The pressures for a sportsperson are unique, especially at the top level.
In no other profession, except potentially politics, is your performance at work discussed over meals, dissected by the media and played out for all the world to see. The world of elite sport is a one where you are constantly asking and being asked, “Am I good enough?”
At a slightly lower level the questions still remain. If you were in homes up and down the country every weekend, you would be struck by how ‘high’ those who have won are and how ‘low’ those who have lost feel. For a sportsperson, their identity, their sense of worth can be completely wrapped up in their performance.
Former Premier League footballer Gavin Peacock puts it like this:
“Before I was a Christian, football was my god, so I was up and down according to how I played. When I came to know Jesus, everything changed because Jesus is God and football was in its right place.”
What does it then mean to have sport in its right place, to help our identity be solid and secure in Christ and not based on performance?
Born to Play
If we look at the story of creation in Genesis 1 we see that all people have been created in God’s image. When we look further into what this means in Genesis, we see that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” We see that this was always to be done in relationship with others, just like God has been from the beginning.
As we delve into what it means to be created in God’s image we see we have been made to use our talents, in relationship with others, to glorify God. Sport is one of the ways in which we can reflect God’s image, as we use our talents, the way he was wired us, in relationship with others, to glorify Him.
The Professional Foul
In a broken world though we end up using our talents and relationships to serve ourselves, not God. We see this all the time in sport as people look to use sport to serve themselves, or cheat their way to winning because winning matters more than anything else.
Is this where we have to leave it with sport? Could we just say that sport leads to sin and so is best avoided?
Back in the race
Paul offers us a wonderful alternative in Romans 12.
The challenge is for all of us to live in light of what God has done for us through Jesus and give all that we have – all our talents, all our relationships, back to God in worship. Paul is reminding us that we can worship God anywhere, all the time, in all that we do – which includes sport.
This is wonderfully freeing for the Christian sportsperson. Living in a performance orientated world, the Gospel re-orientates them towards living in light of God’s mercy – his forgiveness which is not dependent at all on how we perform but entirely reliant on God’s love.
Former UK Olympic rower Debbie Flood said:
“It was really important for me to know that however I do in my sport, whether I won or lost, in God’s eyes, he doesn’t see me any differently.”
With our identity in Christ secure, there is now a freedom to compete as an act of worship, as we seek to live as people created in God’s image, with a desire to share this amazing news with others where God has placed us – for sportspeople in their clubs and teams.