“If you want to win, it has to be an obsession.”—Virat Kohli, India National Cricket Captain
These words from the captain of the Indian National Cricket team describe the life of every professional athlete and the mindset required of any elite sportsperson who wants to succeed at the highest level.
If you want to win, it has to be an obsession.
Being an elite athlete or sportsperson takes effort. Lots and lots of effort.
You put your body on the line and push yourself to the limit of what is humanly possible for the fans who support you on your good days, but who can then be your most ravenous critics on the bad ones. You may have your performance broadcast on the internet to be viewed and replayed forever.
Then you have the training days, the workouts, the hours of fitness-testing, sprint-testing and skills-testing. You may push yourself so hard that you end up vomiting after these training sessions, all to prove that you are worthy of competing amongst the best, and even then that may not be good enough.1
Being an elite sportsperson requires early mornings and the strongest discipline. It may mean having to resist eating a slice of delicious chocolate cake at your child’s birthday partly because you have to make sure you’re eating correctly. It may mean missing weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations or other special occasions for tournaments or training camps around the world.
Being an elite athlete may mean moving away from family and friends, relocating to new cities or countries and away from the comfort of life to pursue dreams and ambitions. It may mean living out of a suitcase, rarely seeing home and moving from one state to the next or from one country to the next. Your whole income can be based on how well you perform.
Get knocked out in the first round of the Uzbekistan Open in Tennis? Guess you’re going to need to book a quick flight and check out of your hotel within a matter of hours so that you can find another tournament from which you can secure your income. (The joys of being a tennis player.) [pullquote]
Being an athlete can be lonely, it can be hard, it can be a gruelling experience and it could end at any time with a bad injury or poor performance. There’s no room for “a bad day at the office” in the elite sports world. Being an elite sportsperson could mean performing in the extreme cold or heat. It could mean performing in the rain or in the snow. It could sometimes mean being dubbed a national disgrace for making minor mistakes that end in devastating results.2
Yet every day we hear of athletes who wish to perform at the Olympics, to play for a professional sports club, to be selected to represent their nation or compete in a World Cup. Every single day we have aspiring sports players who would sacrifice everything if it means competing at the highest level.
Why do they do this?
Former Port Adelaide Football Club legend Foster Williams put it best when he declared “we exist to win premierships”.3
Sports stars are yearning for a premiership, a gold medal or a World Cup. They’re yearning for a prize that, to them, appears so priceless and valuable that they’d give up everything to achieve it. If it meant competing in torrential rain, they would do it. If it meant having to leave home and relocate to the other side of the world, they would do it. If it meant sticking to the strictest of diets, they would do it. If it meant pushing their bodies beyond what is believed to be physically possible, they would do it.
If that is the amount of commitment it takes to pursue a temporary prize, how much more should we give for a permanent one? We have a God who, unlike most sports fans, will not turn on us even after our biggest mistakes. We have a God who guarantees to us an eternal prize, a prize that lasts far longer than any trophy or medal. Yet, where are we in our faith? Why are we not waking up early to spend time with our God? Why are we not enforcing strict routines of prayer or Bible reading each day to ensure that we are spiritually nourished?
Why are we too afraid to risk our convenience and livelihoods to ensure we can best serve where God is calling us? Why are we unwilling to push ourselves to reach for an eternal prize?
1 Corinthians 9:25 tells us that athletes compete “to win a crown that will not last”, yet we have a prize that lasts forever. If winning a temporary prize is an obsession for our athletes, how much more should winning the Ultimate Prize be an obsession for us?
Timothy Pinzone is president of Adventist Students on Campus at Macquarie University, New South Wales.