Example #43 Sport and Restraint

What if competitive sports developed restraint?

Anna and Pete both taught sport in church Secondary schools. Several incidents made them think about the attitudes to winning that we nurture through the way we teach competitive sports.

Anna: "Our girls' hockey team was doing well and we were close to winning the area cup. Else, the team captain, was hungry for success. She wanted her final year in school to culminate with leading the team to victory in the local league. Winning really mattered. So Else began to introduce various 'intimidation techniques', which were designed to unnerve the opposition. When I realised what was happening I was really perturbed. I called a meeting and we spoke about the desire to win, but not at all costs. We talked about the techniques and why they were not appropriate because of the need to respect others, including our opponents. It made me think about how I ran the coaching sessions. I had not talked about these issues."

Pete: "I taught boys' tennis and I had thought about the attitudes I was building. In order to teach how to serve the ball I paired the boys so that they were as close as possible in skill level. I encouraged them to serve to the best of their ability in the attempt to beat their opponent. Each time, the student receiving the serve was required to give feedback to the server on the strengths and weaknesses of the serve. I then paired each weaker player with a stronger player. I asked the stronger player to receive the service from the less skilled player with the racquet in their weaker, usually left, hand. Again they had to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the serve. They were told that, in this exercise, their role as the stronger player was to help their 'opponent' learn how to serve more effectively."

What’s going on here?

Pete and Anna saw sport as something that involved not only winning, but also nurturing values related to respect and seeking the good of others.

They engaged students by focusing their attention on the issue of values (banning intimidation techniques) and led them to experience putting these values into practice (helping each other learn).

They reshaped their practice by choosing intentional language to frame learning, setting an explicit purpose for learning, and relating this clearly to how practices were run (opportunities to help others).

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Jesus wasn’t prepared to exert raw power in order to win; instead he modelled restraint and service. To exercise restraint and insist that values apply even in a deeply competitive situation is counter-intuitive and involves and exercise of faith. Faith is only real faith when put into action in this way. It is not an abstract set of beliefs.

What difference does it make?

Pete and Anna did not deny the need for competition, but they balanced it with restraint and coaching exercises that showed respect to opponents. A repertoire of similar exercises could be developed.

Where could we go from here?

Develop the idea of ‘courageous restraint’ with students using true stories. Examples:

  1. In June 2010, a Detroit baseball player achieved a perfect game but the umpire made an incorrect call which denied the player his achievement. He had every right to protest. He smiled, swallowed his acute disappointment and accepted the decision, and his reaction earned him widespread respect. Years of training was the only way in which such restraint could come to be shown in a moment of crisis like this. (See http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/37479309/ns/sports-baseball/.)
  2. In 2010, NATO forces in Afghanistan adopted a policy of courageous restraint that was designed to reduce civilian casualties. Soldiers were trained to restrain themselves from firing in battles with the Taliban if there was risk to innocent civilians. They were reminded of these rules of engagement, prior to battle.

Digging deeper

Courageous restraint was shown twice by David. King Saul was trying to kill him and twice David, who had been anointed as the next king, had Saul at his mercy. In both cases he refused to kill him. David exercised restraint and waited for the throne (1 Samuel 24:7). That did not mean he did nothing. During that period he built his skill, his forces and his popularity. Early in his ministry, Jesus was tempted to use his powers in the wrong way to convince the people that he was truly the Son of God. Jesus was being offered victory at any cost. He refused. A significant feature of Jesus’ life and his death on the cross was his radical revision of the concept of 'winning', which in the understanding of his time meant triumph, particularly over an enemy or competitor. The biblical emphasis is on the people we become and the call is to become like Christ in character (1 John 2:6).

Truth lies in character. Christ did not simply speak the truth; he was truth; truth, through and through; for truth is a thing not of words, but of life and being. Frederick W. Robertson

Developing a Christ-like character is not the same as keeping rules such as the Ten Commandments. We don’t grow as Christians just by keeping ‘the rules’ any more than someone becomes a good footballer just by keeping the rules of the game.

Explore similar examples:

What if celebrating a goal were about acknowledging others?
What if physical education helped students to address their fears?
What if Primary football taught fairness and respect?

