As we jump into 2018 with great anticipation, I am sure most of us have made some resolutions that may or may not last long. I will get into the act and suggest a few that we might consider in a faithful way and try to connect them to our sports life.
In recent years Pope Francis has made a point of suggesting some ideas for us to work on, and one of his favourite themes is gossip. The Holy Father believes "we should never speak poorly of others." He teaches us to see that Jesus is the other person that we are speaking about.
This is a recurring theme of his because he sees it as a behaviour that most of us take great pleasure in for some strange reason.
In the tennis world that I have been involved with all my life this is something that I also witness regularly and perhaps have been guilty of myself.
In today's sports world it has become commonplace to trash-talk opponents before, during, and after competitions. Sometimes it is used as a motivational tool or as a tactic to throw opponents off their game. But whatever the reason for this negative talk it is unacceptable and sets a terrible example for young people trying to fight the temptation to speak badly of an opponent.
In my opinion no victory is a worthwhile victory unless it is accomplished with integrity, sportsmanship, and respect for opponents.
Another suggested resolution – to pray more – sounds simplistic, but we truly can never pray enough. We need to build an ever-stronger relationship with the Lord and, like all good friendships, that means spending time together.
Pope Francis states very simply "Always ask the Lord." In our athletic endeavours we should pray before a game that there are no injuries, that we will perform well, and that we will behave like an ambassador for Christ in accepting the result in a sportsmanlike manner.
During competition I would suggest we get good at saying aspirations like "Help me Jesus" or "Come Holy Spirit." After the game give glory to God, thanking him for the opportunity and abilities that we possess.
Personally, I don't make a habit of praying for a victory, and most Catholic and Christian athletes do not. Tennis Grand Slam champion Michael Chang, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, both Christians, and Roberto Osuna, a Catholic pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, are all examples of athletes who have been criticized for always giving thanks to God after performances because the naysayers believe they prayed for wins. Only they are not. They were always giving praise for the ability to perform well in a big occasion and stay healthy.
A third spiritual/athletic goal could be to do more apostolate with others in 2018. This doesn't mean that we need to be evangelizing, but it starts by being an example of virtue.
In the world of sports, you may need to be the only one in the locker room who will keep it clean and, if necessary, speak up against impure behaviour and talk.
I spoke with a family recently who had sons who were very uncomfortable with the sexism, bullying, and crude language in the hockey locker room. A few words might need to be said. Also, if you have close friends in the sport or on the team, perhaps at some point you could share your faith story in a non-preachy way.
Practising being humble could be another goal for the athlete in your family. Remember that God is the giver of all that is good; we are not self-made men and women. Be a gracious winner and accept responsibility in defeat.
Humility is an extremely important virtue to me. When I interviewed former major league catcher Rich Donnelly for another publication I remember a simple quote he gave me: "As an athlete you are either humble or you will be humbled."
We should live out our sports life by wanting to be the good and faithful servant who received five talents from God and, when the time came, returned the master those talents and the five more he earned for him. Use your gifts fully and humbly for God.
My last resolution concerns Mother Mary. We should make 2018 a year in which we learn to know Mary more, love Mary more, and learn to always turn to her to intercede for us in our sports and life needs.