Prayer in sporting contexts is widely varied, often treated superstitiously, usually dripping with churchy cliches, and is occasionally risky.
I prefer the last item in the list. I much prefer to communicate within the culture of sport, using its vernacular (not vulgar or profane), in a way that both communicates intimately with our Lord and engages the coaches and players with whom I am praying. Thus it can seem a little risky.
To be clear, I never pray that we win any particular contest, but I always pray that we compete well. I never pray that we win the championship, but I always pray that we compete like champions. I always pray about the process and never the outcome. I believe the Lord never engineers outcomes of sporting contests, but I believe He is always interested in how we behave in them.
Case in point (slightly risky). After the Saluki Men's Basketball team won its first round game in the Missouri Valley Tournament on Friday night March 3rd, I was awake early Saturday morning with thoughts about how to pray prior to the semifinal game on Saturday evening. I contemplated the idea, calculated the risks, and decided to do exactly what was on my heart. I spent the bulk of the morning and early afternoon composing a prayer (I know, very much contrary to my Southern Baptist upbringing).
In the locker room as the first semifinal was in its last five minutes, I was in the locker room with our coaches and players hearing the final items in the scouting report for our game. My moment to pray arrived, we all gathered in a circle, arms around each others' shoulders, and I launched in to this prayer.
I thanked our Lord for giving us the privilege to compete again in this game we love. I then prayed, "May we compete powerfully & be…
Precise like Foster,
Versatile like Marcus,
Explosive like Scottie,
Gutsy like Dalton,
Gritty like Clarence,
Sudden like Lance,
Tenacious like Xavier,
Enthusiastic like JD,
Selfless like Chris,
Smooth like Juwan,
A great teammate like AJ,
Committed like JR,
May we communicate like Cade,
Having huge stones like Troy,
and be poised like Trent.
May we compete like champions, right here and right now? I pray in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen."
The players and coaches responded well, and we lost by 13. No matter how good or bad your prayer is, it never has a strong impact upon the outcome. Sorry to break it to you. My aim in that prayer was to affirm character qualities I observed in each player on the roster. My aim was to both inspire and to build relationships, vertically and horizontally.
If you are given the privilege to pray with your team, anywhere, but especially in the rarified air of a locker room, communicate in their language, appeal to your Father for their best, and engage their hearts relationally. It's always worth the risk.