Christians and Competition Part 1

{By Taylor Eckel}

My first collegiate soccer game will forever live in infamy.

My small college’s team was woefully inexperienced, and we were being dominated by our opponent’s second-string players. Our regular goalkeeper had been injured the day before, so I found myself playing ‘keeper. Late in the game, we were down 4-0, when an opponent got a breakaway. Thanks to our coach’s tactical error, my defense was too far away to help, and I was stranded 20 yards from the goal, unable to use my hands.

Don’t let them score again. Don’t let them score again.

So I didn’t. I tackled her. As in, a legit, Brian Urlacher-style tackle.

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I had no ill will towards the girl I tackled. I was just sick of losing, and couldn’t bear the thought of letting in yet another goal that really wasn’t my fault. The point of this story is not that I football-tackled a girl in a soccer game. The story merely illustrates the nearly ubiquitous motto of athletes: win at all costs.

I’ve rarely heard Christians discuss competition. Some circles seem to avoid competitive sports altogether, and even competitive Christian sports teams rarely discuss competition beyond general principles of good sportsmanship and evangelical catch phrases. One of my favorite college professors once noted that we “think Christianly” about music, science, and a whole host of other disciplines, but almost never reconcile theology and sports.

As a multi-sport athlete, I’ve thought a lot about this, and want to offer a starting point for how Christians should think about sports:

Winning is not a virtue.

Winning is often used as a justification for otherwise unacceptable behavior. But if winning is not a virtue, its pursuit must be subordinate to the call of Scripture. Ephesians 4 and 5 are incredibly convicting on this point:

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

So long, trash talk.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

I am not justified in my hatred toward that rival team. When a teammate makes an error, my anger is not justifiable.

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

My opponent may have fouled me, does not justify me if I hold a grudge or purposely foul her back.

This might sound a little drastic to those of you who are more competitive. Know that it is in no means an indictment of competitive sports. Rather, it is intended to remind that we are Christians first, athletes second, and what is acceptable in the culture of competition is not always God-honoring. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how Christians should approach competitive sports!