– motto of the 4HG organization
The quest to provide impactful support for our fellow Catholics is never ending. Our Association is constantly seeking after novel opportunities that promote the faith and encourage Catholic schools and students.
When we were invited to this latest opportunity, we thought it was truly a touchdown. Catholic United Financial has teamed up with Matt Birk, Super Bowl champion and former Minnesota Viking, to sponsor his Catholic schools athletics initiative called For His Glory (www.4hg.co). The ministry is a self-described “movement” to encourage every student to rediscover the fun in sports and establish a culture of sport/life balance. The organization’s credo card reads, “…the family is central and sports should fit around the family, not vice versa.”
Birk, a fellow Catholic United member, is leading the charge through For His Glory (also known as 4HG) to help get kids and families into school sports without sacrificing the rest of their lives to its pursuit.
“When I retired from football I began being more involved with my kids’ sports and paying more attention. I noticed that ‘Wow – this youth sports thing is pretty intense!’ It’s pretty much year-round now, and you feel like [kids] have to do it year-round to be competitive,” Birk told Our Catholic Journey.
Birk says he was not an especially talented youth athlete, but he remembers childhood sports were a place to have fun and to belong. What he found as a parent was a sports culture obsessed with total commitment and with victory. Parents and students were stressed out, spread too thin and not having any fun.
“I was feeling the pain a lot of parents feel that this isn’t right. It’s becoming way too big a part of our lives.”
Looking at the statistics of the youth sports landscape, Birk discovered that 75 percent of youth athletes drop out of organized sports by the time they reach middle school. “It’s because they aren’t having any fun,” he says. “I wasn’t a great athlete – that’s why I was a lineman – but there was always a place to play. I don’t think that’s the way it is anymore.”
Birk took his concerns to the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (www.CSCOE-MN.org), a private initiative within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis whose mission is helping Catholic schools and principals increase enrollment and enhance excellence. He proposed that reclaiming sports in Catholic schools would provide not only the lifelong benefit of teamwork, but also promote another benefit of a faith-based, Catholic education.
“When you put yourself out there and you succeed and fail, there’s room for spiritual growth,” Birk says. “CSCOE liked [the idea] and thankfully Catholic United got behind it. Now we’re looking back on our first year.”
And what a year it’s been. According to Birk, almost 90 percent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese are involved with For His Glory in some way. The ministry begins with outreach to the principals and the athletic directors, talking up-front about changing the attitudes surrounding sports competition at the grade-school level. Birk advises these key figures to communicate to the coaches, parents and other stakeholders a new set of beliefs about sports, participation, and effort being prized over result. From there, each school chooses its own level of involvement in the program.
Former Minnesota Viking Matt Birk addresses coaches and principals at the 4 His Glory conference in March 2019
Catholic United President Harald Borrmann explains the Association decided to be the sole sponsor of 4 His Glory because the program’s purpose is complementary, and because it could be a model for other dioceses going forward.
“What Matt’s trying to do here is get everyone to take a step back and consider what we’re actually trying to accomplish with Catholic grade school athletics,” Borrmann says. “Our mission is to promote Catholic religious education, and For His Glory refocuses students, their parents and their administrators on the spiritual development and family values that athletics can reinforce.”
In other words, Catholic education shouldn’t sacrifice its core values on the altar of competition. Through cooperation, those values can be reinforced and proliferated.
When schools express interest in implementing a 4HG culture in their school, the ministry provides posters and other swag of professional Catholic athletes. The balanced message communicated by these stand-out athletes is that sports in themselves are rewarding. According to Birk, if you want to change the culture you need to establish and adopt core beliefs. For His Glory asks student athletes, parents and coaches to take a pledge which focuses on effort, teamwork and honoring God.
Birk says that the partnership with Catholic United Financial has been an ideal match. “They’re on board with the mission and it’s never been ‘how are we going to get value out of this,’” Birk says. “It’s very much been ‘This is good what you’re doing, it’s good for Catholic schools, so let us help.’” On March 15, dozens of principals and athletic directors from Catholic schools in the Archdiocese met at St. Joseph Parish in West St. Paul, Minn. It was a first ever conference of For His Glory participants to share stories, best practices and brainstorm for the upcoming year. “A lot of people want their kids to have the opportunity to play sports, but at third grade, they can’t commit to four nights a week and every weekend,” Birk says. “Most parents just want a great youth sports experience. Catholic schools can become known for that and this could be a great thing for enrollment because it might factor into a parent’s decision.”
With the backing of Catholic United, the organization of CSCOE, and the energy and inspiration of Birk to lead, For His Glory is poised to transform sports culture in the Archdiocese. “I can’t tell you how many parents have literally stopped me and said ‘We love what you’re doing and want to be involved’. [For His Glory] tapped into a pain a lot of people feel,” Birk says. “There’s CSCOE, there’s me, there’s Catholic United Financial – we’re all about the same thing which is to serve and help the Catholic Church and faith. When your spirits are aligned, it’s pretty easy to do good things. Eventually, those good things lead to big things.” Visit www.4HG.co to learn more about this exciting initiative.