With the Olympics beginning this month even the Pope is focusing on sports and athletes. One of the intentions that Pope Francis is asking us to pray for during August is that “sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world.”
Being involved in sports can help us to obtain virtues – self-control, perseverance, integrity and many more. We learn what it means to be a part of a team and how to work together to use our gifts and the gifts of others to obtain the prize. We set goals for ourselves and begin to learn the joy that comes with accomplishment. We do our best and work our hardest, yet sometimes that will not be good enough to win, and that’s often when we will learn the most. These lessons strengthen us and can are applicable to more aspects of life than just sports.
St. John Paul II also saw the value of sports and was an advocate for the spiritual and physical benefits of being involved in athletics. This quote is from a Homily he gave in 1984 at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
“In this age which is so marvelous and so tormented, strive to build a culture of love, a civilization of love! You can contribute to this by sport and by your whole behavior, by all the freshness of your feelings, and by all the seriousness of the discipline which sport can teach you. Live as people who stay friends and brothers and sisters even when you compete for the “crown” of an earthly victor! Shake hands, join your hearts in the solidarity of love and limitless cooperation! Recognize in yourselves, in each other, the sign of the Fatherhood of God and the fraternity in Christ! I trust in the sincerity of your faith and your willingness; I trust in your youth; I trust in your determination to strive beyond the world of sport, for the salvation of modern man, for the coming of those “new heavens” and that “new earth” (2 Pt 3:13) for which all of us are yearning with the ardor of Christian hope.”
As in all things, we must never let sports get in the way of our relationship with God. He is first. If training is getting in the way of your prayer time or games are taking the place of attending Mass, it is time to take a step back and reevaluate your involvement.
Practical tip: Before you start a workout or practice, say a prayer. Ask God to help you build strength and endurance, not only for the sport you are involved in, but also in your spiritual life. A prayer to St. Michael the Archangel will help you and protect you as you compete.
Though you work hard to excel, remember who it is that has given you the gift of being successful in sports. God deserves the glory, not you. Be humble in your accomplishments and use any attention given to you to lead others to Christ. The same is true for your losses and failures. Do not show poor sportsmanship and a bad attitude when things don’t go your way, offer it up for the glory of God.
Practical tip: Look for ways to point others towards God. When people ask “what’s your secret?”, tell them it is a relationship with Christ! Be sure to let others know that your success is because of the Lord, not because of anything you have done. When things don’t go your way, refrain from arguing with coaches, officials, or other players. Trust that God will work it out. Be sure always to say “Thank you” to your coach. Your coach does a lot to help you use your gifts and talents and it is important that you recognize that.
All sports test us, challenge us, and push us to new limits. This is part of the fun and the adventure of athletics! Don’t give up or give in even when you are tired and tempted to quit. Press on with perseverance. Doing so in the physical sense will help drive you when things get difficult in your spiritual life too. Ask God to give you the strength necessary to endure to the finish.
Practical tip: Many athletes write a scripture that inspires them on their shoes (check out Kevin Durant’s customized Bible verse shoes), wristbands or another piece of equipment. Find a verse that inspires you to endure and write it down somewhere you will read it when needed most!
It should go without saying that the Christian athlete must know and play by the rules at all times. Whether you cheat in a game with a sneaky play or in practice when you don’t complete all the laps your coach asks of you, the only person you are really cheating is yourself. Integrity is a virtue that demonstrates that we do more than just believe in Jesus, we live like Him.
Practical Tip: Educate yourself on the rules and regulations of the sport that you play. Being a team player and a good sport are also part of the “rules”. Cheer on your teammates and encourage them to reach their potential. When your opponent makes an outstanding play, don’t be afraid to pay them a compliment and show respect for their talent. You represent Christ on and off the field.
Be disciplined, self-controlled, and willing to make sacrifices. These are the characteristic marks of both the athlete and the Christian. It is discipline that produces results. If you want to be the best, you must practice daily. Though God might give us talent, it is our job to develop it. To whom much is given, much is expected!
Practical tip: Always be willing to “go the extra mile”. If your coach tells you to run one lap, run two just as fast. Be the player with the most hustle – the first to dive after the ball or run back to the huddle. Look for ways to make small sacrifices, like helping the coach clean up after practice, to grow in self-discipline.
St. Christopher and St. Sebastian intercede for our athletes!
Being All In – A powerful talk given by Eric Mahl, former Division I football player who now serves with the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy. Lighthouse Catholic Media distributes this talk and many other great resources.
For a comprehensive list of prayers for athletes, we recommend this free ebook from the University of Notre Dame “God, Be in My Sport”.
Sports Leader offers programs for coaches and athletic directors to help instill values into sports. They focus on “Virtue, Mentoring, Ceremony and Catholic Identity”.
Varsity Catholic is a division of FOCUS that provides Catholic formation for college athletes. Founder Thomas Wurtz also offers additional materials at Faith and Athletics to encourage coaches, athletes, and parents to live out their faith through competitive sports.
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