I’ll never forget the time I scored the winning goal for my hockey team or the time my softball team won the championship game. Moments like that last!
Growing up I was always surrounded by sports in one way or another. Being that my family has always been big sport fanatics, I learned to love sports at a young age and discovered the excitement of being on the field and playing a winning game.
Several years ago, the University of Texas Longhorns football team was being honored for winning the national championship. When their head coach, Mack Brown, came to the stage to formally accept their trophy, he was asked to share what he told his players in the locker room in the moments after they won their national championship game.
He stood quietly for a moment before stepping up to the podium, and what he said then, I have pondered from time to time.
Coach Brown stepped up to the mic and said, “You know, it was pretty emotional, so I don’t remember a lot of what was said . . . but I do remember one thing. I remember looking at the players, and telling them ‘Don’t let this be the greatest thing you do in your life.‘” As he left the stage, the audience stood and cheered.
What he meant was that, while excelling in sports is great, it can’t be your whole life. You still have to strive to be a good person in all areas of your life.
Did you know Pope Francis is a sports fan? Contrary to popular belief, sports and our Catholic faith do go together and should go together. Just a few weeks ago, Pope Francis addressed a team of soccer players and said:
“People follow you, not just inside the field, but outside as well. This is a social responsibility. Let me explain: in the game, when you’re in the field, you find beauty, gratitude and camaraderie. If a game is missing this, it loses strength, even if there’s a winner.”
Being a great athlete isn’t just about what happens on the field. We need to remember and make a conscious effort that our lifestyle should be the same on the field as it is off the field.
Here are some simple suggestions:
- Develop Virtue: No one is born virtuous. Good habits are not infused. Virtue must be sought out and can be acquired only by continual practice. You learn to play soccer by playing soccer. You learn to be a leader by developing leadership qualities. You become virtuous by practicing virtue. We need to develop virtues of humility and good sportsmanship on and off the field.
- Sacrifice: Give of yourself! Playing sports needs to be approached with abandonment to God, a willingness to be flexible, a self sacrificing attitude, and a disposition – especially as leader, to die to yourself. Promote a Christian atmosphere where you can grow in respect for the dignity of each person and concern for others.
- Sacraments: We need to meet Jesus face to face. The games, workouts, music, and food are all fun, but challenge yourself to go deeper. What would happen if God became the center of your life? What would it look like if you encouraged your teammates to frequently receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and attend daily Mass when possible.
- Pray: Begin a devotion to St. Sebastian (patron Saint of athletics) and Our Lady of Victory . . . that through their intercession you may give glory to God in all you do.
Question: What else do you think makes a truly great athlete?