Gone are the glory days?
Gone are the glory days?

I love sport. If you’re reading this, I suspect you do too. But it’s also possible that playing sport seems more difficult than it once did. Maybe youth or university sport feels like the glory days. Or maybe you think that your peak is ahead of you!

Either way, it is challenging to be involved in the world of adult competitive sport. And yet, as we seek to live and speak for Jesus, there is great joy and opportunity to be found in the sport we love.

The challenges of adult competitive sport

For many of us, the main challenge will be time. You have responsibilities at church, at work, at home and to your family. And of course, it is a good thing to have those responsibilities and fulfil them diligently. But it may feel like sport is the ‘optional extra’ that loses out to other priorities. It may even feel selfish to give time to sport when there are so many other things to do!

It may be that you manage it well; time is tight and it can feel costly, but you still train, play and get involved in the social side of your sports club or team. Or it may be that you’ve stopped playing completely. Maybe, like me, you’re somewhere in between. My job can make it difficult to get to midweek training at my rugby club in north London. At points, I’ve felt frustrated, squeezed, or guilty about my involvement (or lack of) in the team, and it can feel like there is a high cost to training and playing. .

Of course, it is inevitable that sport plays a more or less prominent role in different stages of our lives. That is natural, and there are often very good reasons for our priorities to change.

However, I think some of my challenges within adult competitive sport partly stem from a failure to think biblically about sport and faith. I wrongly see sport as fundamental to my identity: part of who I am and how I seek to present myself. But of course, that is not true! As a Christian, my identity is firm and secure in the Lord Jesus.

When we go from playing BUCS to battling to train once a week it exposes the reality that sport cannot provide the fulfilment, security and joy that I, and we, seek by making it part of an engineered identity. When we try to use sport in that way, it will cause pain and disgruntlement, rather than joy. It becomes easier to pack it in than play at a level that is ‘beneath us’ or that reminds us that we can no longer perform at the level we once did.

The joys of adult competitive sport

The joy for the Christian is that my sporting “career” does not and cannot touch my identity. That is liberating! For the Christian, identity is received not achieved. And, wonderfully, sport is one avenue by which God works through us as we worship Him and witness to others. To live faithfully as Christians does not, of course, require us to play sport! But we do have the joy of playing sport with our God-given gifts as an expression of our God-given identity. I love rugby, and I’ve loved playing this season; the Lord is so kind to give us the gift of sport! And as we compete for His glory, we are able to hold out the Good News to those around us.

That is also why our involvement in the world of sport doesn’t have to be seen as selfish. There are many people in your club and team who do not yet know King Jesus. What a privilege to serve Jesus as you train and compete with others, holding out the hope of heaven to them.

Sustaining involvement in the world of adult competitive sport

So there’s clearly a tension as you transition from uni to adult club sport. It may be that you know sport is a good thing with good opportunities, but sustaining your involvement in adult competitive sport just doesn’t seem viable. You can make it to the gym, but being involved in a club or team feels like a step too far. Now, I am not an expert on this. I have got things wrong, and I am still working out what sport will look like long term. I’ve struggled to stay involved in my club at points over the last year; a dislocated shoulder in the first game of last season kept sport out of my weekly routine for months. But I hope the following is helpful, drawing on advice I have received and mistakes I have made.

Remember your convictions

We need to start with setting our minds on the truths of the Bible. We need to remember that sport has never been about the level at which we play, but about using our God-given gifts in worship to Him and as a witness to others as we train and compete. We need to remember, too, that we are dependent on the Lord in all things. Our prayers should reflect that. And we can all pray! It is our privilege to play; but it is the Lord who enables our worship, and it is the Lord who will use our witness to bring others to know the risen Lord Jesus.

Be intentional

We should be proactive rather than passive as Christians in our clubs or teams. If your church puts on regular guest events to explain the Good News of Jesus, why not commit to inviting teammates this season? And why not pray for the boldness to take opportunities to
read the Bible with teammates
? Of course, this can seem incredibly daunting. But striving to be front-footed for Jesus within our sport is not something to do alone. It is helpful to have someone at your church, perhaps a pastor or homegroup leader, to pray for you and keep you accountable as you live and speak for Jesus in your club or team.

Reset your expectations

The reality is, you probably do have less time and energy to play sport than you once did. It helps to be realistic about that and not feel guilty about it. It may be that you have to drop down a level because you can’t train so often. It may be that you play for the third team rather than the second team. Rejoice that your identity remains in Jesus! And do something. The first step is often the hardest. If you can’t train in the evenings, you could switch to a club that trains in the morning. Do something. And not just because it’s viable to do so - but remembering the joy and privilege that it is to be a Christian in sport.

Plan transparently

I think it is helpful to have an honest conversation with your coach and teammates or club members so they know what you can and cannot commit to. That can be an important part of your witness to show, for example, the non-negotiable nature of your commitment to church. It will also help to show that you aren’t flakey, and it helps you avoid feeling guilty when you can’t make every session. I had a chat with our head coach this season; he responded positively and it has been a really beneficial conversation. It may also help to set a regular reminder for yourself to assess your involvement in your club or team, to stop sport inadvertently slipping off your radar.

Do it together with others

As Christians, our involvement in the local church is one of the great joys of life on this side of heaven. It is through the teaching of the Bible within the fellowship of our church families that we will mature as Christians and be equipped to live for Jesus whether at work or on the track. I love my church family, and I am thankful for their continued encouragement to me to serve King Jesus! For all of us, the local church is key as we train and compete.

In addition, it may also be encouraging to connect with other Christians who are seeking to be involved in the world of adult competitive sport. I have benefited from being part of the Christians in Sport Network in London. These Local Networks are a great way to be supported, and to support others, as we seek to reach the world of sport for Christ.

Dave Mieklejohn

Dave is a trainee solicitor, he currently attends St Nick's church in London and plays for Finsbury Park Rugby Club

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