9 Integration Lessons that Can Be Learned Through Sports

Sometimes my writing about biblical integration can focus more on classroom activities than co-curricular ones. However, most Christian schools also teach students outside of the classroom — often through sports. Here is a list of nine truths that can be easily taught in the context of sports. I hope that you find it helpful!

1) Treat others as more important than self. 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Phil 2:3-4

When you are on a team, you have to look out for one another. Each team member is meant to serve the others. In football, linemen block for those with the ball. In basketball, players might give up their own shot in order to get the ball to a player in a better position. This teaches us big lessons about life. In our churches, neighborhoods, families, and workplaces, we are to always treat others as more important than ourselves. 

2) Hard work makes a difference.

A sluggard’s appetite is never filled,  but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. – Prov 13:4

Who ends up satisfied? The hard worker. In the end, we will not see the most talented individuals holding gold medals. No, we’ll see the hardest workers. This doesn’t mean that talent is meaningless. But it does mean that it is not enough. Hard work will also pay off in future marriages, in evangelism, in giving, in serving. 

3) Preparation pays off.

Go to the ant, you sluggard;  consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. – Prov 6:6-8

The ant works in the summer so that it will be ready in winter. When you lift weights, work on conditioning, or cross-train out of season, it pays off in-season. This truth helps in every area of life. Preparation pays off. Want to be a missionary? Prepare by not accumulating student-loan debt. Want to be a doctor? Start working on science-knowledge and people skills now. Want to be able to retire? Start saving and investing now.

4) Each role is important.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts,according to the grace given to each of us. – Rom 12:4-6

The quarterback might be the star, but, in the NFL, the left-tackle has become the second highest-paid position. Not receiver. Not running back. Left tackle. The left tackle should never touch the ball, should never make a tackle, should never run a route, but is very highly paid. Why? Because team-success requires that this player be there to protect and block. This isn’t a headline-grabbing role, but it is one that results in wins. In other words, each member of a team plays an important (but different) role. Some might get more attention, but all are important.

5) Doing hard things can be satisfying.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. – Eph 6:11

Success in life often relates to standing against the devil’s schemes. The devil is power and smart and active. It is hard to stand against him. But it is worth it. We see this in sports too — cutting a minute off of a 5k time is hard, but satisfying. 

6) We must respect authority.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. – Rom 13:1-2

Referees, umpires, judges, and committees have authority in sports. We must respect them even when we disagree. We also have authority-figures in our coaches and captains. Athletes can learn to respect authority in sports. This understanding will pay off throughout life. And will help them respect the ultimate authority — God Himself. 

7) Disqualification is a real threat.

I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Cor 9:27

Lance Armstrong. Barry Bonds. SMU. UNLV. Maria Sharapova. This is a tiny list of the many famous athletes or organizations that have felt the string of disqualification in one way or another. These were all greats, but they’ll be remembered by many for what they did wrong. Sports can teach athletes the importance of remaining eligible. Other things can disqualify us from more important things in life. People can be disqualified from ministry, certain jobs, military service, relationships, etc. from not living rightly. 

8) Life is made up of many individual matches.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. – Heb 3:13

A team can lose a game, but still win a championship. A team might even lose a conference, but still win a championship. Life is not defined by any one day (although, one day could disqualify us). Therefore, when we fail, we need to learn to get up, grow, and keep going. 

9) My mistakes can hurt others.

If you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the Lord’s flock will be taken captive. – Jer 13:17

If a player doesn’t run out a ground-ball, it can hurt the whole team. If a player gives up on his blocking assignment, it can hurt the whole team. This teaches important lessons. The sins of a father can hurt his kids and spouse. 

Sports are powerful tools for biblical integration. Don’t waste the opportunities that they provide.