The Spirit of the Game Reflections From Nate roberts of EU Men’s Soccer

Who Do You Play For?

     One of my favorite movie scenes of all time comes from “Miracle,” the true story of the legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey team. In it, Coach Herb Brooks forces his young, inexperienced team to work out after one of their Olympic tune-ups. The players from the team seem to be in absolute agony, skating back and forth for what the movie depicts as an eternity, until Brooks learns his team’s identity. Team Captain Mike Eruzione eventually speaks up and passionately pronounces that he plays for the United States of America, resulting in the team being allowed to head back to the locker room.

     Athlete or not, you might have been asked that same question before: “Who do you play for?” I have always responded with the team I had been playing for at the time. There came a point when I started to realize my identity was being “a soccer player who plays for this team or that team.” It wasn’t necessarily an epiphany, but the more I responded to that question, the more conflicted I felt. I kept feeling as if my spiritual pursuits and my athletic pursuits weren’t in harmony. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes my athletic pursuits have taken up a larger part of my identity and my heart than my spiritual pursuits.

     It seems to me that  this  isn’t just a habit exclusive to athletes. I’ve encountered friends and family that pursue incredible activities, hobbies and professions with such passion that their identities become centered in them. It’s so easy as men and women of faith to put our hearts into something other than the Lord and, at the same time, still believe He is pivotal to our identity. At what point do we let our activity or hobby or profession define who we are? Throughout my life, I have let success in sports define who I was.

     Over the many years that I’ve participated in sports, I’ve become more and more adept at understanding the power of God’s unrelenting grace. I’ve begun to comprehend that no matter how I value the passions I follow in life, I will constantly fight to remember that I am loved as one of God’s children. Identity has absolutely nothing to do with who I am or who I play for, but to Whom I belong. In his new book “Shaken,” former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow talks about his identity in the midst of his scrutinized and very public journey through sports. The following is an excerpt that truly resonates with me: “I am a child of God. My foundation for who I am is grounded in my faith. In a God who loves me. In a God who gives me purpose. In a God who sees the big picture. In a God who always has a greater plan. Who am I? I am the object of His love.”

     When I graduate from college, I won’t have the opportunity to identify myself as an athlete. I’ll eventually identify myself as something else, though I will find peace in the fact that I belong to a God whose love is without condition and whose plan is greater than my own.

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