If you are a Christian athlete, you have some unique challenges ahead. You want to be taken seriously like other athletes, but being a Christian means you cannot fully follow in some of their footsteps. You are an example for future Christian athletes who will come up behind you. You have to live differently than the majority of your peers, and you will be ridiculed and mocked for your beliefs. But as Christians, we knew we would be persecuted.
I cannot tell you how many of my friends who are both Christian and involved in sports have turned from some of their beliefs. It breaks my heart to see the life choices they have made. Some choices they can never return from and require lots of help before they can even stop. You do not have to be that person.
Sticking to what you believe while other athletes go and live for themselves, is really, really hard. It is even harder when you are trying to witness to them. They may give excuses like “I want to live how I want to live” or “That's just not for me”. Those same people may start to make jokes about you. Don’t respond in kind, first of all. Haters are going to be haters. That is just the reality of it. Unlike most, I had the opportunity of going to school at a Christian school so my faith was not persecuted. I did have friends in public school settings who went through what so many of you have. It is a lot like walking on eggshells. One mess up and…oops. Do not let that discourage you though.
Your behavior in these types of situations can also be a good example to your teammates. When your team sees how you act and respond to certain things, many will come to respect you and your decisions. It will take time for them to grow this respect, but it will eventually happen. They might even start asking questions and wanting to know why you live the way that you do. This is a way God can use your life to open a door to nonbelievers.
I am sure most of you in public school know about FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). FCA is an international non-profit Christian sports ministry whose mission is “to lead every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.” They are a student-led group and many of the leaders are other athletes in your school. This group gives you an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with other Christians who happen to be on your team. If your non-believing friends are up to it, you could start by bringing them to a meeting or two. You can even invite them to come to church with you. They might not agree right away. If so, that is fine. Do not give up on them, and make sure to not seem pushy or forceful. If you become too pushy, they will not want to come at all. Usually, the subject can be brought up in casual conversation. You can ask and if they say no, just state it is okay and that the door is always open.
Being an example to younger Christian athletes does put a lot of pressure on someone. From personal experience, it is a lot to take in as well. Knowing that every move you make is being watched by the younger generation is nerve-wracking when you are playing. You could be much like a mentor to them by teaching new techniques for the sport they are interested in and also being able to teach them how to show God's love and light through their actions. These kids want to be just like you, especially if you are well known among the student body. You have to teach them it is not all about fame but using our position to further the mission through it.
From this standpoint, you have become a leader. I know that thought is scary. Being a leader takes confidence and assurance. You are still young, yes, but who said you had to be an adult to lead? It is a huge responsibility. You are in charge of encouragement as well as helping critique your teammates playing skills. It will be painful; it will be hard. After all, you are both learning from and teaching each other. While on the court or playing field, you try your best. You make the shots, hits, and scores that would best help your team win. But win or lose, have a good attitude about it. Your teammates (and younger players) will see that. It is amazing how one attitude can affect the team. If one person gets down, so does the rest of the team and vice versa.
I know this sounds difficult, but if we are being totally honest, what aspect of life is not? As it says in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Through God, all things are possible; even being the young Christian athlete you are. Through you, God can work great and marvelous things; whether it be on the court or off.