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Don’t Waste Your Sports, Part 6: The Humble Athlete

In addition to thanking God for sports, we glorify God by playing the game with humility. Sadly, this is one quality that’s often lacking, particularly in professional sports, and more and more in sports at all levels. But here’s an astonishing truth: humility gets God’s attention.

In Isaiah 66 we read, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). God is decisively drawn to the humble. The humble athlete is the one who draws God’s attention, and in this sense, drawing his attention means also attracting his grace—his unmerited kindness. And whether you’re a starter or reserve, whether you play varsity or JV, you are no exception.

So how does humility express itself on the field? Here’s a profile of the humble athlete:

  • The humble athlete recognizes his limitations. No athlete has unlimited skill. With two minutes remaining in a tied basketball game, you want the ball in the hands of Michael Jordan. In the bottom of the ninth in a tied baseball game, you’d be wise to bench Jordan and keep the bat out of his hands. Michael Jordan eventually discovered what we all must realize: none of us is universally gifted. We all come with divinely imposed limitations—limitations meant to humble us. Former college basketball player Pat Conroy got this. In his book My Losing Season he humbly acknowledged, “I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one.”[1] That’s the kind of humility we’re talking about.
  • The humble athlete welcomes critique and correction from coaches and teammates. No one enjoys being corrected. But if we’re humble, we realize that we have weaknesses, so we welcome correction. If we’re humble, we know we need to improve, so we want others to show us where and how. The proud athlete, on the other hand, will have none of this. He reacts to correction rather than welcoming it. He is easily offended.
  • The humble athlete acknowledges the contributions of others. No athlete accomplishes anything alone. Any achievement is a group effort. So a humble athlete who scores doesn’t dance in the end zone by himself as if no one else was involved in the play. Instead, he acknowledges that his team made the score possible.

My son Chad loves soccer. He introduced me to it and now I love soccer. We enjoy watching matches in the European league and the World Cup. But there is something about soccer that I find very strange. When someone scores a goal, he runs as hard as he can away from his teammates, who then run as fast as they can after him! The striker then retreats to a corner of the field, by himself, to receive the crowd’s applause. This tradition is not just odd. It’s ugly. This looks like nothing more than pride in action. This is not how a humble athlete glorifies God.

Instead, a humble athlete, if he scores, runs to his teammates. And he says, “I want to make something very clear: apart from all you did on defense and in passing, this score doesn’t happen.” The humble athlete sees that self-exaltation in team sports is absurd.

  • The humble athlete is gracious in defeat and modest in victory. For most of us, losing is inevitable. Losing with a proud attitude isn’t. When the humble athlete loses, he is gracious. He recognizes that his opponents played better, and he sincerely congratulates them on their win. And when the humble athlete wins, he is modest. There are no excessive celebrations, no inappropriate victory dances. He realizes that victory is a gift from God and is an opportunity to draw attention to God, not himself. Win or lose, humility is always the appropriate response.
  • The humble athlete honors his coach. Think about it: your coach sacrificially gives his time and energy so you can be a better player. And if he’s like most coaches, he doesn’t even get paid for it. So if you’re humble, you’ll express gratitude—out loud—for the time your coach invests in your team. The humble athlete doesn’t rip the coach in private. If he disagrees with the coach, he discusses it with him respectfully. The humble athlete accepts the role the coach chooses for him. When the humble athlete isn’t playing, he doesn’t slouch on the bench, muttering complaints; he cheers for his teammates on the field. And after every practice and every game, he thanks the coach for what he’s done.
  • The humble athlete respects officials. A humble athlete doesn’t protest a call—even if it was inaccurate. So when the referee blows a call, how will you respond? Will you demand a review? Will you roll your eyes? Mumble an insult? Or will you humbly accept the call?
  • The humble athlete gives glory for all his athletic accomplishments to God. He knows that all of his athletic skill, every point he scores, and every match he wins are ultimately gifts from God. What do we have that we have not received? Nothing. So the humble athlete transfers all the glory to God for all of his success.

Let’s be humble athletes.

Enjoying Don’t Waste Your Sports? Get more:
Buy the booklet.
Hear the sermon.
Other posts in this series:

  1. Sports At Their Best—And Worst
  2. What Are Sports Really For?
  3. Meeting God Before the Opening Tip
  4. Play to the Glory of God
  5. The Grateful Athlete
  6. The Humble Athlete
  7. The Servant Athlete
  8. Sports Idols
  9. Your Next Game
  10. Application Questions for Athletes

Watch the video:

[1] Pat Conroy, My Losing Season: A Memoir (New York: Bantam Dell/Random House, 2003), p 1.