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Dear Christians in Sport,
I’m a professional footballer, I love getting to play matches. But recently, I’m lucky if the manager picks me to be on the bench, I’ve not had any minutes for the last three months. I desperately want to worship God with the talent He’s given me, but training feels pointless when all I do is spectate on match days.
This is a tough scenario for any player, and it’s not confined to team sports – individual athletes also experience similar frustrations when they’re constantly left out of selection. Yet this is a particular frustration in professional teams – when players are under contract and unable to seek any alternative competition to enjoy.
First of all, let’s establish some guiding principles for Christians that find themselves in this situation. Here’s three core truths that can steer us through tough times in sport:
Thinking about what you'll do based on these principles might seem complicated, yet it can be simplified using the framework of pray, play, say – taken from Colossians 4:2-6, which says:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Firstly pray (verse 2): pray that God would help you understand deeply that your identity is given to you through Christ’s sacrifice, your performance and achievements are powerless to change your standing before God. This is brilliant news, in Christ you have lasting fulfillment and security that doesn't depend on you making the starting line up, or even playing at all!. In your situation ask God to remind you that He put you where you are, and He has your back.
Secondly ‘play’: be wise in the way you act, make the most of every opportunity (verse 5). As you train with your teammates, or approach difficult discussions with your coach, ask Jesus for the authenticity to live out your secure identity with integrity. Know that the Lord has got you even when you don’t get why it’s so tough at the moment. Ask for the Spirit’s power to be transparent and authentic when you approach the coach to chat about your position in the team. Seek to care for them and respect their authority (Romans 13) – but tell the truth about how you feel.
Finally ‘say’ (verse 6): Others will notice the way you handle this situation. Use that to your advantage to share Jesus. Be honest about your disappointment but help others to see that trusting Jesus completely changes your perspective, making the starting eleven is not the be all and end all. If someone asks, you could say something like: “I'm finding it hard to cope with not being selected, but I know God's love for me doesn't depend on whether I'm picked or not, I want to give everything I have as worship to Him in everything I do at this club.”
You may choose to stay in this situation, but it may be more appropriate to leave. Speak to your church leader or close Christian friends as you weigh this up and consider how you might leave well.
Here are some things you may want to sound out with other Christians if you’re looking to leave: As a professional player and a Christian, it’s wise to know your level – if you’re in a team where you aren’t getting minutes, or if you’re playing in a league that’s well beneath your ability – your influence in the team is compromised. So, look for opportunities to play at your level, where you can work hard alongside others, to gain respect and point them to Christ.
This means you will need an exit strategy. Professional sport is a cloak-and-dagger industry, it’s normal to back-channel and backstab when searching for a new contract. This presents an opportunity to be distinct in the way you live out your faith, acting with integrity and transparency.
Try speaking to your coach like this:
“I’ll give you 100% in every session, and on the pitch if I’m picked, for the rest of the season. But I want to get more game time, so I’d like to leave at the end of the season – could I have your permission to discuss my future with other teams?”
If you’ve been in professional sport for any length of time, you’ll know this is a bold conversation to have, but it’s hugely distinctive.
As you think through this situation, and tough conversations you may want to have, thank God for your secure identity in Christ, pray God would help you to live with integrity and authenticity in light of this. Pray God would use your witness, which is often more powerful in the low moments than when you’re riding high.
Do you have any questions about sport and faith?
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