Athleticism at its best, much like Christianity at its best, becomes about growing communally in discipline and humility. Unfortunately, both ideologies can easily lead to an isolationistic competitive pride that communicates to others, outside of ourselves, that they are ‘less than’. Less than us in the ‘in-crowd’ with more knowledge and experience of the given subject. Although Athleticism and Christianity both have the potential to produce the individualistic mindset, at their best they encourage communal growth in discipline in humility, as demonstrated by both scriptural teaching and the necessary traits for a successful athlete.
Without discipline, an athlete will have no skill. Imagine a man who decides he wants to become a professional boxer. If this same man does nothing but binge watch Netflix and eat junk food, he will never become even an amateur boxer. He must make conscious decisions to practice throwing a punch and going to the gym. Likewise, a Christian who wants to grow closer to God, who does nothing but binge watch Netflix and eat junk food, will never grow closer to God, unless by miraculous intervention. Scripture very clearly states that all discipline seems unpleasant when it is happening but that “later…it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who [practice it]” (Hebrews 12.11). The undisciplined Christian must make a conscious choice to read the Bible, pray, and develop habits of discipline that grow him in an awareness of God, throughout his daily life.
Similarly, this discipline in both areas is best done in community. In certain sports, it is necessarily done so, yet, even in individualistic sports, professional athletes depend on coaches and fellow athletes to help them grow. This is no different for the Christian. The writer of Hebrews advises that we “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10.24-25). Christians are also to remember “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm, 133.1). Amid fierce competition and hardship, we should remember the blessing of community that we have been given and strive and encourage build one another up. Christians look to one another for support and understanding the midst of struggles. Fellow athletes likewise function at their best, when they seek to help each other overcome struggles.
This mindset however is often eroded by fear and pride in both Christian and Athletic circles. Christians and athletes alike easily slip into judgmentally comparing their own performance with others. Yet for both to function well, they must be able to humbly approach another in order to both ask and receive help. This becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, when everyone is judgmentally comparing their own performance with others, in an effort to improve their own, which will always ultimately fail. Scripture tells us that as we help others, “in the same way the spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8.26). Without humility, communal discipline becomes impossible.