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if only!

"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."

Bill Shankly, Liverpool Football manager

Competition and identity

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

"Penny Heyns the swimmer was 90% of Penny Heyns the person. The other 10% only started to surface sometime in 2002" [When she had retired].

Sportspeople often seek their identity in their sports performance. Of course, the Christian player is inevitably caught up in this to some extent. We care how our performance pleases others. We suffer the same highs and lows as the rest of the team.

But, the Bible teaches that there is a better approach. The Christian player's self worth is not dependent on their sports performance but on the fact that God has made them. What really matters in sport is not the public assessment of our performance but that we are responsible for pleasing God first and everyone else last! If we know who we are we can compete better!

The tension between Christian values and sports values is summed up in the cliché "You are only as good as your last game". Sport has a performance based value system. Players get their identity from playing, being part of the team and performing in a way that the coach and the spectators will think well of them. Thus the player at the top of their game can easily become arrogant and base their self-worth on their good performances.

As Christians we should be playing for an audience of one. It is to please the God who gave us our lives and our ability to compete, made us in his image to rule on his behalf and under his authority and who knows our motivations when we play. We are ultimately to play for an audience of one.

There is not space to develop this here but Genesis chapters one and two pinpoint two very specific principles with reference to pleasing God, which must be applied to our sport - how we use our talents and how we develop our relationships. See our book Born to play for a more detailed development of this article.

Penny Heyns learned this in the 2000 Olympics. "I feel so free from the trappings of competition, the expectations of others and what the world thinks. It doesn't matter what others think. I know in my heart who I am and who I am in Christ. Swimming doesn't define me any longer; I don't need people's approval to make me feel strong."

Stuart Weir



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