Editor’s note: To help Christian sportspeople navigate these uncertain times, we will be publishing a series of posts focused on what it looks like to “Run The Race Well” in a time of coronavirus and quarantine. We will be getting contributions from a variety of perspectives: theologians, philosophers, athletes, coaches, mental health professionals, seminary students, and more. This post comes from University of Texas PhD student Brandon Crooms.

Brandon Crooms

Basketball is my sport of choice. I’ve found that playing the game, whether it’s a pick-up game on an outdoor court or an officiated game on the hardwood floor, will always involve interruptions. These can happen in a variety of ways: officials blowing the whistle for a foul, a technical problem with the shot clock, players stopping to talk trash, or even rowdy fans being overly aggressive. No matter how the interruptions occur, they can be frustrating for athletes, especially those who are in the “zone” at the peak of their performance.

But while in-game interruptions are frustrating, they are still common experiences. Ball is still live! Or it will be soon—and so athletes must quickly set aside their frustration and get on with the game. Keep playing.

Extended interruptions are different. What happens when entire seasons, games, and practices are lost? For many athletes, it brings a tragic loss of identity. Their whole life, all their daily routines…GONE.

The truth is, “Ball is Life” is not just a cool slogan that people say or a clothing line worn as a statement to the world. In my research on young athletes and identity, I’ve come to see that it’s an honest attitude many have about their world. It’s an organizing principle for their lives. Young athletes in particular wrap their identity around sports to the point that they can only see themselves as athletes. Self-worth and value are tied to their performance or involvement on a team. For the best athletes, the high praise, glory, and recognition received from fans feels gratifying, and makes them feel special and set apart. Even for those who are not as talented, simply being part of a team and carrying the status of an athlete can hold high value amongst peers, teachers, and the community.

COVID-19 and the crisis of the pandemic shatters these rewards and threatens many athletes’ sense of self. How can “Ball Is Life” be your mantra when there is no ball to play? Distress, depression, loneliness, disappointment, and a decrease in confidence are emotional stressors that follow from an interruption to an identity. With social distancing in place and spring sports cancelled, it can seem to athletes like their identity, dreams, and aspirations have been canceled, too.

But there can be additional sources of identity for athletes. Another one that I study is the importance of faith. While Christian athletes face the same identity challenges right now as any other athletes, they can also draw on their faith to help them overcome. They can remember that sports are not eternal; at some point the title of being an athlete WILL end. If you’re a Christian athlete, there is no better time than right now to remember this, and to focus your identity less on being an athlete, and more on being a child of God.

After you have had time to grieve and process, you might even be able to see this time of social distancing as an opportunity to explore and discover new activities. Now is the time to work on channeling the passion and drive you place on sports into other areas of your life. In short, the BALL IS STILL LIVE! You can still live. Pivot and drive towards your God-given purpose.

To help you get started, here are seven simple ideas for new habits and activities to try out as you practice being more than an athlete.

  1. Read the bible, pray, and journal
  2. Call friends and extended family
  3. Home workouts
  4. Cook with a family member
  5. Create something
  6. Read a book
  7. Look at old family portraits with family members

About the author: Brandon Crooms is a Ph.D. student in the Physical Education Teacher Education program at The University of Texas at Austin. His dissertation research focuses on the intersection of Christian faith, athletic identity, and racial identity in African American adolescent male athletes. He has served as a mentor, coach, and trainer for athletes at a variety of levels, and has worked with the Faith & Sport Institute Retreat as a mentor. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.