Category Archives: Sports

Collective Joy

Thailand soccer boysThey’re out. All twelve boys and their soccer coach are free. What is it about that news sends me to the verge of tears?

  • I’m a soccer coach. I have taken my teams on excursions as team building opportunities. None of these have gone badly wrong, but they could have.
  • I’m a parent. I cannot possibly imagine the angst of these parents and the roller coaster of emotions as they were lost, then found. Located and rescued.
  • I’m a human and I find human interest stories riveting, especially when the stakes are high and there is a happy ending. I am desperate for good news.

Yes, this captures all of me. And to have this play out, the rescue literally occurring between games in the Men’s World Cup competition, is just astonishing. At the one time when our collective sporting world has all eyes turned in one direction, the final week of matches, we all — and I mean all — expire the collective breath we’ve been holding.

They’re free! The boys are free. Hallelujah!

There is just something that happens to us when, in a time when all seems lost, a thing we desperately desire is found. Not by magic, but by effort, by toil, by ingenuity, by reasoning, by sacrifice, by teamwork, by capability, by prayer and by waiting. When the odds are stacked against us and we overcome them, it’s miraculous. This moment has captured us because we know it, even though we don’t know them.

We know that lives matter, that life matters. Though yes, we might pause to consider how to prevent these circumstances from repeating themselves in the future, today we hear the good news of their rescue and we cry out, unbidden, unprompted, and unrehearsed.  Pure JOY! It sounds the same in every language.

Oh, how I hope these boys are able to attend the World Cup championship game, to which, I understand, they have been invited. Just imagine the moment of their introduction. The moment when the love of sport and the love of children collide in a terrific outpouring of love.  When we join together in a collective roar from supporters of all teams, all children, all parents, all coaches, and all of humanity everywhere.

What joy there is in heaven, we’re told, when the one who has been lost is found. The news today is good news: the ones who had been lost are found and now free. What is that feeling I’m feeling and so are you? It’s joy. Pure joy.

I wonder what these boys will now do with the lives that have been given back to them, don’t you? One thing’s for sure: the Wild Boars will be tough to beat in their next game. In fact, one wonders whether any of them will make their own appearance on the pitch in a future World Cup match.

Starting today, don’t count out Thailand.


Competitive Nearsightedness: it’s Treatable

CIMG4384Both teams were there. Both coaches. Lots and lots of parents. The only thing missing was the referee. No one wanted to reschedule this last game of the season, which didn’t determine anything in the standings. We just needed to get it played.

As it happened, there was a parent on each team who was certified as a referee. Both sides agreed to play the game under the officiation of these two dads and abide by the outcome. They each would take a half of the field. At half time, when the teams switched sides, the dads would stay: even exposure to both pairs of eyes, one half on offense, one half on defense.

Man, that dad from the other team, he was BLIND! He called everything against us. But our dad, he was exceedingly fair, giving their team every benefit of the doubt. Really. Not kidding. That’s the way I saw it. But actually, in the end, the fouls called were about the same. If they had been somewhat partial, it went both ways. Season over.

I discovered something that day: my eye bends what I see. If I have a team favorite or a preferred outcome, if I want things to go a particular way, if I want a certain team to win, I tend to see things that way. And think I’m right. In my spectating life, the foul is always on the other team. And even if you point out the transgression committed by my player, I am quick to argue: she pushed first, he was just defending himself, it was inadvertent…. Apparently, I am biased. I see things with my jersey color overlaid.

What a great lesson our sports experience teaches. If I’ve made up my mind what the outcome should be, I’ll see myself as right and act accordingly. Point out my error, and I will swiftly find ways of justifying myself. That doesn’t make me right; it just makes me feel right, and a bit indignant that you can’t see it my way.

Watching those two dad-refs do their best and then watching both teams shake their hands and thank them for the game, improved my vision. I suffer from competitive nearsightedness; I am biased when looking out for my own best interests. Life lived faithfully looks out for the interests of the other, even my opponents, to ensure that they haven’t been wronged.

Developing an unbiased perspective? That requires surrender in service to the game. It requires us actually to embrace and accept the wisdom of “may the best team win.” No, actually. And that’s not easy. It’s unnatural. Gonna take some time, and practice. Everybody gets better with practice.

As one who seeks to live a life which follows Christ, the evidence of my practice is a growing expression of the fruit of the Spirit in my life.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,  goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ~ Galatians 5:22

Am I growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Are you? Are we?

If we’re not getting better, we’re not practicing.

To whom do you pledge your allegiance?

American flag prayerWhen they play the National Anthem, do you sit? stand? lock arms? kneel? put hand over heart? Do you sing? remain silent? Can you remember all the words? Can you reach all the notes? I’m pretty sure we’ve never given it so much consideration as a nation as we are doing right now. What does our flag and our National Anthem mean to us? to you?

Apparently, according to these Washington Post writers, it’s tradition. And tradition, these days, doesn’t go unaddressed, unchallenged or unopposed. So, if it’s so controversial, why not just begin with “Play ball!”? or at the ref’s whistle, the buzzer sounding or the starting gun?

Apart from the Olympics, when competitors gather, they are competing individually and/or perhaps for a team. Rarely do they suit up to represent their nation. And when they do — at least in the US of A — the only thing that’s similar about them is their uniform. Hair color, eye color (and sometimes eye multi-color — looking at you, Max Scherzer), skin color, body shape, size and distribution, tattoos, piercings, facial hair, facial features… I need not go on. We are a very un-uniform bunch. Even in uniform.

So, that’s got me thinking, as we stand before the game we’ve trained to compete in – as I stand before the game I’ve trained to compete in — whether it’s sports or academics, if it’s wall street main street, or putting on my game face for the rush hour traffic that’s sure to confront me — to what or whom do I pledge my allegiance? to what do we devote our effort? to whom do we commit ourselves in our day to day games?

Yes, for these professional athletes, this team, this game, this season is what they signed up for. This is their day job. This is how they earn their (very large) paycheck. I have no such obligation.

Or do I?

Scripture tells me that I was bought at a price. It wasn’t a bribe or a payoff or a paycheck, for that matter. It was a sacrificial offering, given without strings attached. Still, it was alot. It was everything. I was very expensive. God paid top dollar for me.

So, as I stand on the sidelines of my life, waiting to take the field for today’s game, what does my posture say about the allegiance I hold?

If you saw me there, would you know who I play for? Would I stand, sit or kneel? Would I remove my cap and put my hand over my heart? Would I look to my jersey or my colleagues to know whose team I was on? If the national anthem played, would I sing it?

It’s a good question: the game is about to start, who do you play for?

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