“Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
As athletes, coaches and fans, we love good rivalries. Some are so big that they have their own name. College football has the “Big Game”, the “Civil War”, and many others. In in our area in Southern Colorado, the “Bell Game”, is a high school football rivalry that dates back over 100 years. We get more excited for these big games, the wins seem a bit sweeter and the losses stay with us a little longer.
Reading the verse above recently caused me, as a coach, to re-think how I view rivalries. Does God really say not to do anything out of rivalry? Does that include how I get geared up to play the league rival?
Certainly, it is OK to get excited for a big game and enjoy an annual battle between teams. But when does this go too far? For me, it is when it causes me to start wishing bad things for my opponent. Am I taking pleasure in their misery? Am I happy about anything that happens to them that will help our team win? Does the thought of their team losing bring a smile to my face? Don’t get me wrong, I am not reducing my desire for my team to play well and win the game. The competitor in me won’t let me give anything but my best, and I think God would have it no other way.
The key is that I need to focus this competitive energy on my own team playing its best and on honoring the Lord. Sure, I want to adopt the best strategy that will bring success in the big game. Using the gifts he has given me to bring glory to him is enough motivation to bring out my best, without a burning desire to “stick it to my rival”. “God’s power working in me” (Phil 2:13) is what helps me give every ounce of strength that I can, that helps me play and coach unselfishly, respond correctly to officials, and other things that ultimately glorify God.
I don’t need to direct negative emotion toward my opponent. I don’t need to try to stir up anger and hatred in my players to motivate them. I don’t need to be glad about an opposing player making mistakes or an opposing coach making a key mistake. On the contrary, I need to be thankful for the challenge brought by a quality opponent and the opportunity it gives me to rise to that challenge. That is what competitive sports is all about.
The Bible says that God’s ways are not my ways. It also says that we will be blessed when we follow his ways. By faith, and by His grace and strength, I choose to approach the big rivalry game his way. I will give it my all by directing my heart to honor God rather than being fueled by hatred for my opponent.
-Tom Dorman, Camp Director