Applying champion life lessons learned from the game of sports.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's In The Past...

I've always been intrigued by how a team can be playing so well, have all the momentum, a large lead going into the latter part of a game only to lose it all.  They had been playing so well the whole game and then suddenly everything changed.  They no longer execute, cannot move the ball, opponents score on play after play and before you know it the game is over and the team that had the large lead finds themselves walking off in defeat.  I've seen this a lot this year in men's and women's sports teams at all levels and I've wondered what the cause of it is. 

It seems that you can trace this loss of momentum and execution, the point where everything shifts and a team goes from dominating to being dominated, back to a single instance called a "mistake".  I've watched teams playing like there is nothing that is going to prevent them from winning; that is, until they make a mistake.  Once that occurs they immediately become disabled as a team, unable to execute, unable to stop their opponent; they lose their lead and never recover and sustain a loss.  Why?  If it can be traced back to a mistake, then what is is about that mistake that causes this to happen? 

Well, it is not the "mistake" itself.  What is interesting is that it is not necessarily the "mistake" that causes a team to lose its execution, momentum, effectiveness and focus.  Instead, it is the inability for the team to put the "mistake" in the past and leave it there.  Often when a team makes a mistake, be it a turnover, a bad serve, whatever it may be, they become caught in the moment that the mistake happened and dwell on the mistake.  They don't move on from the moment of the mistake or the mistake itself and the result is a team that has lost focus on the game and task at hand.  They have shifted focus to the mistake and the moment it occurred in.  They continue to make more mistakes, more turnovers, more ineffective plays.  They place the control of the game in their opponents hands and are no longer an effective team, they are no longer presenting any resistance to their opponent.

Did you know life is very similar to this scenario I just described to you?  Athletic teams become crippled in competition due to focusing on a mistake or the moment in time the mistake happened.  In life, we allow mistakes (or sin's if you will) to shift our focus to the mistakes we have made or the moments in which they were made.  By focusing on the mistakes we've made, we become ineffective in the 'game' of life.  Remember back to the earlier article, "There Is Strength In The Numbers" that it was shown that the devil is our opponent in life based on John 10:10..."the thief (devil) comes only to steal, kill and destroy...".  The devil (our opponent) would like nothing more than to get us to shift our focus on to our mistakes in life and the moments that they were made. 

The athletic teams that lose their effectiveness and momentum after a mistake do so because they can't get over the fact that they made the mistake and that it produced an unfavorable outcome for them; a turnover, points scored by the opponent due to the mistake.  They just keep going over it and over it in their minds.  They stay trapped there in their game and that's why they're completely ineffective from that point on.  Their focus is broken on the task at hand and they spend their time and energy in disbelief that they made the mistake almost as if they were beating themselves up over it and can't forgive themselves and then forget about it.  We do the same thing in life.  We allow ourselves to go replay our mistakes in our minds and go over and over them again and again.  We can't believe that we made that mistake, so we keep going over it, re-living it.  We keep feeling the shame, the sting of the unfavorable outcome it produced for us and we are not only unable to forgive ourselves for the mistake, but we are also unable to forget about it. 

Teams that overcome their mistakes, maintain momentum and achieve the victory do so by knowing that they are never going to be "perfect"; it is not possible.  They accept that they are going to make a mistake, sometimes many, but what sets them apart from other teams is their ability to leave their mistakes in the past.  They do not dwell on them.  They choose to learn from them, but in knowing they cannot be "perfect", they commit to the next best thing and that is, to give their best effort on every play; do their very best.  It is true for us as well.  There is no way we can ever be "perfect".  The fact that we have a free will (the ability to make choices) means we are destined to make a wrong choice now and then; a mistake.  We need to accept that we cannot be perfect and stop beating ourselves up for the mistakes we have made.  We need to be like the athletic team that overcomes and allow our mistakes to stay in the past.  Like an athletic team, we cannot go back in time and change the behavior that caused the mistake but we can learn from them to help prevent the same mistake again. 

The Bible gives us a couple of great instructions on how our mistakes (sins) can be left in the past; that we can be forgiven and our mistakes (sins) can then be forgotten.  Forgiven:  1 John 1:9 "If we confess (admit) our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness".  God is quick and willing to forgive our sins if we are willing to admit them to Him.  In the NIV translation of the Bible, there are 59 verses that make mention of forgive, forgiveness and forgiven.  That is pretty strong evidence that God is willing to and loves to forgive us of our mistakes; our sins.  What about forgetting about our sins?  How do we keep them from playing out in our minds time and time again?  Forget:  Psalm 103: 10 "For as far as the east is from the west, He has removed our transgressions (sin) from us".  Can anyone provide an accurate distance on how far separated the east is from the west?  No.  There is no possible way to even comprehend how great a distance that is.  Yet, the Bible tells us that in Gods' eyes, our sins are removed from us in that huge distance.  That means they are in the past!  The sequence is, we admit our mistakes (sins), God forgives them, then puts them in the past and they are as far away from us as the east is from the west!  

