What do you do when you’re given something you didn’t earn?
It’s possibly not a situation that comes to mind when you think of sports. Athletes generally earn their places, sponsorships, medals and records. However, frequently reserve athletes are given the chance to represent when others are injured or unwell.
When this happens a whole host of emotions can arise, something that should be sweet excitement often feels tainted with sadness. Upon hearing the reason they were given the opportunity, it often adds additional pressure to perform, not only to prove themselves to be as good or exceed the talent of the athlete that withdrew.
Whilst this expectation to perform on behalf of another is usually never verbalised, it is definitely felt by the athlete stepping into their shoes. How long does one carry this unseen burden? The ‘what ifs?’ can plague athletes their entire careers.
On the flip side, we also see the ‘what ifs?’ mentally, strongly expressed in the athletes that miss out due to health. No doubt you’ve run into ex-competitive athletes who reminisce about a knee or shoulder injury that robbed them of the chance to be ‘Great’.
It’s a heartbreaking thing to lose out on something when you have been working so hard towards it, both for injured and reserve athletes. But how can we make a bitter moment into a positive one, that allows both individuals to move forward without inner conflict and resentment?
Coming to terms
As Christians we are continuously learning to trust in God's hand in our lives. He has given us free will and in doing so we have created a fallen world for ourselves, which inevitably results in ‘bad things’ happening. However, God is a good God. He can take the bad and messy things that occur in our lives and use them for good. But only when we allow him to do this.
Athletes who miss out on championships are allowed to feel devastated, disappointed, frustrated and angry for a time (Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 4-6). Ephesians chapter 4, verse 26-27 gives us permission to feel emotions.
Emotions in themselves are not sinful, it is the actions we take based on our emotions that have potential to become sin. We need to support athletes as they come to terms with missing out Romans chapter 12, verse 15. Speaking God's goodness into their lives to help renew their spirit Romans chapter 8, verse 28.
A potential path for healing as an athlete is to congratulate and encourage the athlete that has been chosen to take your place. Imparting wisdom and advice but also acknowledging their capabilities to perform. If you can’t run the race, support the person who can.
God's grace is overflowing and allows us to see how our perceived misfortunes can become blessings for others and unknowingly to us in the process.
Stepping into an opportunity that has been given is hard. It’s difficult to not compare your ability, but owning your ability and acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses is the first step to separating yourself from the athlete that previously held that spot.
Realising God only asks us to try our best is also vital. In doing your best you can sleep well regardless of the outcome (Ecclesiastes chapter 5, verse 12). God doesn’t promise us that we will win the event but he wouldn’t give us an opportunity if he didn’t intend for it to teach us something good.
Remember our God is a good God. He is merciful and understanding when we feel overwhelmed by the task we have been given.
Mhairi-Bronté Duncan plays Curling for New Zealand and uses her experiences as an athlete to inspire her writing.