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Faith in Competition: Balancing the Drive to Win with Grace and Humility

As a college coach, I know firsthand the immense pressure and stress competition can bring for college athletes. I firmly believe that leaning on their faith can provide them with a more profound sense of purpose and meaning beyond just winning or losing. During competitions, I encourage my athletes to pray before games to calm their nerves and focus their minds. Moreover, they can trust God’s plan and believe everything will work out as it should, regardless of the outcome. I also ensure that my athletes feel comfortable seeking spiritual support and encouragement from their teammates and coaches.

Balancing faith and humility with competitiveness can be a challenging task for athletes (and coaches). However, it is an essential step toward building a successful career. At Centenary, we aim to help athletes recognize that their God-given talents have been given to them for a greater purpose, and they must use them to the best of their ability. We always emphasize the importance of acknowledging the presence of other talented athletes and that winning is not always guaranteed. This helps our athletes stay humble and grounded in their faith even as they strive to succeed on the court. We also remind our athletes to take time to give back to their communities and use their successes to make a positive impact on others, further humbling themselves and using their faith for good.

Many athletes have leaned on their faith to become great competitors and exemplify sportsmanship. One such athlete is former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, who often attributed his success to his faith. Warner's commitment to his Christian values helped him maintain a positive attitude and persevere through difficult times, as well as remain humble and focused on helping his teammates succeed. He also used his platform to give back to his community through various charitable endeavors.

Another example is Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, who has spoken openly about her Christian faith and how it has helped her during competitions. Felix has stated that she uses prayer and scripture to help her stay calm and focused and that her faith has also helped her overcome injuries and setbacks. In addition, Felix is known for her sportsmanship, often congratulating her opponents after races and using her platform to advocate for gender and racial equality in athletics.

Lastly, tennis player Novak Djokovic (fellow vegan) is another example of an athlete who has leaned on his faith to become a great competitor and exemplify sportsmanship. Djokovic is a devout Serbian Orthodox Christian who has often spoken about how his faith has helped him stay centered and focused on his goals. He is also known for his graciousness on the court, frequently complimenting his opponents and showing respect to officials and fans alike. In our team handbook, our captains must thank all table staff and officials for their service after every match. It’s a priority for our program to be courteous and show gratitude every chance we get.

I believe that competitiveness is a crucial trait for athletes. It drives them to work harder and strive for excellence. We recruit kids with a "dawg mentality." We look for athletes with the ability to hyper focus and dial in when competition gets hot. However, a win-at-all-costs mentality can harm the athlete and the team. BUT a narrow focus on winning can lead to negative consequences such as cheating, aggression, and poor attitudes toward teammates and opponents. It can also lead to burnout, injury, and a lack of enjoyment in the sport.

As their coach, I stress that practicing grace and humility is just as important. These values help promote a positive team culture, fostering mutual respect, unity, and support. Grace allows athletes to handle success with poise and dignity, while humility involves a modest and respectful attitude toward others, even in moments of triumph.

By practicing grace and humility, my athletes can develop emotional intelligence. They become more self-aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which helps them identify areas for growth and development. Exhibiting grace allows athletes to regulate their emotions, ultimately contributing to their overall emotional intelligence.

Promoting grace and humility creates a positive team culture that fosters mutual respect, unity, and support. When athletes exhibit these traits, they contribute to a collaborative atmosphere that celebrates team victories rather than individual ones. Ultimately, practicing grace and humility is crucial to creating a resilient team that can navigate the highs and lows of competition while valuing the importance of fair play and sportsmanship.

Additionally, when athletes demonstrate grace, they can celebrate their victories with dignity and without boasting. This helps them stay level-headed, serve as a role model for younger athletes, and contribute to a positive team culture. On the other hand, when athletes experience defeat, showing humility can help them face the loss with dignity and use it as motivation to improve.

To wrap up, I want to emphasize the significance of faith for college athletes to combat the immense pressure and stress of competition. I encourage my athletes to pray before games to calm their nerves and recommend that they focus on God's plan as a way to find purpose and meaning beyond winning or losing. It can be challenging to balance faith and humility with competitiveness, but it is crucial in building a successful career. I firmly believe that faith and humility are critical elements that aid athletes in succeeding on and off the court.

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