Sports have always been a big part of my family. My father would take us outside on weekends to teach us how to dribble a basketball or how to catch a football properly. Sometimes my grandmother would simply play catch or shoot the basketball into a mini hoop with me in the downstairs playroom of our home. My brother was always more dedicated to sports than I was, but we both enjoyed learning and having fun. 

When I was 8 years old, my dad signed us up for a church league that played on Saturday nights. That was my first exposure to organized sports. The team consisted of several of my friends from church. Most of us had never been on a team before, but we all had fun playing together. 

When I was in middle school, my parents found a homeschool organization that played soccer, basketball, and flag football against other smaller private schools in the area. I played soccer for two years, basketball for three years, and flag football for six years with that organization. My love for sports grew significantly while there, especially for football. During my sophomore year in high school I attended Richmond Academy through a virtually connected program at Vienna Adventist Academy. While there, I played basketball for two years. 

Something New

In 2020 I began attending Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) and joined the Knights cross country team. I wasn’t planning on playing sports when I entered university, but my brother convinced me to try out. I thought that my background in soccer would have prepared me for the five-mile runs at the meets, but I soon found out that running at the collegiate level is very different. There were several times I questioned whether it was all worth it, but I kept persisting. I may not have been breaking any world records, but I was always improving from the previous race. Although it’s hard work, I enjoy being a part of a team and cherish the memories that are made together. Cross country, or at least the league we raced in, is different from any other competitive sport I have experienced. Everyone is very encouraging and supportive of each other. You’ll often hear a more seasoned runner encourage a less-experienced runner to keep on pushing as they pass them. This has allowed me to feel less self-conscious and more motivated to give it my all. 

Reality Check

Despite my overall positive experience in cross country, that has not always been the case playing competitive sports. It’s very common for emotions to run high in competitive settings, and I have seen a lot of that while playing sports. There have been many situations in which fights break out between players, coaches, and fans. Sometimes one can even see arguments start between players from different teams in settings off the court, such as church, school events, or gatherings that involve multiple church or school groups. No harm is usually done, but these behaviors do not reflect the Christlike character that we are seeking to reflect. This can often cause people to wonder what separates Christians from nonbelievers— especially if there is little or no difference in behavior. 

However, there’s also been an abundance of instances in which I have seen the character of Christ on and off the court. There have been several individuals and teams that have managed to maintain a respectful and positive attitude no matter the score or outcome of the game. This in and of itself can be a powerful witness to the love of God. 

Medical doctors tell us that regular exercise or playing sports results in a healthier body and mind. Although exercise is good, the amount of preparation to stay competitive at the college level takes a toll on one’s body. I remember that being sleep-deprived became a common occurrence. I was able to balance athletics, classes, and work because we had only four races, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its challenges. I saw the Knights basketball and soccer teams miss several days of school because of traveling for games and tournaments. This makes it difficult for players to keep up with their classes and find jobs to be able to pay for school. Many schools offer sports scholarships for their student athletes. Because SWAU doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, the sacrifice to play is much bigger. School is the priority, so sports can come only after work, classes, and paying for school are worked out. 

Lessons Learned

The lessons that I learned while playing sports extend far beyond the court or field. Participating on an athletics team has taught me a good work ethic, the importance of teamwork, critical thinking skills, and determination. These skills not only are useful for sports but are critical in the real world. 

Working in the Marketing Department at SWAU, I have seen firsthand how these skills have translated into the work environment. Staying physically active also has tremendous benefits for mental and physical health. I found that I was more energetic and alert in my studies during the day after waking up at 6:00 a.m. for practice. 

I experienced many highs and lows while playing sports in school. I wouldn’t trade any of them. I have made many friendships and connections that have lasted long after the final whistle was blown. Being a Knight at SWAU has allowed me to proudly represent my university and has pushed me to reach my full potential. The Athletics Department has emphasized the importance of incorporating Christ-centered and Christ-forward education in all aspects of campus life, including athletics. Whether we win or lose, everything we do is for the honor and glory of God. That’s what it means to me to be a Knight at SWAU.