For those of you that don’t know me, I will confess that I’m a sports junkie. I’ve played, coached or watched sports since I was born. My wife has been a high school volleyball coach for nearly 30 years. I have two children who were college athletes. Sports are my life. That is why I became involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes over thirty years ago. FCA was a way I could intertwine my love for God with my love of sports. It didn’t have to be one or the other. Our athletic abilities are a gift from God and the way we utilize our gifts bring Him glory. I completely believe that the effort we give when we compete in athletics is a form of worship! We glorify God when we do sports God’s way.
You can’t do sports God’s way unless you know God.
But I have another confession. I didn’t see that connection until years later when I truly understood the Gospel myself. That’s why my passion, for the last nine years, has been sharing the Gospel with high school and college athletes. After all, you can’t do sports God’s way unless you know God. My hope is that they can apply their faith to their athletics NOW instead of waiting to figure it out when they are a 52-year-old washed up ex-high school football captain. If they can learn to live the Gospel while they compete, they will definitely be able to incorporate their faith into their jobs, their relationships and their families!
One last confession. While I love any and all sports (Ok, maybe not NBA basketball), there is one that holds a special place in my heart. Wrestling. No, not WWE pro-style wrestling. I’m talking about the ultra-physical sport between two competitors who are attempting to gain and maintain a superior position. It is one of the oldest forms of combat. The ironic truth? I only wrestled until my 7th grade year in junior high. Why? Because it was so demanding, physically and mentally.
My son, Tyler, was born to be a wrestler and began wrestling in 4th grade. That’s what led to my love affair with the sport. I went to practice with him and learned technique from the other coaches. I saw the physical preparation that was required to be competitive. While he was young, we drove all around the state of Wyoming watching him compete in tournaments. He had a successful high school career and was given a scholarship to wrestle at Chadron State. Incredibly, we moved to Chadron the very same year he started college.
That gave me first-hand experience of the commitment required to be a college wrestler. My admiration for the sport and for the young men and women who compete in it took a step to another level. Because of the strenuous demand of this sport, wrestlers must attain a level of physical fitness far and above that required by most other sports. That means hours of conditioning, both strength and cardiovascular. There is also a demanding mental component. Wrestlers drill for hours learning techniques that will give them an advantage in competition. Because of weight requirements, wrestlers must be super dedicated and disciplined in their nutrition and caloric intake. Now combine this with attending study hall and classes and you can begin to see why I have such great admiration and respect for the athletes who compete in this sport.
It’s a truth that I’ve believed for years. Christianity and wrestling go hand-in-hand. They both require faith, discipline and commitment.
So, you can imagine how grateful and excited I was when Brett Hunter, the wrestling coach at Chadron State, asked me to be a spiritual mentor to this year’s team! I’d already built a close relationship with several Chadron State wrestlers through the college’s FCA huddle which I’d been involved with for the past seven years. Coach Hunter had some character issues with his team over the past couple of years and wanted to change the direction and culture of his program. He observed a truth that many throughout the sport had witnessed over the past several years. Many successful wrestlers (Olympic and college) were Christian and many successful college programs were led by Christian coaches.
It’s a truth that I’ve believed for years. Christianity and wrestling go hand-in-hand. They both require faith, discipline and commitment. Neither Christians nor wrestlers can cut corners. There is no easy way out. You have to deny yourself daily. But the strongest intersection between both? The audience we compete for. As followers of Jesus, the Bible reminds us that our motivation is to please God not man. It also instructs us that, in whatever we do, we are to work heartily for the Lord and not for men. That should be the same motivation in competition. Wrestlers shouldn’t be fearful of pleasing family or friends. They shouldn’t be worried about how the coach feels they performed. Believe it or not, winning or losing should be of little concern. Honestly, those things are beyond our control. The focus of the Christian wrestler is to open up, compete to the best of his or her ability and to give God the glory. That takes all the pressure off. There is freedom over fear in Christ.
Isn’t that how we should live as Christians too?
Needless to say, the season has been a blast. I’ve met almost weekly with team members and coaches who choose to attend our motivational Bible study called RAW (Ready And Willing). I’ve spent time in the wrestling room and even traveled to a tournament in Colorado with the team. It’s been fun building relationships with each of them. It’s also been a learning experience and I’m already excited for next year and the opportunity to build on the foundation that God established this year. Hopefully, as their faith grows, so will their confidence on the mat. In the end, there couldn’t be a better win-win situation.