"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."
Developing team spirit
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Romans 12:9-11
Ask a retired sportsperson what they miss most about their playing days and the answer is likely to be the banter, the camaraderie. Being part of a team over a period of years, sharing the successes and disappointments creates a bond between people like very little else.
This is brilliantly illustrated in the novel, Bleachers by John Grisham. When members of a college football team meet again years later - as sheriff and criminal, as successes or failures - their first interaction is as ex-teammates. Their conversation is about shared experiences.
The sense of team spirit among the players is a unique experience. For many people the closest, longest lasting friendships of their lives started on the sports field.
The other side of the coin is, however, the competition within the team. You and your best mate can be competing to be the first choice goalkeeper. Each week one of you will be disappointed.
How do you love your team mate as yourself, if she has just taken your place in the team for the cup final? Loving your team mates can be difficult. Yet as sportspeople our sports team is the natural place to model what we've learnt in the Christian community. Our role in the team should be to bring the qualities of Christ into the team.
When we are called to "love our team mate as ourselves", one aspect of this is serving them. We are to use our abilities to the full as an act of worship to the God who gave them to us and in the service of our "neighbours" in the squad. After the game am I more concerned with the team or my own performance?
It is as Frank Reich puts it, "A Christian athlete or businessman has in mind that part of his job is to bring out the best in his team-mates that surround him."
The captain of winning team in the novel, Tom Brown's schooldays, attributed the victory in the school game to the fact that "each of us knows and can depend on his next man better - that's why we beat 'em today." What an excellent description of loving one's team mate as oneself!