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 Courtney Kust, assistant coach for the Hope College women’s basketball team.
Perfect. Not many teams can say at the end of their season that they are perfect. But look at the record books and you’ll see that the 2019-20 Hope College women’s basketball team finished a perfect 29-0.
Some may try to put an asterisk on this season, this finish, this team. It was cut short, after all. Our student-athletes did not get to fight for a national championship, experience a Final Four, or even play in a Sweet 16 in front of a home crowd at DeVos Fieldhouse. But while I will be the first to admit that we were far from perfect in the day-to-day ins-and-outs, by no means should there be an asterisk. These women deserve more.
That’s not to say the disruption of the season did not hurt. As the assistant coach, I want to win. I want to win it all. But that is not why I coach. I coach for the very reasons I am so proud of this team, this season. “Let us not become weary in doing good,” Galatians 6:9 tells us, “for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.” In Holland, Michigan, I think we saw that verse come to life. I think this team embodied what it means to not become weary in doing good.
We set a goal at the beginning of the year to be intentional with the good things. The little things. The say-thanks-to-the-bus-driver things, the be-in-the-gym-A-LOT things, the cheer-for-your-teammates-endlessly things. We decided that this would be a team that perseveres, willing to sacrifice and be selfless in the face of adversity. We committed to being a team that celebrates with genuine excitement for each other’s achievements. And we committed to being a team that knows we belong to something bigger than ourselves.
To visualize our goals, we created a pyramid: the little things at the bottom, our standards and values above that, stats we strive for next, and then a series of goals that lead to a National Championship at the top. Looking back on that pyramid, this team exceeded my expectations. I’ll admit there was a little part of me that wondered if these young women could do it. But they blew me out of the water.
I don’t just mean that they won games. Sure, they never gave up when they were on the court, even coming back from a nine-point deficit with 4:15 to go in the NCAA tournament. But more than that, they didn’t give up on each other. They didn’t give up on the process. They didn’t give up on the little things. The fruitful things. They didn’t give up persevering, celebrating, and striving to belong.
Thinking back on this season, I’m reminded of something one of my favorite Christian authors, Hannah Brencher, wrote:
You don’t control how other people train. You don’t control whether you win or lose. You don’t control where you place in the run. All you can control is what you do every single morning, afternoon, and evening to train for your race. All you can control is how you invest in your own becoming.
That’s how this team operated.
If COVID-19 had not come along to disrupt our season, maybe we would have gotten upset. Maybe we would not have made the Final Four or played for a national championship. Maybe we wouldn’t have won our next game. But I choose instead to believe in the “maybe” that says “yes.” Yes, we would have won. Yes, this team had what it takes. Yes, their hard work would pay off.
Because that’s the type of team that they are.
We never had a chance to take our perfect season through a triumphant tournament run. There’s nothing we can do about that now. But this team showed me something even more important. It showed me what it looks like to invest in one’s own becoming and to reap a harvest that can’t be seen in the record books.
About the author: Courtney Kust is Hope College’s Assistant Athletic Director of Events and also an assistant coach on the women’s basketball team. She holds a master’s degree in sports administration from Xavier University (2014) and a bachelor’s in business administration from Hope College (2013). While an undergrad at Hope, Kust was a captain and All-Conference basketball player. You can follow her on twitter: @courtneyakust.