Undoubtedly, the fall 2020 sports season will look different than most.
Some athletic organizations have already cancelled or suspended their seasons, others are moving forward and many have yet to make a concrete decision. Across all sports, athletes and coaches must navigate feelings of uncertainty and reevaluate previous plans.
As a first-year volunteer cross country coach for Lincoln East High School — an opportunity that, despite the pandemic, I am pumped about! — I’m choosing to look at the fall as a season of creativity rather than stress. Right now, my job is to foster a safe, encouraging environment for my athletes that adheres to the health department’s COVID-19 guidelines.
More than ever, I realize that every day is a gift. Practices and competitions will look different than in previous years. We can — and should! — do everything possible to make wise, healthy decisions both in and out of practice, but because we have little control over others, the final outcome is out of our hands. However, we can control how we react to the circumstances. We can either respond with fear of the future or gratitude for the present, thanking God for the daily opportunities He has given us.
But, even for those whose fall seasons have been cancelled, hope remains.
On Sunday, I listened to a sermon on Galatians 5: a chapter well-known for its “fruit of the Spirit” metaphor. In verses 22 and 23, the apostle Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (NIV).
Whenever I read these verses, I always miss that last sentence: “Against such things there is no law.”
These nine spiritual fruits — love, joy peace, forbearance (or patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — transcend all bans, mandates and laws. No matter what the world looks like, we can still love our neighbor. We can always rejoice in the Lord, whether in large crowds or six feet apart. Masks can stop the virus, but they can’t stop kindness. We can be patient with the protocols, gentle with our Facebook friends and faithful to our God regardless of any wrench that may be thrown in our plans.
Here are a few practical ways in which coaches and athletes can exercise the fruits of the Spirit in fall 2020:
- Love: Love your teammates. Love your coaches. Love your athletic trainers. Love your custodial staff. Love everyone who supports you. Love everyone who fights against you. Love yourself. Love your God. Find someone who is sits alone, lives alone or feels alone, and reach out to them — in person or virtually.
- Joy: Ask God to reveal the ways in which He has blessed you during this abnormal season. Practice gratitude daily. Pull out a journal and list 10 things you’re thankful for.
- Peace: When the world seems chaotic, rest in the One who stays the same, who never leaves you nor forsakes you. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). If you’re struggling with worry/anxiety, reach out to a close friend or family member. If you don’t know who to reach out to, email me at email@example.com and I will pray for you.
- Forbearance/Patience: Meets, practices and seasons will look different this year. Be patient with the timeline and circumstances. Also, be patient with others when they make mistakes. Be patient with yourself; your body and brain are still adjusting.
- Kindness: Respond to arguments — whether in person or on social media — with kindness rather than anger. Identify people in your life who might be worried or stressed, and offer them words of encouragement.
- Goodness: Let your speech, actions and thoughts reflect the goodness of God. Point people toward Him rather than toward frustration, anger and malice.
- Faithfulness: Stay faithful to God even when the loud voices of this world try to lead you astray. Stay faithful to your team by making healthy, virus-mitigating choices outside of practice.
- Gentleness: Recognize the people around you who may be hurting and approach them with gentle words of encouragement. Spend time (in person or virtually) with injured athletes. Be a good listener.
- Self-Control: Commit to a wise, healthy lifestyle both in and out of practice. Exercise healthy self-discipline in all areas: faith, sports, academics, relationships, etc. Encourage others — with love — to do so as well. Learn from your mistakes, but also give yourself grace when you slip up.