Rivalry week may begin with harmless banter and playful jests from opposing teams and fan bases, but when gameday gets closer and Saturday comes, it can be a bit of a lion’s den experience for athletes.
Rowdy crowds will be ready to cuss and fuss, jeer and taunt, boo and chant things that aren’t repeatable. Hostile environments are a challenge to perform in. But they aren’t impossible to thrive in. Here’s some ways to help keep calm before stepping into the terrordome.
Set the atmosphere
We know how important it is to set the atmosphere. For the past few days, strength and conditioning coaches in weightrooms across the country have been getting athletes ready for what they’ll face on gameday by simulating loud stadiums and unpleasant conditions so players won’t be thrown by the distractions that come from thousands of screaming fans. That preparation may help, but athletes can do their part to set the tone before they tape up and lace their cleats.
Enter the presence of God before entering the gauntlet. What songs are on your rivalry pregame playlist remind you to worship God in all you do or serve the Lord with gladness? Who has your ear while getting ready in the locker room? What are the contents of the pep talk you give to yourself? Are they life-giving and equipping you to take on whatever comes your way (Eph 6:11-18)? Meditate on the truth that your inherent value and worth isn’t tied to whether you make or miss a play that wins the game.
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The author of confusion would love nothing more than to take you out of character and sideline you in as many ways as possible. Win the mind game. Know that ultimately it’s not flesh and blood you’re battling with. Like you, your opponent is an image bearer of God worthy of love, respect and human dignity (Luke 6:27-36).
There’s a fine line between passion and anger so if there’s a good possibility things could get heated, have a conversation with a trusted teammate and have them keep you in check if things get spicy in between the sticks or before the game. You won’t always succeed at showing restraint. It’s tough to stay on task when opponents make it their job to embarrass or taunt you. But becoming incensed will cost you more in the long run. Keep what motivates you in the front of your mind. Find a focal point, whether it’s a verse written on the tongue of your shoes or a tattoo etched on your body or your family in the stands.
Rivalry games carry high stakes, playoff implications, and real life consequences. The pressure can weigh on you, but freedom comes in knowing that a contest doesn't define your worthiness. Continue to keep the game in perspective, that it ultimately is 60 minutes worth of play and that you have the opportunity to do what you love.
Play with a grateful heart. Offer your very best effort as your worship to the Lord and to glorify the one who gave you the ability of your limbs. Play knowing without a shadow of doubt that what you do doesn't determine who you are. Whom the son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36). Play with the assurance that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Saturday is coming.
Step into the arena already claiming victory.
For a look at how Christian athletes approach gameday with integrity, attitude and excellence, watch our video at HeyRival.org