True Greatness in Sports

Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched a number of the World Cup games with family and friends. These have been fantastic games, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve been more engaged in this World Cup than ever before. In watching these games there have been frequent reference to players being "great" and making "great" plays. But is that the appropriate word for these players and what we watching? I don't think so.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating we become the word police, correcting those who use this word to describe a player or a play but I'm not ready to give away the terminology of greatness. Here's why. I think Scripture defines true greatness as humility and servanthood not athletic ability.

I once wrote on this topic specifically to help parents teach their kids discernment about true greatness as biblically defined. I hope this excerpt serves us all—parents and non-parents alike—to be reminded that true greatness is not found primarily in athletic performance on the pitch, field, or court, but is on display wherever humility is found.

Nowhere is the word great mentioned more often in our culture than in the context of professional sports. If you watch any game this weekend and listen to the announcer's commentary, then like a mantra you'll probably hear the word great repeated throughout—great, great, great. Yet it may well be that nowhere in our culture is the absence of true greatness more evident than in professional sports. So be careful about cultivating an excessive love for professional or collegiate athletics in your child. …

Did you ever wonder what God thinks as He watches all this celebration of supposed greatness in professional athletics? I can tell you one thing for sure: He's not impressed. If anything, He's grieved over the exaggerated celebration.

That doesn't mean it's wrong to cheer—that we should just listlessly stare and say to our kids, "Don't clap!" That's not what I'm saying at all. I cheer and my kids cheer, but I also seek to impart discernment.

—Humility, pp. 161-162.