The Forth Question Every Athlete and Coach Can Ask

During my time in high-performance sport I’ve discovered that many Aussie blokes and women resonate with the idea that they are “spiritual”, over being, “religious”. I highly agree.

I was having a coffee with my mate. He runs a business, coaches his kids local junior footy teams, played good footy as a young fella and now, in his forties, works hard and loves his family.

I shared with him Justin Langer’s cricketing story.

When he started out in cricket Justin had a performance chart with 4 key questions he needed to answer regularly. 1. How am I doing physically? Am I fit, getting stronger and eating well? 2. How’s my technique? Am I working on my technique? 3. How am I mentally and emotionally? Am I training my head to respond well in all circumstances? And finally, 4. How am I spiritually?…

With this final response my mate said, “Yes! That’s what it’s about. Getting that stuff right! Not about religion…” He kind of resonated with that side of life beyond the tactile, known stuff.

On many occasions, in Aussie sport, I’ve experience this very similar response.

Last year I conducted a former AFL Player’s wedding. During the service I spoke to this player and his bride using concepts that can be considered by most ‘blokes’ as religious or faith language. Like, “…you both have each other’s back, but the great promise God makes to us in marriage is that he’s also there for us on the journey. We don’t go alone…”

Later at the reception another All-Australian AFL Champion teammate loudly challenged me in front of the entire, albeit small, reception crowd, “So Cam, you spoke of my mate in terms of religious values. I, and many of his mates don’t see him as being very religious, in fact, NOT religious at all! What’s with that?”

Note to self: This is code for, what you said was bull****.

Put on the spot with everyone looking at me for a response (including the groom intently!), I gently concurred, saying “Hey, I agree, I don’t think the groom is very religious, but he is a deeply spiritual person. He cares deeply for people. He has a sensitivity to the deeper issues of life and purpose…”

Every head and family member, including the groom himself and his mate nodded in sync stating, “Yep, you’re right.” Yes he is.” …

There is a depth of spirituality that Aussies have that hasn’t been fully explored, or yet discovered.

I think what we have done, as people of faith, has been to emphasise the many non-important elements of religious duty and sacrament as being important when actually it is not.

The simple idea that GOD’s position with us is that he loves us, doesn’t condemn us and has a purpose and plan for our lives in this world with what we have been shaped for. That’s uniquely us.

And when we dig deep to discover this we find a simple relationship with Jesus transforms every part of our lives. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually and even ‘technically’! A mystery in a person so deep and profound yet uncomplicated and light.

Religion overlays this with complexity, duty, conformity and rigidity. Nearly everything this generation of Aussie men and women want to avoid in their personal and family lives – let alone the ‘STIGMA’ of religion!

At this years Sports Chaplaincy Australia Champions Dinner Justin Langer reflected on his personal ‘overcoming’ story when going through a very dark, “as close to depression” patch during his Aussie batting career. “Much to my surprise our team Chaplain, Andrew Vallance turned up early in the morning at the airport with his 3 young kids as we were about to fly to tour South Africa.” “He gifted me a Bible with a few marked verses. One verse stood out. It basically says ‘God gives me the strength to achieve anything.’”

Justin reflected on the significance of these words saying, “He [Vallance] just reminded me of just how important it is.” Crediting that reality, that God gave him the strength at every moment, even while at the batting crease, that helped shaped the “secret” for the rest of his playing days.

What I’ve discovered is Aussies don’t want all the extras with Religion. Or to be blunter, they just don’t want Religion. But they are open to deeper issues like hope and purpose and faith and a person named Jesus who loves them and wants the best for them. They just don’t want the smells, bells and encumbering stigma of Religion!

I get it.

So, how am I spiritually? Laying religion aside, do I have a sense that I’m not alone? Have I sought to find hope and purpose beyond myself, my capacity and personal identity as an athlete or coach? And what does that look like?

As Aussie men and women have we been brave enough to ask this 4th question? And what do we need to do about it?

Justin read and trusted Philippians 4:13“I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.” I reckon discovering the “who” in life can transform our careers and sport far beyond our expectations. Now, I consider that deeply spiritual.

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