For most of you reading this, you know that I am a sports fan. I grew up playing baseball and basketball and I have been watching sports for as long as I can remember. While I have my favorite teams, I can enjoy just about any game, no matter who is playing (my girls still don’t understand how that’s possible).
The other day I started thinking about how many hours I have invested in sports over the years, how many games I’ve played and how many games I’ve been to. How many hours I’ve spent in front of the TV (or now on my phone or iPad). I’ve sat watching some meaningless baseball games in the middle of the summer. Add on top of the actual, in-season games, all the pregame, postgame and highlight shows I’ve watched. And don’t forget about the sports talk radio that is listened to. Needless to say, it’s a lot.
In my considering these “lost” hours, I began to wonder if they were truly “lost” or not. Did any or all of this sports consumption have any redeeming value? The answer I came up with is “yes”…not just to try to make myself feel better about all the time devoted to sports, but I truly believe that I have learned and applied some very important lessons from my years as a sport fan. Here are a few of the lessons that I came up with in my life.
One thing I learned is that there is value in hard work. I was not the most skilled player on any team that I played on. I was a very average player (and that might be generous) in whatever sport I played. However, because I wasn’t a super star, I knew I had to work hard and be teachable. I needed to listen to my coaches and trust them to make me better. When they instructed or corrected me, I had to listen and implement what they said. I had to put in the work, and work meant hours and hours of shooting baskets and free throws, dribbling tennis balls though the hallways of high school, ground ball practice and batting practice. The hours of tedious, mundane and unappreciated routine actions made me a better player and a better teammate. Hard work and a solid work ethic is important to me and it’s a result of the hours invested in sports.
While I learned that there is true value and reward in hard work, I learned (very quickly) that I hated practice. I hated the discipline that it took to practice baseball- rain, wind or shine. However, I learned that even though I didn’t enjoy the discipline or the practicing, it was essential if I was going to improve or get off the bench. Growing up in Southern Arizona, the early days of spring were very windy and every windy day was “fly ball practice.” I worked very hard to catch fly balls in the wind. When the guy playing ahead of me missed 2 fly balls in a windy game, I came in and started every game after that because of the discipline and practice that I had put in. Did I enjoy it? No. Did I know it was important? Yes. Did I “suffer” through it? Yes. I learned that there are things in life that are not enjoyable but are necessary and just need to get done.
I also learned the value of teamwork: each person doing their job and helping others to do their jobs more successfully. When I wasn’t playing in the baseball games I was often the 1st base coach. When I was on the bench I was cheering my teammates on. When I was in the game I was helping and encouraging my teammates. I was working hard to do my part so that we would be successful as a team. Sports taught me very clearly that in order for the team to be successful, it was vital that I did my job and that I fulfilled my responsibility. If I didn’t help others to do the same thing, ultimately, our team would fail. While each member is personally responsible and accountable, it is in the collective accomplishments that teams find success.
I also learned the dangers and reality of idolatry through sports. It’s very easy to make an idol of yourself or others and to make a team into an idol. It’s very easy to think of yourself as much better than you are and to draw your identity in your accomplishments, regardless of how “big” they truly are. It’s easy to stop everything just to watch that game…and the next one…and the next one. It’s easy to put a person on a pedestal and then be upset and crushed when they come crashing down. It’s easy to check the scores and stats before I read my Bible. It’s easy to listen to the “talking heads” before I listen to God. It’s easy to pass on a sports fact, share a tweet or discuss the most recent game, but find it difficult to engage in conversations about Christ. It’s easy to make sports the centerpiece of my days and not my relationship with Christ. It’s easy to get depressed or upset when the field goal is missed or blocked (twice), yet not blink an eye about the reality that people are dying and spending eternity separated from God in Hell.
As I reflected on all of this, I remembered that the Bible talks about all of these things. We are to work hard, and in working hard we honor the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). We are to exercise discipline and the Christian life is a “race.” God calls it “sanctification” (I Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:12-14; Romans 6:15-23). We are not “solo acts,” we are “members one of another” and we must work together, each fulfilling their responsibilities for all to be successful (I Corinthians 12:12-27). We need to be careful not to make ourselves or others or any thing greater than God in our lives (Romans 12:3; Exodus 20:3-5; James 2:1-9).