It's about that time of year and I know a lot of you are struggling mentally right now with your sport. I know this because I found myself there a good bit throughout my time in college.
Let's set the scene:
It's the middle of your season or the heart of your preseason.
You're not starting, not playing a lot, or not performing as well as you'd like.
And to some, this might not seem like that big of a deal. But to you, this is devastating.
You've spent your entire life dedicated to this sport, and frankly, you've always been one of the best players or runners or athletes on your team and in your community. You've never not played, or not started, or gone this long not performing well.
To make things worse, the sole reason that you choose your university, picked up your life and moved it to this new town, and left your family and friends behind, was to play this sport and to do it well.
Your mission is to make your family, friends, and community back home proud.
And now that you're not doing this, you feel like a failure. Your confidence is gone, not only during practices or games but also throughout your entire day.
You may even know that "your sport doesn't define you," but it sure feels like it does.
You feel less than your teammates and friends who are succeeding. You hate when outsiders ask you about how the season is going. And, if you're like me, you even felt like a failure to the Lord.
For me, I couldn't escape this feeling of remorse and confusion towards the Lord.
Sometimes I would take responsibility for not succeeding in my sport and I would feel like I was wasting a gift God had blessed me with.
He had made me with amazing athletic abilities and had given me the opportunity to play in college, yet I wasn't doing great things with it.
Other times, I would blame Him for my letdowns.
Why would he give me this opportunity and take me to this team, if I wasn't going to succeed? Why aren't things going my way?
Well, if you're experiencing either of these feelings or a mixture of both, then I'd like to share some advice I learned from the Lord during my senior season.
1. God is way more concerned about your sanctification than your success.
How do you get stronger and grow your muscles? You have to challenge your muscles and put them under a certain amount of stress and make them uncomfortable. Then, the fibers of the muscle rip and tear. Finally, the body repairs these damages by fusing them, which increases their size and strength.
This is the perfect metaphor for how we, the body of Christ, grow stronger and mature.
James talks about this in his book, sharing that we should:
"Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:1-4)
If you're constantly comfortable and never tested, then you will never grow – grow as an athlete, as a person, as a sister or brother, as a future employee, and most importantly, as a disciple of the Lord.
So, sometimes we need to experience failure and setbacks in order to make our next advancement in life.
2. The Lord does not love you any less when you fail or any more when you succeed.
If the Lord can love us through our sin, then He will definitely love us through our failures.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
Sports would fall into the "anything else in all creation" category here. Therefore, our performance will never separate us from the love of our God.
3. God is always working for the good.
Although our successes don't earn us more love in the eyes of the Lord, He still does want us to succeed and to be happy. God, our almighty FATHER, loves to give us good gifts. Matthew reminds us of this in his book:
"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11)
Our God is a good and loving Father. At the end of the day, He does want us to be joyful and prosper. It might be hard to see how that will be possible right now, but we must have faith that He is working for the good of His Kingdom and His children.
4. Your sport is not your identity.
Being an athlete is a huge part of who you are, but it is not who you are.
When you put your self-worth on precarious things, such as your sport, you will always experience harsh highs and lows with your emotions and confidence. So, the only way to have stable self-confidence is to put our identity into something stable. And, the Bible tells us that there is only one constant thing in this life – The Lord.
When we put our identity in Him, we learn that we are children of God and that we are created with a purpose.
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)
I challenge you to attack each day with the goal of not only being the best athlete you can be, but to be the best representative of the body of Christ that you can be on your team, at your campus, and in your community.
Finally, I want to address a common mentality that I heard a lot during my college athletic career. A big saying amongst my team concerning frustrations with playing time and performance was "accept your role."
I truly admired my friends who were able to take this attitude in stride and be awesome teammates.
But honestly, I despised this statement.
I was not going to be content with sitting on the sidelines or not performing well. I wanted to be on that field playing my best game for my team.
So, in order to fuel my fire to improve my circumstances while also still being a good teammate and not a Debby-downer wrapped in selfishness, I approached each day with this motto:
Don't be satisfied but be hopeful and be grateful.
There is always room for improvement, and I wanted to work to enhance my game each day. But at that same time, I had to remember all that I had been blessed with, such as being healthy to play and getting the opportunity to play, as well as remember that good things will come.
A former athlete who struggled with performance, playing time, and confidence