In our service of sportspeople it is only natural to focus exclusively on our team, our coaching staff, support staff, and their families. This is right and good. There are, however, others whom we encounter that we can influence as well. Among them are the game officials, administrators, facility personnel, and of particular note today, the opponents.
Without a worthy opponent, our experiences in sport are always training or practice. We need our opponents for sport to be at its best and for sport to provide the tests that are much of its greatest value to sportspeople. In the Kingdom of God, the proper way to relate to opponents is to love and respect them. This obviously runs upstream against the general culture of sport. Let’s consider some ways to build wise and loving relationships with our sporting opponents.
If your opponent has a chaplain or character coach, make contact well ahead of the competition to arrange to meet at the sporting venue or earlier for coffee or just to chat. I have done this many times over the years and it builds my network of trusted colleagues and friends.
If you have met coaches from the opposing team in past years, send an email or SMS message of greeting ahead of the competition. If you are allowed access to the field or court, seek them out to speak in the warm up period before things become more intense.
If you know any of the opposing players, seek them out during the warm up period for a handshake, a hug, and a brief blessing.
When engaged in any or all of these “against the grain” moments, be sure to communicate genuine respect, to model Christ-like love, to bless your opponents, and to pray with them if the opportunity and the relationship allows. Some of my most rewarding moments in sport have included emotional, direct communication of love and respect for opposing coaches, players, and chaplains while standing on a football field or a basketball field, just moments prior to strong competition.
I would challenge you to widen your vision as to who you may lovingly serve. As Jesus was asked, “Who then is my neighbor?” He responded with the story of the good Samaritan. The subject at hand was which is the greatest commandment. Our opponents are our neighbors. Jesus says the commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let’s transform our view of opponent from enemy to neighbor and thereby model an honorable and loving sport for those we serve and those who watch them.