the same ones who will lie when His law forbids it. (ibid.)

All sorts of tangents present themselves. We could talk about just war, chivalry, or even conflict between Christians. But we won't. We'll stick to ball-fakes. Figuring that out will help my kids when questions of war, chivalry, or even conflict between Christians present themselves to them when they're older.

On the basketball court it is not righteous to be the guy who hooks his defender when he's driving. You might be able to get away with it, but it's a foul. But it would be over-scrupulous to refuse to throw up a ball-fake and cause someone to foul you.

It may seem to some that I'm making much of something that shouldn't even be that big a deal. Of course it's okay to fake someone out, it might be said, that's just part of the game. And of course it's not okay to lie. Everyone knows these things.

But not everyone knows these things. There is very little that your children know that hasn't been taught to them by somebody. "It's just part of the game" is lazy. When your kid grows up, he'll see that everyone else at the office kisses up to the boss and gossips a bit about their rivals, it's just part of the game. Will he know what to do? Pushing off and hooking is a part of the game. So is undercutting and holding. And people get away with it all the time. How will he know if it's legitimate?

You must always have a reason why. God prohibited false witness. There's a why for that. The lake of fire is reserved for liars. There's a why for that. God praised the Hebrew midwives. There's a why for that. You should know those whys.

And don't think you won't be asked. Don't think it won't occur to a kid that there's a strange tension between "don't be a liar" and "be a ball-faker". And if you can't explain that to them, they might have a little trouble with justifying the midwives' lies. Which might mean they have a little trouble justifying the justifier of those lies.



  1. Excellent thoughts! Remind me of them again in about 4 years.

  2. Great post! Playing sports and games well and honorably with good attitudes prepares children for all sorts of situations both in childhood and as they become adults - it's like practice for life. It's so important for them to receive good teaching while they're playing because those are true life lessons!


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