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 Keith Wahl, head baseball and softball coach and Assistant Athletic Director at Valor High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
This spring, the end of our baseball season came abruptly in a succession of three days. One day I’m passing out uniforms. The next I’m gathering our team at the end of practice to cancel our trip to Arizona. And on the third the spring season was postponed. A few weeks later, the season was officially cancelled and the internal wrestling with losing a season that held so much promise officially began.
I’m willing to say that my relationship with losing is different than most. Yes, I hate losing, but I’m willing to lose today so I can figure out how to win the next day (and the next day and the next). If we’re in a game we’re clearly going to lose, I immediately put my learning lenses on, analyzing the opposition’s short and long-term weaknesses so that I can exploit them in the future. To me, this is a more relentless, mindful approach to competition. And it keeps my identity safe from the ebbs and flows of today’s scoreboard.
The challenge we in the sports world face with COVID-19 is that no one’s sure how to win. We’re losing today and we’re not sure where the target for victory is tomorrow. We’re in what feels like a constant state of postponement and waiting while living out what feels like yet another Saturday.
What can we do?
Christians can and should allow space for grief. But there are steps we can take to look to the future, too. God provides a way for us to win tomorrow in spite of losing out on the competitions of today.
1 – Create places for the Lord to have His way
I have two baseball gloves that have stood the test of time. One is my college glove and the other is the one I’ve used to throw batting practice for much of my coaching career. It’s amazing how the leather of both still form perfectly to my hand. The gloves are an extension of my hand, the two working perfectly together.
This is a beautiful image of the Christian life. Like a baseball player and his glove, God often chooses to accomplish His good works and purposes through us.
Isaiah 40:3-4 says:
In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
In this time of loss we have the opportunity to “prepare the way” for God, to form our lives and will in a way that aligns with His. God desires to work in and through us, but allows us the choice to partner with Him. He waits for us to create places for us to join Him.
Yes, we lost the season. But is this an opportunity for us to level the rugged places of our lives? Can we become even better coaches and mentors of the next generation? As we create places for God to have His way, we’re more likely to find out.
2 – Prepare for double blessings
Many people live by the Russian proverb, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” This is a limited perspective. We can experience multiple blessings and focus on multiple things at the same time. In sports, this means we can win games while also winning relationships.
The Positive Coaching Alliance gets at this idea through a concept they call “Double-Goal Coaching,” where coaches maintain a focus on both winning and life lessons. Such coaches do not sacrifice one for the other. They emphasize the two together. And I’ve found the experience of accomplishing both of these goals is sweet and gratifying.
While we prepare to win games, let’s also consider how we can build and strengthen relationships with our team and with the opposition. This is the heart of Jesus—to draw people into an infinite and eternal perspective. We are called to run as to win the race, but we have to remember the limited nature of those competitions.
3 – Keep walking
One of the most important elements of the Christian life is perseverance. As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God has given us a great number of things to accomplish during this time. He mourns with us as we mourn the loss of the spring season, yet He also calls us to pick our heads up and keep walking with Him. We have more good work to do in our lives and in our programs: relationships to build, people to care for, and the love of God to share.
When the final news of our cancellation became official this spring, my immediate reaction was disappointment. It was especially difficult because I knew our players were focused. I knew how much work they’d put in and how much they had bonded during our team retreat. That they wouldn’t get to go through the highs and lows of a season together as brothers hit me hard.
But a week or so after the news, I received a letter in the mail from our senior catcher. He had penned the letter in early April in case the season was cancelled and waited to send it until the season was officially over. His letter was a beacon of hope. It expressed how much our program had meant to him, how much our relationship meant to him, and how we had inspired him to heights he had not experienced on the field.
In spite of not playing a single game this spring, we had won.
That letter is a reminder to me that my calling is not on pause. As coaches, we can still build relationships and work to influence and change lives. So let’s do that in this time of uncertainty. Let’s create spaces for God to have His way, let’s aim for the double blessing, and let’s continue walking in the midst of difficulty. The season is lost for today, but we can look for the wins that can come tomorrow.
About the author: After an original stint at Valor as head baseball coach and Assistant Athletic Director from 2007-2016, Coach Wahl served as the Athletic Director at Briarwood Christian before returning to Valor in 2019. Prior to his first appointment, he was the head baseball coach at Mountain Vista High School from 2001-2007. As a coach, he was named ABCA/Diamond Regional Coach of the Year (2011) and Colorado State Coach of the Year (2016). His teams enjoyed success as well. At Valor, he coached State Champions (2016), Regional/District Champions (2011, 2013, 2014, 2016), and League Champions (2009, 2010, 2011, 2016). At Mountain Vista, he coached a State Runner-Up team (2006) and League Champions (2006, 2007). He has also written and published the Well Coached series, novels about the lessons and hardships of coaching. Coach Wahl has served the baseball community in many fashions, including serving on the Colorado Dugout Club Advisory Board from 2007-2015. In 2012, Coach Wahl started a baseball-themed Christian devotional called “Bottom of the Ninth” with a pair of Valor Baseball parents. Coach Wahl’s purpose is to serve others so they can fulfill God’s destiny and design for their lives. He hopes to create cultures focused on building relationships, atmosphere, and habits through the living ideas of Jesus Christ. It means the world to have the support of his wife, Alyson, and two kids, Mia and Brady, as he pursues his calling.