We all have heard the phrase “sports build character.” In the face of this axiom, John Wooden objects.
John Wooden is considered by many to be one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. To demonstrate that greatness, some would point to his 10 NCAA championships, including 7 in row, in a 12 year period. Others would talk about his 88 game win streak. Still others would bring up some of the players he coached into basketball greatness including Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton.
Regardless of where you stand on John Wooden, a couple of things are certain. He got basketball. He also got people. But, maybe most importantly, he got life and the way sports and life relate. Hence his quote – “Sports don’t build character. They reveal it.” Unlike the person who says, “I become a totally different person when I step on that field or court,” Wooden declared that sports are where one’s true personality comes out. Sports strip away the facade and show what is real in and about us.
Wooden didn’t stop there though. Once revealed, Wooden would then use sports to “rebuild” what is “revealed.” For instance, he valued cooperation (one of the blocks of the pyramid). In an effort to “rebuild” cooperation in the face of the individualism he saw “revealed” in sports, he refused to allow any player’s number to be retired after they left the school, even though he arguably had some of the top, if not the top, collegiate players to ever play the game.
At Cede Sports, we agree with John Wooden – sports reveal character. Once revealed character can be rebuilt through that same environment.
At Cede Sports, when talking about this dynamic of revealing and rebuilding, we say that “Sports are a Laboratory.” A lab is a safe environment to experiment. In these safe experiments. things come to light, things are revealed. These laboratories also provide a safe environment to further experiment to see how to change what was revealed. Once lessons are discovered in this controlled environment, those lessons can be applied to a much broader context than the lab.
Sports provide this same type of “laboratory environment.” Sports are a place where things are revealed, particularly our character. They also give this controlled environment where character can be rebuilt once revealed. Things can be tried and, once learned more easily in that “safer” atmosphere, applied in other more chaotic realms of life.
One of the main things I keep getting revealed in my own sports is how often my sports are all about ME. I see this when asked what I shot in a round of golf or how I did in a particular qualifying. I see it when I realize how much pressure I feel as I tee it up with people who have heard I used to be a professional golfer. Golf reveals how much I am thinking about me, how much my heart orientation is in the wrong direction – inward rather than outward.
This “selfishness,” this inward heart orientation is a beautiful revelation from God. Once this wrong orientation is revealed, I can acknowledge that to God. God knows this admission, or confession, is the gateway to repentance, a change of my mind and my heart orientation away from me and to God and his glory. He knows this admission and change of thinking is what brings with it the power of the Gospel to reorient my heart.
Then, right there on the golf course, I can try that reorientation out. In faith in the power of the Gospel, I can fix my heart on displaying his character as I play. I can purpose to show him off rather than me.
Golf not only offers me the opportunity to do this once but repeatedly during the round. I can go through this process over and over again in those several focused hours. Through the ups and downs of good and bad shots, I learn. What I learn I can then take into the rest of my life because sports are a great laboratory.
This process – this confession, repentance, and faith cycle – is what makes the Gospel come alive in my heart and brings about the change that Gospel promises. All through the simple tool of sports, sports that reveal and can then rebuild character.