In contemporary American culture, one often hears comments along the lines of “Winning is everything,” and “Second place is just being the first loser.” A popular and relatively recent reaction to these positions is the trend to do away with the notion of winners and losers. Inspired and organized by many youth sports organizations, young athletes are given “participation awards” in the place of trophies, blue ribbons, gold cups, etc. There are even athletic events for children where scores are not recorded (I resist referring to these events as competitions!). Let’s face it, no one wants to be classified as a loser, and the truth is that winners still garner respect in our culture.
The question then becomes, for Johnson University Athletics, whether or not “winning at all costs” should be our philosophy. The easy answer to the question is a hearty “No!” A more reflective answer might lead one to redefine the word “winning” as it relates to JU athletics. JU’s mission statement contains the words, “...to extend the kingdom of God among all nations,” inspired by Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28. Extending the kingdom of God is definitely something in which we should all be winners. Considering that sports is a language that transcends all language and most cultural barriers, it makes sense that student athletes can be better equipped to extend the kingdom, to be winners in the ultimate sense of the word.
Because we know that our athletes also recognize the importance of the following words in the JU mission statement, “Johnson educates students for Christian ministries and other strategic vocations framed by the Great Commission...,” the Athletic Department seeks relationships with organized sports ministry groups.
In recent months the following sports-related ministries have been on our campus as they seek to encourage and to connect with our students: Athletes in Action; Fellowship of Christian Athletes; International Leadership Initiatives; The Center for Sport, Peace, and Society; and International Sports Consulting. Our student athletes are challenged in the classrooms, in the dorms, in social settings, on the court, and on the field of competition.
They are constantly asked to train at a higher level, to strive harder, to learn new skills and strategies, to give more of themselves, and to push beyond their known limits. Student athletes choose to make their lives more complicated by surrendering valuable time for the sake of their teams. However, when asked about the sacrifice, the large majority of the student athletes will assert that it is worth the time, that their grades are better during the season than out of season; in fact, they encourage others to participate in an organized sport.
A well-known preacher recently told me that the most valuable lessons he remembers from his college days were those he learned from his coaches. Along those lines, Johnson carefully considers the Christian character and witness of its coaches in addition to their knowledge of the sport. These coaches are responsible for instilling skills necessary for success. A partial list of these skills include time management–setting and keeping schedules; leadership–taking initiative for problem solving; teamwork–functioning in a group setting; accountability–proving one’s dependability; and “followship”–knowing how to take direction as well as give it.
Over the years I have learned that young people need and want guidance. They crave a safe, creative, fun, fast-paced environment where they can learn and interact with those who are experienced. In order to help with achieving a workable definition of winning and balance, I offer the following list of priorities:
Develop a right relationship with God.
Take care of oneself and one’s family.
Do not squander academic opportunities.
Team is more important than any one individual.
Social life is important, but team is more important!
Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (NIV) Adding that statement as a goal, Christian athletes can be sent into the world with a great deal of hope. Achieving their mission, they and those they impact win.
And win, we must!