I remember when I was a freshman and in my first week of school. I remember walking around my university like a little puppy who had lost his way. My first class was bigger than my high school and stepping out of that class there were more people walking around than were in my home town.
I knew two things after that first class: I was out of my league and I was a college athlete who needed help.
There is an old proverb that says, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is true for your athletic career and for your spiritual growth. Imagine going to that first practice or meeting and coach saying, “Let’s figure this out as we go.” How absurd it that?! Coaches put weeks and months into planning a season and hours into planning a practice because they want you grow to be a better athlete. This is the same for your spiritual growth as you start the new school year.
This first week is crucial to the rest of your college career when it comes to making decisions about your faith and how you’re going to grow (or not). So here are four things every Christian athlete needs to do the first week of school:
Intentionally Pursue Community
You have your team, now go beyond that. Start by going to church. Ask older teammates, coaches, and/or your residence hall director for Bible-believing churches in the area. You may be going by yourself, but it is important to start this habit at the very start.
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The foundation is the church but you can supplement that with parachurch organizations like Athletes in Action (find out if there is an AIA on your campus). AIA or other college ministries are not the church but they can be a great place to find friends and start a community of like minded people.
There are many students that will not step into a church right away, but will go to a college-age ministry because their friends want to go or because something fun is promised or because there’s food. No matter your reason for going, I would encourage you to make a commitment to a college ministry as soon as possible.
A word of caution and exhortation—don’t just hang out with people that look and think like you. If you are White, find some non-White friends. If you are Black, find some non-Black friends. It is so important for us to pursue a community with those that don’t look like us to gain a better understanding of different cultures and different perspectives.
If we are going to be a generation that shows the country what it looks like to be different and love one another we need friends that are different than us.
Search for a Mentor
The churchie word for this search is to find someone to disciple you. This may not happen your first week but you can intentionally look for someone to care for you beyond your sport. Someone who cares for your spiritual and personal growth.
This could be a teammate or someone you met along the way at church or another group, but it must be a mature Christian. If you are going to grow, you need to have someone help you along the way.
Alongside this search, maybe it’s also your time to disciple someone else. You can reach up to someone to guide you and reach back to connect with someone looking to grow and be on your same path.
Think for Yourself—Guided by What the Bible Says
The first week is an amazing time to start reading your Bible on a consistent basis. I picture it as a restart or fresh start.
You just moved into your dorm and now you get to decide what you want to do with your time and space. Making Bible reading a priority and discipline will go along way as you grow up through your college career.
You will be challenged in your faith by your professors, your coaches, your teammates, your roommates, your friends, and even those you don’t know. You need to decide if this Christian walk is yours, or is it really just your families’?
You need to start thinking for yourself and not what everyone has always told you. What does the Bible really say about ___ (insert: alcohol, sex, grace, love, cheating, Jesus, etc)? Have you searched it? Have you put the work in?
We can easily be swayed by those around us if we do not have a firm foundation. But if we’re rooted in the Bible we have an opportunity to engage those that don’t think Biblically with the love and truth of God and what He says. You need to start thinking for yourself by letting the Holy Spirit guide you as you read your Bible.
Ask Yourself, "Why do I play my sport?"
Honestly, I think this is one of the most important questions you need to consider in the first week.
I remember the day I was asked this question by my discipler. I didn’t have an answer. I needed some time to think through it and figure out why I really played.
I walked back to him the next week having realized I was just going through the motions and didn’t really know why I was playing. I was just doing what I always did. That was not a good motivation.
How you answer this question plays a significant role on your self-esteem and your drive to pursue greatness and use God’s gifts for His glory. Are you playing for your parents? Are you playing for the coaches or fans? Are you playing for the money? Are you trying to prove everyone wrong? To prove everyone right?
There are so many reasons to play a sport but I think only one good reason—to thank Jesus for the opportunity and gifts He has given you and bring glory back to Him. Christian athletes should be the hardest working and most motivated because they know why they are playing their sport.
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All the other reasons will come and go but Jesus will always stay. Playing while conscious of Jesus’ presence is the most exciting and fun way to play. It is also one of the hardest.
As I go back and think about my first week of school, I wanted to tell you the things I wish I would have read before I started. I was out of my league, which pushed me towards God, and I was a college athlete who needed help. I was lucky to be at a university that offered help. If your school does not offer that help, may these four things be an encouragement and help to you as you pursue being a Christian college athlete on your campus.