Sportily’s Lydia Ravenhill shares what she has learned about life, and about faith, through football.
“I first became involved in Sportily when I was around 12. It was a fun way to meet up and make new friends and explore faith. It helped me to develop my faith more, enabling me to take part in leading worship at the local church, taking part in their leadership academy, exploring faith through sports and having fun outside the church building. During the teenager years, it is easy to swap church for other activities and I was grateful I had a space with other like-minded people to continue to explore my own faith.
“If you had told me back then that I would be involved as an adult in delivering fun and engaging sports sessions for children, I would not have believed you. My main interests were always found outside of sports. However, this summer I found myself back with Sportily as a sessional worker, facilitating participation in sports, games, and physical activity for children whilst exploring faith.
“Interestingly, I found that the lessons learned from sports can relate more to our encounters with faith than I initially thought. One sport that is loved by many is football. This World Cup has brought justice and human rights into the focus, but even an ordinary kickabout at the local park can teach us about the importance of teamwork, determination and perseverance. All important lessons, not just for sport, but also for a life of faith as followers of Jesus as well.
“With football, the need for perseverance is clearly evident, whether that be getting through a challenging game, facing the trials of a new season, or the continuous development of a player’s skills. Footballers often have setbacks; games aren’t perfect, spaces and situations might be challenging, and mistakes are inevitable. There will always be a missed tackle, injury, or a game lost. Involvement with football requires perseverance if a player is to be successful.
“In the Christian faith, perseverance is fundamental. We put our trust in God even when times are tough, when it’s difficult to understand our situation, and when we don’t tangibly feel the unconditional love God has for us. These setbacks can sometimes lead to being discouraged in faith and making it difficult to persevere. However, God is always ready to meet us where we are, and we can rejoice in the fact that God is shaping us into the people he is calling us to be.
“Football also highlights the importance of teamwork. When the team works well together with a good attitude to one another, they are more likely to succeed. No matter how great an individual player is, it’s the effort of the whole team that helps win the games. When a player is down, another can encourage just as we are called to encourage each other as Jesus encouraged us. This helps us to grow as individuals as well as within faith.
“Football fans naturally and deliberately create a sense of belonging and community outside the football team itself. God designed us all for community and belonging, within the Church and within our communities. In community, we share our love of God and the teachings of Jesus like teammates share their knowledge and encouragement with their team.
“Peter 4:8-10 says: ‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’.
“These verses focus on how individuals within a team can use their talents and skills to serve others and help complete the team. It talks about how being kind and serving one another without complaining are both important skills within a team but also to serve God. The gifts that God has given us result in a beneficial outflow of his grace to others, it is a channel of God’s blessing which is poured out in service to others both within sports teams and our daily lives.”