Of all the cancelations and closings in sports in recent weeks, the Olympics are the latest to follow suit.
Since the past two (long) weeks of COVID-19 dominating the news and interfering with most people’s lifestyles, athletes around the world have felt stress, anxiety, and frustration about their seasons coming to an abrupt end. Other athletes whose sports seasons haven't yet begun have experienced relief as they’ve found more time to train and prepare.
"I want to become an athlete of influence!"
Finally, athletes and coaches with Olympic or Paralympic aspirations can have some peace now that the IOC has decided to postpone the Olympics, moving the games to 2021.
Through last week, all that these aspiring athletes could do was “just plan as if [the Olympics] is going to happen." USA Basketball assistant coach Steve Kerr said.
The Olympics will still happen. Next year.
The IOC finally gave in after World Athletics, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and other countries petitioned that the Games be postponed.
This is good news for athletes whose training schedules have been affected by closed training facilities and canceled events.
The challenge now is to stay focused for yet another year while navigating ever changing circumstances without having competitions in the near future to look forward to.
While some athletes can take advantage of the extra training time, time is not necessarily a friend for older athletes.
A British athlete said a week ago that he might retire if the Tokyo Olympics are canceled. He’s facing the reality that his body will soon be past its prime. Will he keep training for one more year?
How can an athlete maintain focus with the time he or she has?
Make adjustments, but stick to the plan of competing.
Even if it means revising your training schedule.
Even if it means training alone.
Even if it means training in inclement weather while the gyms are closed.
Even when competitions are canceled.
Even if it means paying out of pocket to travel to alternative competitions.
Resist the urge to give up. Seek for the strength to press on. Finish strong.
The Bible teaches in times of difficulty, to keep our eyes on the prize. The apostle Paul wrote,
“Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13,14 NASB).
Paul referenced hardships that he faced in life, but he encouraged Christians to stay focused on Jesus. In the midst of COVID-19, and the anxiety that it produces, it's essential to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).
Nothing in life is guaranteed
It’s easy to forget that every breath, muscle movement, and heartbeat is a gift from God. Athletic ability is a gift from God. Opportunities to compete are gifts from God. Blessings like these ought to be embraced, because they are not guaranteed.
The Bible teaches that our days are numbered (Job 14, Psalm 39:4,5, Psalm 139:16).
Life is a mystery. Only God knows the timing of birth and death, and life in between. God knew when COVID-19 would become a pandemic, and only He knows when its time will come to pass.
Psalm 39 is a song that describes life as fragile and short-lived. The Psalmist writes to God, “Let me know how fleeting my life is … Each man’s life is but a breath.”
“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you” (NIV).
The encouragement is for us to place hope in Jesus. He is the meaning of life.
While Christian athletes must make the most of the life that is given, we must also live as though there is no tomorrow.
Matthew 24 describes “signs of the end of the age” and teaches that “no one knows about that day or hour” that Christ will return to earth. Jesus is teaching His followers to be ready for His return.
Verses 42-51 (NIV) say,
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
As athletes must keep preparing for competition, Christ-followers must be prepared for Jesus’ return in the end times. This means we must live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Jesus, our master.
It’s foolish to approach life thinking that we can put our own desires in front of Christ’s desires, as if we have “another day” to make things right. It’s foolish to think that we can procrastinate making disciples when we should use the time that’s been given.
Instead, God desires us to live our lives with purpose. Not only in our sport, which is only a fraction of our lives, but in everything.
Keep preparing. Keep living with purpose even in uncertain times.
The time to follow Jesus and live a life that is pleasing to Him is now.