As a youth worker, you will have athletes in your church who have some unique pressures and stressors. I’ve found that many of these issues have a parallel issue in Christianity. The topics listed below can help you understand the athlete and apply what they are going through to their life as a Christian. So many people think that participating in sports builds character. If this were true then those who participate the longest would have the most character. Is this true? I believe that sports reveal character more than they teach it. Participation causes the athlete to confront a variety of stressors. Understanding some basic principles about those stressors will help you relate to the athletes in your congregation.


It’s important to understand that a certain amount of stress is needed for the athlete to succeed. Managing stress is important to athletic success because if you can’t manage stress, it will eventually manage you. Eustress is defined as stress that the athlete perceives as good and as a result, helps performance. Distress is defined as stress that the athlete views as bad and as a result, hurts performance. Each athlete has a different tolerance and tipping point for when the stress goes from productive to disruptive.


Stress from an opponent


One of my favorite commercials today is for Staples office products. A huge problem arises and everyone is stuck until someone pulls out the big red easy button. Everything is solved by pushing the easy button. If only life were that simple. If only sports were that simple. In the middle of a tough situation in a game, pull out the red button and bang, instant success. The fact is that challenges either make us better or worse. We either learn from past mistakes or continue to make the same ones over and over. There is an old saying that says “the true definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Practices, games, injuries, parental expectations can all present problems that can cause stress. Unfortunately, our opponents don’t allow any big red easy buttons for us to use.


In Judges, chapter 6, Gideon could use an easy button. He is called by God to help deliver His people from an oppressive group (the Midianites). They were big and nasty warriors. This would not be an easy task. Gideon doubted his calling because, in his words, “My clan is the weakest and I am the least of my family.” God’s reply was, “Am I not sending you?” Gideon also doubted the way in which God was sending him in to fight this mighty enemy. When Gideon focused on himself, the task seemed impossible, but when he finally acknowledged who was sending him, he was able to complete the task and pull off what the world might view as a huge upset. It was accomplished when he finally listened to his Lord’s plan.


Stress of Success?


 Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Keep asking and it will be given to you. Keep searching and you will find. Keep knocking and the door will be opened to you.”


Have you ever heard of an athlete who was afraid to fail? This is common among athletes. Have you ever heard of an athlete who is afraid to succeed? Both types suffer from a lack of confidence. The one who worries about failing isn’t confident in his/her preparation and has based too much of their self-worth on their success. The one who worries about succeeding is worried that if they succeed they’ll be expected to do it more, and more pressure will be placed on them. This type of athlete is comfortable knowing they could do it, but doesn’t want the emotional burden of actually doing it consistently, so they choose to float along.


How could anyone be afraid to succeed? Actually, it happens more often than you think. Some athletes are afraid to succeed because the coach will expect that same amount of improvement each week or each season and they can’t deal with that. Another reason fear of success happens is the athlete might be afraid that if they do better they’ll be put in more of a leadership role and have more expectations of them, or might even hurt a teammate’s feelings by beating them out.


Some Christians are like the athlete who is afraid to succeed. The Bible says that if we truly seek Jesus, we will find Him. If we knock, the spiritual door will be opened. The verses in Matthew chapter seven are often misinterpreted by Christians who think that if they pray hard enough for something material that it will be given to them. Matthew is talking about spiritual gifts here, not material possessions. Just like the athlete who is afraid to succeed, the Christian who won’t knock is afraid of additional expectations attached to the door being opened. They might have to change the way they live and they can’t give that up. They might be placed in a different position in life but they have their own plans. Finally, they might hurt a friend by leaving a lifestyle or behavior behind.


The important thing to remember for the athlete or the Christian who is afraid to succeed is the power to achieve anything in sports or as a Christian does not reside within you, but in the one who sends you. Don’t be afraid to truly bless God with your effort as an athlete and as a Christian. Don’t waste an athletic or spiritual gift because you are afraid of a perceived consequence of success! Begin each day by knocking on the door loudly. Keep pounding. Keep ringing the bell and enjoy it when the door is opened. You’ll find your fears were just another lie you listened to from someone who wants to prevent you from enjoying what’s inside.


The Game Plan


The Bible is often referred to as a play book for life by Christian coaches. It tells us how to live and what God did for us. The analogy of the Bible being like a playbook is a neat one for athletes who want to manage stress. In any sport, a coach can have a different strategy depending on what the opponent is trying to do to them. It is the same in our spiritual life. God has an answer to whatever our culture, our sinful nature, or others are doing to us.


There are important things to remember about executing a strategy against an opponent: 1) The strategy isn’t going to be effective if the athlete doesn’t remember it; 2) Knowing the strategy is nice, but applying it correctly is also important; and 3) It takes others around you who also know the plays or strategy in order to really be effective. Nobody is truly successful all by themselves.


Think about the three factors listed above for the Christian athlete. How can the stress of sports be overcome by knowing these three principles? 1) Know the Bible, 2) apply what is taught, and 3) work with other Christians to help stay accountable to God’s word. Listed below are some attitudes or thoughts the athlete may have experienced and God’s response to that stressor. Ask the athlete to select the thoughts that are occurring in their life right now and read God’s plan of attack.


            “It’s impossible”                                Luke 18:27

            “I’m tired”                                        Matthew 11:28-30

            “Nobody really loves me”                   John 3:16, John 3:34

            “I’m confused”                                  Proverbs 3:5-6

            “I can’t do it, I’m a failure”                 Philippians 4:13

            “It’s not worth the effort”                   Romans 8:28

            “I’m not worth forgiving”                    Romans 8:1, 1 John 1:9

            “I’m afraid to fail or succeed”             II Timothy 1:7

            “I’m frustrated and anxious”               1 Peter 5:7

            “I make dumb decisions”                   1 Corinthians 1:30

            “I’m alone”                                        Hebrews 13:5


Keep these verses as a spiritual play book. Refer to them often and keep adding to it as you spend time in the word. Allow God to help manage stress or stress will eventually manage you. Ask your athlete to pray with you about the stress of athletics and God’s loving response.


Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the stress (both good and bad) that happens in our life to help us rely on you. We know that without challenges bigger than ourselves, we’d never learn to rely on you and then give you the glory for victory. Help us never to doubt who is sending us into the world as Christians to spread the gospel. Give us a faith like Gideon to carry out your plan for victory.


Lord, send us your Hoy Spirit so that we may have the strength to keep knocking and help us accept your gifts with humble appreciation.


Lord, thank you for the guidelines you’ve given us for our life in the Bible. Help us to remember to learn them, apply them, and share them with others so that everyone can be a part of your winning team. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.