Achievements Worth Crowning (Keeping Competition Healthy)

Posted by John Lindsay on 28th December 2011 in Christian Articles, Christian Arts and Entertainment

The 2008 Olympic Commencement Ceremony in Beijing was a brilliant display of what unified people can achieve. Each performance told a story and was marvelously executed. The emphasis of each production effectively portrayed the theme of unity and harmony. Nowhere at any time did the Chinese tell the story of victory though they had a reputation which merited such a statement and a platform to do so. It was the entrance of the 600 individual athletes representing another country which told that story. This nation paraded themselves arrogantly before the world, as if with every step they took they claimed ownership, as if already victorious, unaware they were guests in someone else’s home.

While athletes of the United States are being groomed to be the next gold-medal winners, little if any time is spent instructing them how to be good ambassadors. What good is it to achieve victory at the cost of humility and honor? What value is winning or losing if it alienates you from the very competition which is designed to strengthen its participants? It would be irresponsible of us to ignore the possibility the confidence which made us great may also be weighing us down.

UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders is attributed to saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” If you fall into Mr. Sanders’ camp, you believe winning is both the destination as well as the means, which is illogical. Winning is the result of hard work, sacrifice, self-discipline, exercise; not merely the training of our body but our minds through understanding strategy, technique and our own potential through subjection to exhaustive trials. If we do not train ourselves in the disciplines of self-control, how will we know in advance how we will respond to a bad call or even constructive criticism? Who of even the greatest of atholetes recognize these high pressure instances as divine opportunities to test the stuff of champions?

There was a young man who used to play on our church’s softball team who had said on multiple occasions he plays to win. Unfortunately, each time we lost he left angry and alone wasting precious time blaming anything he could think of for our defeat. I, on the other hand, played for the exercise and fellowship. I walked away, whether we won or lost victoriously, understanding there are two scores being recorded: the numbers reflected on the scoreboard and the spiritual score based on my attitude. Both the physical and spiritual scores are based on each team’s performance under the pressure of competition and have a profound impact on each other.

How many times have we seen someone kick the dirt or clap their hands in frustration? If God has numbered each hair on our heads, it is easy to believe he can count the times we have lost our tempers and embarrassed ourselves publicly while we proclaimed our lack of maturity. Everyone knows unprofessional behavior does not right any wrong or change the score. We all know it exacerbates the already high pressure of competition and reveals to the opponent you have lost confidence and are terminally vulnerable. But if we all agree and understand it is wrong, why is it so difficult to control ourselves in the heat of the moment. And why do the so-called professionals, with every resource imaginable, rise to the occasion and behave as if impressionable children may be watching?

The first time I saw Tiger Woods in person was in Dallas in the late 90’s. He was not yet the rock star so I had a pretty god view of his tee shot. I do not recall seeing the ball being hit or Tiger’s form or where the ball landed. The single image which is to this day embedded in my mind is of him hitting the ground with the head of his driver after making what he considered to be a bad shot. Conversely, my friend’s 12-year old son did something almost unforgivable by rushing a familiar golfer on his way from the clubhouse to the opening tee. The golfer’s name was Tom Watson. Surprisingly, Mr. Watson stopped, and graciously gave the child his autograph. Not surprisingly to us, he went on to top the leader-board that same day.

It is natural to expect more out of a professional than an amateur as it is natural to expect more out of an adult than a child. Anyone, however, rich or poor, professional or novice, can win the more important game of graciousness and self-control. We expect greater physical results from those who practice than those who do not. Why then do we expect the players to display good spiritual attributes without practice, especially if we as fans, parents and coaches place all the emphasis on winning and comparatively little on how and why the game is played?

The reason we study those who have gone before us is to improve our own performance. But our performance, be it on a field home or office is never limited to that environment. We miss the point if all the practicing and discipline and teamwork does not translate into the real world. A friend of mine has a son who is now a senior in high school who is quite the cross country runner. With his ever-decreasing times, it is not surprising he has knocked a fair share of alumni off the school record board. What is (but should not be) surprising is he went from a below average student to all A’s.

The nature of a true champion is someone who applies the principles of success to everyday life. No one can apply the principles of winning at home or on a job because winning is not a principle – it is a symptom based on a combination of good habits and a sound belief system. The World Series, World Cup, Stanley Cup, Super Bowl, etc. are not destinations. They are steps in the crowning achievement process. No athlete who has reached this level in their career has retired directly to heaven. They live the rest of their lives just like the rest of us. Victories, no matter how great or small, are merely credentials for the true destination of becoming mentors, parents and community builders. Winning such titles should be a springboard to something better.

Just over three years ago the Chinese embodied harmony and meekness through a level of pageantry in which the world has never seen (in many cases without technology) and are today becoming the leading economic superpower. We as Americans embraced winning at all cost and are losing the economic race. It may be time to take our eyes off the scoreboard and review the fundamentals of what is really important. After all, any fool can win a game, and not every fan deserves a champion, but the meek shall inherit the earth.


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