We need to realize we cannot be perfect and commit to living each day by giving it our best effort.  We need to accept that mistakes (sins) are going to occur, but, we need to realize that as soon as they occur, they are in the past.  They are forgiven and they are as far away from us as the east is from the west.  Because of that, we can free ourselves of the shame and sting of our mistakes (sins).  We don't have to allow our mistakes to re-play themselves in our minds and distract our focus.  We can prevent ourselves from becoming ineffective against our opponent in life and we can be victorious by allowing God to do what he says He will do above for us and our mistakes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

WHAT vs. WHY...Which is the Better Question to Ask??

All of us have encountered some form of adversity in life or athletics.  Perhaps you've  suffered a major set-back at the hands of a financial problem, the loss of a loved one, losing a job, a car breaking down.  Is someone getting a promotion over you or is someone getting ahead, while you seem to always get pushed down?  The fact is, adversity does and will continue to occur in life.

Adversity also occurs In sports and one significant way adversity comes is in the form of serious injuries.  I'm not talking about an ankle that gets turned or the types of injuries that "come with the game" which diligent treatment will take care of.  I'm talking about serious injuries...a concussion that ends a career, a tibia/fibula break that can't be recovered from well enough to play again, a serious knee injury with multiple ligament tears...injuries that are certain to end a career or promise to be a serious threat to end one.  Another way adversity comes in sports is in the area of playing time.  Everyone wants to be on the field, court or rink but as you know only so many at one time can contribute during a game.  We/you may think you deserve more playing time than you're getting...that can be frustrating, make it difficult for you, cause you to suffer while you watch someone else play. 

When an injury or adversity occurs that threatens to take something away from you that you love it usually results in a response from us.  We often find ourselves asking a question, "Why". 
  • Why did this have to happen? 
  • Why did this happen to me?
  • Why did it happen now? 
  • Why didn't it happen to someone else?   

"Why" is a very understandable response to an adverse situation.  When adversity comes, it usually doesn't make sense, doesn't seem fair and we want to know "why".  Is "why" the best question to ask in a time when injury in sports or adversity in life present themselves?  In my opinion, 'no', it's not the best choice of a question to ask.  Before we look at what might be a better question to ask, let's look together at, as strange as it may seem, what purpose adverse situations can serve in our lives.  

According to, adversity is defined as: adverse fortune or fate, a condition marked by misfortune, an unfortunate circumstance or event.  Synonyms are: catastrophe, trouble, misery or disaster.  Adversity mirrors "tribulation" which defined is: grievous trouble, severe trial or suffering, an affliction, a cause of distress. 

 What does the Bible say about trials and tribulations (adversity)?  James 1:2-4 (NIV) "Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything".  The Bible also has something to say about suffering: Romans 5: 3-4 (NIV)..."because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope". 

The role of Adversity in our lives and/or in sports is to, believe it or not, move us from where we are at the time of the adversity, to closer to being complete, not lacking in anything and it is done through a process.  The scripture references above makes the answer to "why" clear: adversity happens because God allows it and uses it to bring about a process wherein He refines us.  So, to coin the old phrase, "Why ask why"?

What might be a better question to ask in the face of adversity instead of "why"?  I suggest asking "WHAT".  Asking "what" takes the focus off of self and the circumstance of adversity and allows God to reveal to us WHAT it is that He wants to show us, teach us as we go through the adversity.   

God is concerned with the condition of our heart, it's what he looks at.  1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God's focus is on the [condition] of our heart, not what is on the outside [the circumstance or the "why"]; ..."the Lord  does not look at the things that people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart".  When we allow ourselves to ask "why", we are focusing on the circumstances, the outward appearance; that doesn't serve any purpose or do anyone any good.  It's like participating in a self-pity party.  Asking why often leaves a heart filled with bitterness, resentment and anger which hardens a heart which hardens people's attitudes, behaviors and character.

Through times of adversity, God is at work on transforming our heart.  It's the critical component of our relationship with Him and it's the central component of us.  God wants to put our hearts through a process of tearing down (refining) and then re-building.  Giving us a heart that is stronger and more in tune with Him and His leading in our lives. 

Remember Matthew 6:33; (NIV) "but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well".  God wants to have His rightful place as the priority in our life and have His rightful control of our heart.   So the next time you face adversity, stop and remember that through the adversity, God is at work and instead of asking "why", ask God "what" it is that He is wanting to do in you.