As a life-long athlete (all I wanted for my 2nd birthday was a soccer ball) and a coach at many different levels over the past 9 years, my belief in the connection between our spiritual and sporting lives has evolved into a passion.
Sports can lead us to a deeper understanding of and participation in some of the central mysteries of our Catholic faith: the Incarnation, the Trinity and the Pascal Mystery.
Because of Jesus, our pursuit of excelling in those things that make us uniquely human, make us more like Him, and in turn, more like God.
As God is three persons in one, He is by His very nature relational. Created in His image and likeness, we are also relational. Therefore, anything that brings us into relation with others brings us closer to God. Sports, by their very nature, bring us into relation with others; therefore, they also bring into deeper relationship with God.
All athletes experiene the pains of struggle, agony, error, loss, and defeat. All athletes also experience triumph, victory, and redemption. The journey of an athlete entails suffering (in practice or throughout games or over the course of a season), death (loss of a game, an injury, a mistake during a game), resurrection (winning the next game, overcoming a mistake with a great play, coming back from an injury, executing something never completed before) and ascension (learning a valuable life lesson through sports, honoring and congratulating an opponent after a great play or game, recognizing that in the end it's just a game). Of course, these are the same stages of the Pascal Mystery.
As Pope John Paul II said,
“Sport has, in itself, an important moral and educative significance: It is a training ground in virtue, a school of inner balance and outer control, an introduction to more true and lasting conquests.”Therefore, the time, attention and energy devoted toward developing the sports programs in our Catholic schools must be analyzed. We must come to realize that sports in Catholic schools are both "just games" and yet "so much more than just games". We must come to understand that sports have the power and potential to influence our students more powerfully than any academic or extra-curricular endeavors.
We must challenge our athletes to play to win while also playing with courageous sportsmanship.
We must encourage, train and support our coaches so that they can use sports as a way to draw student-athletes closer to God.
We must embrace the ability sports offer to transform our lives, our schools and even our world.
May God bless you on your sporting and spiritual journey so that, at the end of your "game" you may be able to echo St. Paul's words in his 2nd letter to Timothy, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."
Good luck and God bless.