Third quarter, tie game, and you know the play that’s coming. You’ve practiced consistently, watched the film repeatedly, and run through it in your head more times than you care to count. No problem, not only are you ready, but you’ve done it in the game already. This time though, even though you’re in the right position, you miss the tackle, or you brick off the shot, or you field the ball cleanly but the throw is a little high and the runner’s safe. What goes through your mind next?
The Usual Suspects
The rest of your game depends on your thinking: what you’re saying to yourself, how you understand and work through your mistake. There are two routes most often taken by athletes. The first is to dwell on your mistake. You may not be thinking specifically about the play, but you carry with you the frustrations or fears about how people you value perceive you throughout the game. (Ultimately, this is because the view you have of yourself is threatened by the mistake you made, but that’s another topic.) The second route is to simply ignore the mistake. It doesn’t bother you beyond the next few seconds and you forget it happened, “Play-to-Play Amnesia” as most people call it. While better than the first option, amnesia prevents athletes from maturing into their full potential. If you ignore missing the same pitch, driving with your left hand, or missing tackles in space, then you will never become a fully-rounded player. Don't miss the principle. The way we handle mistakes while competing will carry over to how we handle mistakes with our business ventures, marriage communication, or putting together a playset. In order to make the most of our mistakes a few reminders that should be a part of the Christian athlete’s mental make-up.
Christians are to strive for perfection in all that we do. This is a biblical command and expectation from God (Matt 5:48). The expectation of perfection however, needs to be clarified. We are to seek after perfection in our thoughts, words, and actions as weighed by the Lord. Understanding the Bible’s definition of perfection frees us from condemning ourselves, or letting anyone else condemn us, when we make honest mistakes like missing a lay up or over-rotating on a dive. God does not hold us accountable for mistakes; He knows that we are incapable of constant perfect actions in a fallen world. So don’t freak out the next time one of the kids accidentally knocks over a glass, or you botch a play you’ve made a thousand times before. God expects a moral, spiritual, sin-free-motives type of perfection that we have all fallen short of, which is why we must trust the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ. His perfection God accepted on behalf of those that believe in Him. When you are sure of Christ’s perfection and your ongoing union with Him, you are no longer fearful of making mistakes. Instead, mistakes mark a pathway to athletic and Christian maturity.
Mapping Out Mistakes
Mistakes in competition and life, reveal places we can grow and get better. Instead of dwelling on or ignoring mistakes, believers can work through them in three steps: Face It - Fix It - Forget It.
1. Face It
Ignoring the mistake will stunt your maturity as an athlete, and a Christian. Accept the fact that as a believer you are not yet perfect, and made a mistake. The first step is facing reality, not the picture of yourself you want to be.
2. Fix It
What led to your mistake, and what will/can you do to correct it? In this way the mistake parallels God’s promise to use all things in our lives to make us perfect (Rom. 8:28-29). The mistake is another avenue we take to grow into maturity as a Christian and a competitor.
3. Forget It
Now, you’ve reminded yourself that you aren’t yet perfect, rested in Christ’s perfection, used the mistake to grow you, and lastly, you let it go. God still has purpose and opportunities for you to glorify and enjoy Him, and there may still be time in the game left to play! Dwelling on the mistake does you no good, and only takes away from your other goals and opportunities.
Mistakes are a common part of life for athletes and non-athletes. For Christians, mistakes are reminders of the grace given by God through Christ, and opportunities to grow and mature.
Study Philippians 3:12-16
What stands out to you?
What questions do you have?
1. What is Paul already aware of about himself?
2. What is Paul’s aim, and why is he able to pursue it?
3. What does Paul do with his past and what does he focus on?
Take time to pray like Paul that God will continue to reveal himself, and mature you into thinking biblically about competition and life. Ask for help in believing Christ’s perfection on your behalf, and mastering your mind when it comes to mistakes.