Exercise and Sports/Healthy Body/My Life Keeping Your Faith on the Field by Jay Martin Fall is finally here, and with it comes the bright lights, full bleachers, and tweeting whistles of fall sports. If you’re one of the millions of students who participate in school athletics, you know that rush of excitement as you put on your jersey before stepping onto the field. With the pep rallies and pom-poms though comes a tough fact: it can be a struggle to balance your playing time with your praying time. Walking the tightrope of diving deeper in your faith while also on the field can seem impossible. From battling to live your faith in a hostile locker room, to grappling with finding time to go to youth group or Mass because of a packed game schedule, the struggle is real. While it may not be easy, keeping your faith on the field is possible, and always worth it. There are a number of powerful ways to grow in holiness through being a student athlete both on and off the field, as well as plenty of lessons for our faith we can learn after the buzzer sounds. Get your head in the game You don’t have to be singing “Our God Is An Awesome God” during warmups like Tim Tebow to proclaim that you love Jesus while on the field. There are a number of ways to show you believe this through your play, and they’re possible no matter what your sport is. Praying before and after games is a great first step to inviting Jesus onto the field with you. If it’s possible to pray together as a team, even better! Praying an Our Father or Glory Be as a team is the perfect way to to be unified heading into a game, and give God the glory afterwards, no matter victory or defeat. Making the Sign of the Cross before or after a big moment in the game is another way you can show who you’re playing for. Justin Tucker, the kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, makes the sign of the cross before and after each kicking attempt, and he told the NC Register he does it to “simply thank God for the opportunity He has given me… that His name be glorified.” Lastly, simply ask yourself, “how would Jesus act in this game?” While being able to walk on water would make Him arguably the greatest water polo player of all-time, I bet the biggest thing He would do is show His faith through the little moments. Kneel and offer up a prayer when someone is injured, refrain from inappropriate or abusive trash talk, just be the Christian witness we are called to be, both in the pews and in the game. After the whistle blows Along with actions during the game, choices made after the whistle blows are important to keeping your faith strong as well. Making Mass a priority can be one of the toughest things to do with a busy sports schedule, but it is by far the most important. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” Receiving Jesus and growing closer to Him is more important than any tournament, training or sports activity. If a practice or game conflicts with Sunday Mass, pull your coach aside and explain to them why it’s important for you to go. If you’re at an out-of-town tournament, download the app “Mass Times for Travel” and it will search for Catholic Churches near your location, with a list of times for Mass, confession, and more. No matter the amount of extra effort or sacrifice it takes to make it into the pews, it is ALWAYS worth it. Trophies and medals just can’t match up to heavenly rewards – Mark 8:36 says, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Remaining humble and redirecting any success and glory that comes from your play back to God is another awesome way to grow in holiness off the field. In an interview with NBC, U.S. Olympic Divers Steele Johnson and David Boudia traced their silver medal win at the Rio Olympics back to their “identity in Christ.” Fellow Olympians Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky won a combined 10 medals in Rio, and In multiple interviews, both athletes have been adamant in declaring their faith and love for Jesus as the biggest reason for their success. It can be easy to get caught up in the limelight or party scene as an athlete off the field, but again, being a Christian witness in the little moments will help your faith grow. Celebrate a victory with a holy hour, invite teammates to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting, etc. Staying rooted in your faith off the field will help you remember what’s important when you’re on the field – glorifying God with your actions and thanking Him for the opportunity to compete. Get your game face on Finally, there are lessons we can learn through sports that can be transferred over to our faith life. Like sports, practice makes perfect in our prayer life. You wouldn’t head into a big district rivalry without any exercise or practice beforehand. You would train hard to be prepared for whatever the opponent could throw at you. Likewise, it’s important to take prayer seriously and work hard at diving deeper. Whether through lectio divina, Bible studies, or any other exercise, build up your spiritual muscles to become better equipped in your prayer life. In the same way teammates support one another on the field, we can also support others through prayer. During a tough workout or practice, offer up the pain and exhaustion you feel on the field to support others through redemptive suffering. It’s a great way to invite Jesus onto the field with you, and get some intercessory prayer in as well. In the same way that you hustle and grind hard to get the victory in your sport, push forward in your faith with the same zeal and passion! Bowing your head in prayer is like lacing up your cleats. Walking through the doors of your church is like running through the tunnel. The playing field of our faith is all around us, and right now it’s game time. Follow the words of 1 Corinthians 9:24 – “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.” We should pursue our faith with the same tenacity as we pursue our sports. Run so as to win, so that eventually we can all share the ultimate prize, salvation.