Wednesday, July 21, 2010

True Identity

Below is an article written by Mike McElroy. Mike is a senior strong safety for Southern Illinois University Football (American Football). A few weeks ago I gave him a copy of “Real Joy – Freedom To Be Your Best” by John Ashley Null. Mike devoured the book and was soon anxious to discuss his insights regarding performance based identity among people in sport. Shortly after a lunch meeting and discussion, Mike emailed me this article. I hope it will inspire your heart as it did mine. People like Mike are the future of ministry in sport.

True Identity

What is your identity? Once more, what is your primary identity? The thing that defines you and if taken away you would be lost without it. Are you Kyle the sprinter, Kim the setter, Ryan the point guard, James the student? What happens if that identity is suddenly taken from you, do you become obsolete and worthless? So many times athletes put their identity in their sport, letting it control them and mold them. As Christians we are called to make God our primary identity, and let Him mold and control us. With an identity other than God we sometimes feel like we are on a roller coaster with extreme highs and lows. We constantly feel pressure to perform, especially if we claim it to be our identity.

If your primary identity is Ryan the point guard and you fail to produce points or assists people will no longer associate you with that identity. Then you must go looking for something else to identify with. See how this can lead to trouble? If all our self-worth comes from our performance we become slaves to outcomes. Great performances leave us on top of the world while poor outcomes leave us feeling alone and weak. If we identify with God first and make all other things secondary identities we become so much more stable. The outcomes of events can no longer take us on extreme highs and lows. In Deuteronomy 31:6 He promises to always be there through victories and defeats and that no matter the outcome He will never leave. We never have to worry about finding a new identity.

One of the main fears most athletes have with making God their primary identity is the loss of control. As competitive people we are taught from a young age that if you want something YOU have to work for it. If I want to get stronger I have to work out more. If I want to run faster I have to run more sprints. We love being able to control our outcomes and manipulate situations so that we win. That’s why Gods call for submission is so hard, when it shouldn’t be. It is almost too simple for us to comprehend. All we have to do is ask for it, He has already done the work. Submitting and living for Him is the only work we have to do. The issue comes with giving up all control and letting Him, not self, lead.

Having sport as your primary identity leads to decay in three areas. There is spiritual decay where our source of joy comes from our performance. How we feel and who we are gets tied in with the awards we achieve or the games and meets won or lost. It also leads to emotional decay. The friends we surround ourselves with start enjoying our company because of our status on the team. Our self-worth is based upon performance, and we are social butterflies after wins. While bad performances leave us feeling the need to fill the void, or looking for other outlets to get the bad taste out of our mouth. Finally, relationships become affected. The friends we have are there thanks to our athletic prowess so we know them and communicate on a superficial level. If God is our primary identity then He is our sense of joy and that will never change, because He is never changing. Emotionally we know that He is in control and there is no need to stress over uncontrollable circumstances or wins and losses. He also shows us how to be relational with people. We model our lives after His and our friendships become real and affectionate instead of simple and superficial.

To be successful on the field or in life one must be goal driven. When the goals are ours and not God’s we often run into trouble. We often set and run after selfish goals and in doing so we equip ourselves with blinders, blocking out all “distractions” to reach this goal. This leaves, in its wake, relationships with friends, families and most important God. With our mind firmly fixed on our goal God feels distant and we feel a sense of abandonment or emptiness, especially if the goal is not reached. This is not how it is meant to be, God wants us to compete and be successful in attaining our goals. To achieve our goals we must draw even closer to Him than normal, He is the only one who can give us strength and help us achieve. So set lofty goals in life and on the field making Him your primary identity and reap the blessings from it. As athletes remember that we are given our talents for one purpose, to reflect Gods light and share Him with the world. We are given a spectacular platform to share Him in locker rooms, media interactions, classrooms and beyond. We need Him to be our primary identity, while sports and other hobbies become secondary. Your gifts are given to glorify Him, not self. That being said, go out and compete with a pure heart in doing so win others for Christ.

Friday, July 16, 2010

News Conference Announcement

In keeping with the recent trend of self-aggrandizing and drama filled personal news conferences to announce one’s career decisions, on August 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm CDT (8:00 is Roger’s bedtime) Roger Lipe will be announcing the decision Roger has reached regarding his mediocre and overexposed career in sport. Though unencumbered by championships, MVP awards or other achievements, Roger feels he deserves your undying loyalty, fawning respect and ridiculous financial remuneration.

Roger has been speaking of himself in third person all day and has contacted all the major media in order to give them a chance to cover this most important event (exclusively if the price is right): ESPN, CNN, the Carbondale Times and such are in the running.

Roger will be announcing his decision between the following rivals for the acquisition of my considerable and certainly overrated skills:

• Roger may announce that Roger will forego his final four years of eligibility for NCAA Basketball in order to make himself eligible for the NBA Draft. (Roger would be the best 54 year old, short, slow, white player available.)

• Roger may announce that he is a free agent and available to NFL Football as Head Get-back Coach, Get-back Quality Control Coach or, if the compensation package is agreeable, Assistant Get-back Coach for a guaranteed Super Bowl contending team.

• Roger may announce that Roger is ready to finally allow the St. Louis Cardinals to have his services and to replace their rather mediocre first baseman, Albert What’s-His-Name.

• Roger may even announce that Roger will stay in Carbondale. Roger may decide to grace his wife with his continuing presence, to remain in the employ of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for another sixteen years and to forestall the horrible sense of loss and grief which this community would suffer if Roger should leave. (Roger is sure this sense of unimaginable loss would last for at least five to ten seconds.)

