You Play How You Practice

As my boys progress in sports (cross country, track, football, basketball & baseball), they increasingly learn the value of practice. Largely, that means the value of repetitiveness for learning and improving. But equally important involves realizing that games and meets simply exist as reflections of how they practice.

SlideIn baseball, how my youngest runs bases in practice comes through clearly in his game performance. Any goofing off or slacking in practice results in a flat at best and mistake ridden at worse, game. Same with hitting and catching.

My oldest runs, and this principle applies equally to even the more individually-oriented sports. (That’s not to say running isn’t a team sport, because it definitely is.) My son used to run with his friends during practice, but this often meant he wasn’t running to his potential. As a result, his race times were mediocre and inconsistent. When he realized that pushing himself in practice resulted in faster races, he practiced with more intention. Not only is every race now hard and fast, he is one of the most consistent runners on the team.

runnerI began wondering if this idea transferred to other areas of life too, say my walk as a follower of Christ. If so, when did I practice? And when were the games?

“And they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” (John 13:35)

While there are other ways, essentially our interactions with other Christians reflects on how we will interact with non-Christians. In other words, our “practice” takes place around other Christians. Below are my initial ideas on this, and hopefully you also see the hints of Scripture within them without me pointing them out:

  1. If we love each other, our love for Christ shows.
  2. If we don’t love each other, non-Christians question the validity of the faith we profess.
  3. Preferring others is one way to love each other.
  4. We can improve at loving others the more we practice doing so.
  5. We both provide and have examples to follow when we love each other.
  6. Regular interactions (practices) with a “coach” (pastor, mentor, teacher, etc.) are essential.
  7. Serving allows for exploration and exercising of gifts.
  8. When love for one another lacks unity, we lose valuable energy for loving outside the body (in the game).
  9. Loving others in the body means helping the body as a whole, including the “weaker” parts, to become stronger.
  10. Game time takes place on the mission field of life.

To help with application, consider the following questions. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

What happens when we look at time with other Christians as practice that prepares us for game time (time with non-Christians)? How does this change our attitude, actions & words?

Do we too often view loving other Christians as the game and then spend all of our time & energy there? Do we practice a lot & then forget to show up for the game?

Or, maybe our practices aren’t very good, maybe we’re not trying very hard. Maybe we’re not living love. How does a weak practice time impact game time?

What if we just aren’t playing as a unit? What if we’re trying to put an “I” in team?

While not a perfect analogy, how does the idea of “you practice how you play” fit into your view of how we should live as Christians?

13 thoughts on “You Play How You Practice

  1. Good analogy today. Our practice should be focused on our own need to improve our condition and not to compare with the condition of others. When we seek to compare the condition of others and admonish them for their shortcomings aren't we really only covering up for our own shortcomings? Our practice should cause an inward analysis of our performance, not an outward analysis of others and their performances. We can contrast ourselves with others, but we can only work on changing our own performance.

    • Excellent point. Comparisons kill because they lead to justification or release, neither of which will help me improve my game. Also, I can only change myself. So, for my part, I want to live at peace with others and honor God.

  2. You know Kari, As I have gotten older I think practice is not what I once thought it was. I think if someone thought I was practicing on them they would be insulted. If someone thought that I was using them to get better instead of being the best I could be when I was with them then they should feel short changed. I think more now that practice is one of the places we live our lives and when we are in "practice" that we should do the best we can regardless. A formal game or event is just a measuring stick I think. How are you doing with life at that point. We tend to only measure formal events while I am sure God measures it all. I spent 4 months getting ready to run a formal half marathon a week ago. Looking back over these 4 months all of those miles I ran(310) really meant as much to me as those 13.1 I ran on the 28th except I was the only one keeping score on those.

    While I have veered off the meaning of your post which is great… one needs to do things that make one better over time I think the time we spend in practice is precious time that should be valued as much as the time in a formal event.

    In terms of relationships and all of the good things you mention above I think overall we need to strive to treat people we are in contact with that they are the most important person in our life at the time we are spending with them.

    • First, congratulations on your half marathon. I've done two of them and know how difficult the training and the actual race both are. Second, I get what you're saying. To say someone is just practice could definitely be an insult, and it is not exactly how I meant the analogy. I guess I meant this in the spirit that first, non-Christians judge us to a great extent by how we treat each other. Also, I feel safer trying something new to improve myself as a person within my Christian circle of friends that I would not feel comfortable trying out, so to speak, with my non-Christian friends. I guess I just expect my Christian friends to be helping me make sure my life lines up with God's Word, so that I represent Him well in the world. But more and more, there is no separate between the world and my Christian friends. That hard reality is hitting with a situation once again this week that is all to familiar. So yeah, I get what you're saying. No, the analogy isn't perfect, but I hope it gives off the right spirit. Thanks for your expansion of this once again.

  3. As a former athlete, i was always told 'You play the way you practice." I seldom took a shot I would not shoot in a game. I believed it. Still do. I do think my time in quiet (or lack of it) will come to play in my public life. On another note: your youngest son has a good jersey on. And your oldest looks like I used to: a long drink of water but one capable of pulling away from others with a long stride. Tell him to keep pushing himself in practice, even if it is lonely. It will be worth it.
    My recent post Obscurantism

    • Private time is another great example, Bill. Our true character shows what we'd do when no one is watching anyway. His travel team is the Pirate's, so he has lots of their shirts. This particular picture was after sliding into home face first. Safe, of course. Yes, my oldest can pull away from others at times. He gets a bit discouraged at his lack of muscle strength though, so your words will definitely help encourage him.

  4. What came to mind is if I don't put time in with Him alone what I say in open will not near the impact it should. I read, read, read and read some more to prepare myself on a daily bases. I want my answer for the hope that lives within me to be fresh and not something God did 20 years ago but that He did today for me. Great post.
    My recent post Testing, Testing, Testing

    • Excellent, Betty! Having a daily desire for a fresh hope… His mercy truly is new every morning. His Word gives us fresh insight for the day ahead. Fits well with the idea of daily discipline to stay ready for what lies ahead.

  5. I think your practice like you play is crucial. I ran Cross County and our coach wanted us to make the most out of practice and not play around, to treat it like it was the real thing. Love your analogy since I was a runner!

    • So when are you going to get back at running? I just can\’t seem to let it go even though it\’s a constant struggle. The analogy helps me realize the importance of every detail of life, even the ones we view too often as less important.

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