1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a)
Becoming Sidelined: The Loss of Athletic Identity. I found this article on a website called: www.sidelinedusa.org, a non-profit organization formed for athletes “unable to continue to compete in their sport due to career-ending injuries, health conditions, or repeat concussions”. The website is intended to “inspire permanently sidelined athletes to face the obstacle imposed on them, adapt and overcome”.
In the article the author, Christine Pinalto, addresses the devastation that most “permanently-sidelined athletes” face as they feel a part of them has died. “Sports psychologists refer to this as ‘losing the athletic identity’. One of the hardest parts of processing the loss of ability to compete in sport is feeling like you don’t know who you are without your sport.”, writes Pinalto.
It’s no wonder that so many athletes get their identity from sports. For most student athletes, it has been an all-encompassing part of their lives since they were small children, spending hours training, traveling and competing, leaving little time for anything beyond sport and school. Sports participation “is a primary source of identity, self-esteem, motivation, stress-relief, and friendships and further it often is viewed as the means for which to pursue a better life for oneself”. It is not a surprise then, when an athlete becomes permanently sidelined because their sport is removed from their life, that it can feel like they have lost everything. Organizations like Sidelined USA serve an excellent purpose in that they encourage such student athletes to find new purpose in their lives and find new vision, but as Christian athletes we are blessed to have an additional resource to bring perspective into our lives.
Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” The Word of God, the Bible, is an incredible resource given to us so that we don’t have to stumble through life. And regarding our identity, the Bible has lots to tell us. When we accept Christ into our lives, we are told that we are children of God (John 1:12); we are accepted (Romans 15:7); we are one with him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17); we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6); we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); we were known already in our mother’s womb, formed by God and set apart (Jeremiah 1:5); we are an integral part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27); we are chosen and a part of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We are far, far more than a gymnast, a soccer player, a baseball player, a football player, basketball player, track athlete or any other athlete. We might be blessed to be able to do those things, and to do them to the fullest of the abilities God has given us, but we must NEVER mistake that for WHO we are. It is critical as Christians to hold everything in this world with an open hand. Hold it firmly enough to care for it, but loosely enough for God to remove it without tearing it out. Sports is one of those things. If you have been blessed with athletic abilities and opportunities, pursue them with excellence. Do your best and see where it takes you. But in your pursuit of your love of sport, continually check your heart to see if your identity has become wound up in that pursuit. It is a fine line to be dedicated and to love a sport, and having your identity caught up in that same pursuit. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a). That’s your identity!