Bids for media sycophants (serious journalists and those who can think for themselves need not apply) to buy exclusive rights to the news conference, or as we prefer to call it, “Roger is Special” media event can be sent to: Roger is Special / #1 Arrogance Way / Carbondale, IL 62901.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Don't Act Like a Fan!

In November of 2003 I spoke with Andrew Wingfield Digby, for over twenty years the chaplain to the British Cricket national team, and asked him about particular attitudes a sports chaplain should be careful of and he said, “Never act like a fan.” That statement resonated with me and has become a very important part of my approach to ministry in sport.
Let’s pursue that a little further by thinking about the actions and attitudes of fans. Let’s go one more step and think about why those actions and attitudes are detrimental to our ministry with sportspeople. I’ll take the risk that some of us may take offense to these thoughts.
Fans are only interested in results. They know what the point spread should be for the game and are critical if their team doesn’t win by enough points to cover the spread (and to cover their wagers). They give no thought to the processes which lead to the results, nor do they value them.

Fans wear their team’s gear with their favorite player’s name on the back. They identify so strongly with that player that they wear his/her name on their backs and often sycophantically endorse every attitude, action and behavior associated with the player.

Fans blow vuvuzelas. Enough said.

Fans seek autographs from players. Sometimes at the most private moments of a player’s life, fans will interrupt and demand an autograph. Many high profile players seek some privacy with family and friends only to have fans barging in to get them to scribble on a cap, a scorecard, a ball, an arm or something even more personal.

Fans want to pose for photos with players. Before, after or even during games fans will ask to pose for photos with players. They have no idea of the mental preparation, the attention to detail and the focus for competition which they’re interrupting by asking for the photo. In post-game situations that may include the processing of the pain of loss and other feelings which have the player at less than his or her best.

Fans fantasize that they could actually play the game. Hopefully we’re close enough to the court, field or pitch to realize that most of us are not even 20% athletic enough or skilled enough to compete with those we serve. A healthy amount of humility is required to work well with competitors and coaches and to keep our attitudes in check.

Fans criticize players’ performances. Sports talk radio, chat boards, bars and coffee shops are crowded with sports fans who are critical of their team’s players’ performances as measured against their expectations, their salaries or their profile. Worse still are those who become critical of players based on their performance as Christian athletes. They judge the players’ lifestyles, their relationships, their tattoos, their hair styles, their behavior on and off the field of competition and the amount of “religious” language they hear from the players in interviews. If they don’t perform their religious duty well enough, fans become critical and even question the validity of their faith in Christ.
Chaplain, Sports Mentor, Character Coach, whatever you call yourself – please don’t act like a fan! Rather, invest your life, your heart and your time in the lives of those whom you serve. Share the love of Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit with them. Rather than seeking anything for yourself, give yourself away. Rather than criticizing their performance, religious, sporting or otherwise, encourage their hearts and challenge them to be all Christ has called them to be. Value the process of development in their whole lives over the results from the most recent competition and you’ll be on the right track.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Amateurism vs. Professionalism

The world of sport often finds itself conflicted between its two broadest divisions and standards of ethics. In the USA we see it most clearly when contrasting NCAA Basketball during March Madness and the National Basketball Association during its Playoffs. We see it when we compare College Football (American Football) at any level and the National Football League. The whole world is seeing it in the comparisons made between World Cup Football (Soccer) and that of professional football played in the Premier League, the Bundesliga or any other system around the globe. The contrast between amateur sport and professional sport is often striking and very important for us who serve those who live in these various systems.

Many people speak sentimentally (and may I say naively) about amateur sport and pretend that all its players, coaches and administrations have the purest of motives and intentions in everything. This is certainly not a consistently true perspective. In much of amateur sport there is plenty of ambition, drive, cheating, envy and pride to sully the sport’s image. Possibly the major difference between amateurism and professionalism is that in pro sports, there is not even an illusion of such nobility. In many cases the “win at all costs” ethic is not only obvious, but openly stated. Much of professional sport’s value is measured in terms of the sum of salaries paid, the economic impact on a local community or the influence of the club on the local culture.

Sadly, the longer one competes and the more one achieves in sport, the more likely he or she is to experience the worst ethics in sporting life. At each incrementally higher level of sport one normally begins to see more and more degradation of the experience while at the same time finding that the system increasingly rewards selfishness, arrogance and individualism.

At its best amateur sport values these things:

• Teamwork

• Personal development

• Honor among competitors

• Fair play

• Respect for team leaders, coaches, officials, etc.

At its best professional sport values these things:

• Excellence in preparation and performance

• Acquisition of the best players for one’s team

• Accountability

• Individual achievement

At their worst both amateur and professional sport values these things:

• Individual achievement over one’s team goals

• Winning as the highest value

• “It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught.”

• Selfish attitudes

• Star players over coaches

We who represent Christ Jesus in the world of sport must be stewards of its culture. We can work to shape attitudes, to inform the ethics of sport with scriptural truth, to openly discuss these issues with the coaches, players, administrators and others who are the opinion leaders and decision makers for our sport communities. We must be willing to take responsibility for those whom we serve and to redeem the world of sport by carrying Christ’s presence into it. Whether we work at the most obscure levels of amateur sport or under the most glaring spotlight of professional sport, let’s honor our Lord by our faithful application of the Bible to the daily sporting life.