My husband’s always telling me that our boys are learning great character traits and life lessons from competitive sports. I agree. Today, while listening to the yells of parents and coaches, I noticed some parallels of playing soccer to living life effectively. The spiritual implications were startling. Take a look at the power behind these imperatives:
Be aggressive! Easy for the spectators to say–be aggressive when you’re up against a boy who’s a foot taller than you, who’s pushing you off the ball at every turn and fouling you when the ref’s back is turned. Pretend that you’re fierce when really you’re afraid of getting hurt, getting beat, and making a mistake in front of your peers, your coaches, and a crowd of demanding relatives. What’s aggression, exactly? Forceful, attacking, even hostile behavior, either provoked or unprovoked. Really, when we parents are asking a child to be aggressive, we’re commanding him to assert himself past a comfortable level, into a situation that’s daunting. What parents and coaches are expecting from aggressive play is an out-of-normal life personality expression, like an act of warfare.
Hustle! Go, go, go! Run faster, even though you’ve been sprinting for an hour, back and forth across the field with a soccer ball. Don’t stop moving. If you stand still, you’re going to get beat. You will lose the ball, the advantage, even the opportunity for forward motion and potential scoring. Movement is optimal, even when the outcome is questionable.
Think about what you’re doing! Don’t pass for the sake of movement. Look for the play, for the open teammate, for the opposition. Strategize, but strategize quickly. This skill is best accomplished at practice, because in-game decisions should come intuitively and quickly, like automatic machinery with wheels and cogs working in unison to create a beautiful product. In order to think on your feet, you will need to have taken the time to fill your mind with knowledge and your body with practiced mechanics. Nobody turns genius under extreme pressure.
Teamwork! You’re never alone, even when boxed in by the big kid on the other team, whose large feet jab at your shin guards while he tries to steal the ball from you. Close by, a team member is waiting, calling for the ball, anticipating a pass. In spite of dirty plays and bad calls, a unified team usually triumphs eventually. The player, however, who believes that success rides squarely on his shoulders alone, will rarely triumph.
Switch fields! Sometimes, the path to success is a distance away. It will take foresight and planning to change paths, but the effort will be well-spent. The coast is clear, and a teammate is open, if you just lift up your eyes and see the whole field. It may be hard to give him the ball, but it beats losing the ball where you are. Switching fields involves trusting your team members and sacrificing potential opportunity for yourself in favor of certain opportunity for him.
Talk to each other. Asking for the ball, encouraging a struggling teammate, and coaching one another about position can be awkward. But oh, so necessary. A team that doesn’t talk, doesn’t connect and doesn’t win. Conversing on and off the field promotes accountability and comradery–the basis for personal strength.
Get up! Shake it off! When you fall or get hurt, get over it fast. Get running. Get back in the game. You will make mistakes, even ones that cost the team, like the shot that hits the crossbar or the penalty kick that goes over the goal. A wide open net as you fake out the goalie–only to miss the shot. It’s okay. It happens to everyone. Don’t fall to the ground and cover your head with your hands, like the world has just collapsed. Just get back in the game. Experience is the greatest teacher.
Notice the spiritual implications–
Be aggressive–You have a hostile enemy trying to take you out of the game. Fight the devil with everything you’ve got.
Hustle–Keep fighting, keep moving forward in your spiritual walk. Not hustling means you’re stagnant, which means you’re getting beaten.
Think about what you’re doing–Growing spiritually takes intentionality. It begins in the heart and mind. The good works you do are merely outpourings of the heart. You can only put on good works without godliness for so long before you crash.
Teamwork–Make yourself spiritually accountable. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Become an active, integral part of your local church. Focus on affirming and encouraging, instead of complaining and criticizing.
Switch fields– Go where you see God at work already. Don’t try to cut your own path to spiritual success or attain your own goals, however good they may seem. The only goal worth attaining is the one God has planned for you.
Talk to each other–“Encouragement” is the act of inspiring courage in someone else. Be an encourager. Don’t assume that people know that you care about them. Affirm them and lift them up, even at the expense of perceived personal gain. Advancing others benefits everyone.
Get up! Shake it off–You are going to make spiritual mistakes. Just keep working on what God has called you to do. Make the right choices for the right reasons. Remember, embarrassment comes through expectation; if you are pursuing God’s plan for you rather than other people’s plans, it’s easier to eliminate disappointment. Ironically, spectators and coaches seem to have all the answers for the game’s problems, yet they can’t affect or determine its progress or its outcome. Only competitors can play the game and win. Spectators just watch. They share neither the complete agony nor total exhilaration from its outcome.
So get in the game! You were made to compete.
2 Tim. 2:5, 7–“Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. . . . Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”