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1When Saul got back from fighting off the Philistines, he heard that David was in the desert around En-Gedi. 2Saul led three thousand of Israel's best soldiers out to look for David and his men near Wild Goat Rocks at En-Gedi. 3There were some sheep pens along the side of the road, and one of them was built around the entrance to a cave. Saul went into the cave to relieve himself. David and his men were hiding at the back of the cave. 4They whispered to David, The Lord told you he was going to let you defeat your enemies and do whatever you want with them. This must be the day the Lord was talking about. David sneaked over and cut off a small piece of Saul's robe, but Saul didn't notice a thing. 5Afterwards, David was sorry that he had even done that, 6and he told his men, Stop talking foolishly. We're not going to attack Saul. He's my king, and I pray that the Lord will keep me from doing anything to harm his chosen king. Saul left the cave and started down the road. 8Soon, David also got up and left the cave. Your Majesty! he shouted from a distance. Saul turned around to look. David bowed down very low 9and said: Your Majesty, why do you listen to people who say that I'm trying to harm you? 10You can see for yourself that the Lord gave me the chance to catch you in the cave today. Some of my men wanted to kill you, but I wouldn't let them do it. I told them, I will not harm the Lord 's chosen king! 11Your Majesty, look at what I'm holding. You can see that it's a piece of your robe. If I could cut off a piece of your robe, I could have killed you. But I let you live, and that should prove I'm not trying to harm you or to rebel. I haven't done anything to you, and yet you keep trying to ambush and kill me. 12I'll let the Lord decide which one of us has done right. I pray that the Lord will punish you for what you're doing to me, but I won't do anything to you. 13An old proverb says, Only evil people do evil things, and so I won't harm you. 14Why should the king of Israel be out chasing me, anyway? I'm as worthless as a dead dog or a flea. 15I pray that the Lord will help me escape and show that I am in the right. 16David, my sonis that you? Saul asked. Then he started crying 17and said: David, you're a better person than I am. You treated me with kindness, even though I've been cruel to you. 18You've told me how you were kind enough not to kill me when the Lord gave you the chance. 19If you really were my enemy, you wouldn't have let me leave here alive. I pray that the Lord will give you a big reward for what you did today. 20I realize now that you will be the next king, and a powerful king at that. 21Promise me with the Lord as your witness, that you won't wipe out my descendants. Let them live to keep my family name alive. 22So David promised, and Saul went home. David and his men returned to their hideout. Samuel dies
1My children, I am writing this so that you won't sin. But if you do sin, Jesus Christ always does the right thing, and he will speak to the Father for us. 2Christ is the sacrifice that takes away our sins and the sins of all the world's people. 3When we obey God, we are sure that we know him. 4But if we claim to know him and don't obey him, we are lying and the truth isn't in our hearts. 5We truly love God only when we obey him as we should, and then we know that we belong to him. 6If we say we are his, we must follow the example of Christ. 7My dear friends, I am not writing to give you a new commandment. It is the same one that you were first given, and it is the message you heard. 8But it really is a new commandment, and you know its true meaning, just as Christ does. You can see the darkness fading away and the true light already shining. 9If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark. 10But if we love others, we are in the light, and we don't cause problems for them. 11If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark. We don't know where we are going, because we can't see in the dark. 12Children, I am writing to you, because your sins have been forgiven in the name of Christ. 13Parents, I am writing to you, because you have known the one who was there from the beginning. Young people, I am writing to you, because you have defeated the evil one. 14Children, I am writing to you, because you have known the Father. Parents, I am writing to you, because you have known the one who was there from the beginning. Young people, I am writing to you, because you are strong. God's message is firm in your hearts, and you have defeated the evil one. 15Don't love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. 16Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father. 17The world and the desires it causes are disappearing. But if we obey God, we will live for ever. The enemy of Christ 18Children, this is the last hour. You heard that the enemy of Christ would appear at this time, and many of Christ's enemies have already appeared. So we know that the last hour is here. 19These people came from our own group, yet they were not part of us. If they had been part of us, they would have stayed with us. But they left, which proves that they did not belong to our group. 20Christ, the Holy One, has blessed you, and now all of you understand. 21I did not need to write to you about the truth, since you already know it. You also know that liars do not belong to the truth. 22And a liar is anyone who says that Jesus isn't truly Christ. Anyone who says this is an enemy of Christ and rejects both the Father and the Son. 23If we reject the Son, we reject the Father. But if we say that we accept the Son, we have the Father. 24Keep thinking about the message you first heard, and you will always be one in your heart with the Son and with the Father. 25The Son has promised us eternal life. 26I am writing to warn you about those people who are misleading you. 27But Christ has blessed you with the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit stays in you, and you don't need any teachers. The Spirit is truthful and teaches you everything. So stay united in your heart with Christ, just as the Spirit has taught you to do. Children of God 28Children, stay united in your hearts with Christ. Then when he returns, we will have confidence and won't have to hide in shame. 29You know that Christ always does right and that everyone who does right is a child of God.