Audience of One
The crowd: cheering, yelling, clapping. The crowd is loud, encouraging, sometimes obnoxious, but all-together thrilling. And when the crowd yells a specific name, specifically your name, the electricity of the cheer becomes intoxicating.
Yet what makes this crowd, this audience, so chilling and enthralling when positioned at a sports game? The heat of competition between two teams is only heightened when the voices of the teams’ supporters meld together to create a conglomeration of praise. The crowd functions as a means to support, to defend, and to make the players feel important and encouraged. Having a body of people cheer and clap for you as you dribble, pass, shoot, hit, or block a ball is certainly a pride-booster, but can it be a distraction as well?
I am not plainly stating that the crowd’s cheering is a distraction in the midst of the game (though certain cheers and taunts may be distracting). Instead, I am proposing that mental distractions may arise before, after, and during the game: the support of the crowd may promote prideful and egotistical thinking depending on where the athlete’s focus is fixated. If the athlete is focused on winning alongside his or her teammates, then the crowd’s cheering is only welcomed and promoted. If the athlete is focused on causing the crowd to chant his or her name, however, the crowd’s cheering merely translates to a crowd of personal cheerleaders.
Please let there be no misunderstanding; a loud, encouraging, sometimes obnoxious crowd is a crucial part of any sports game. Though the crowd is an important element, it is important for all athletes to understand that the crowd is not there for them, even when the crowd may be cheering their name. Once the athlete begins to play for the crowd instead of the game, the competition no longer resembles a team fighting for a win, but rather an individual performance instead fighting for admiration.
As Christian student-athletes, we are commanded to play, work, create, focus, etc., for an audience of One: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” (Colossians 3:23 ESV). That verse neither says “work heartily for the cheers of the crowd,” nor does it say “work heartily for personal recognition.” Instead, the verse clearly states, “Work heartily, as for the Lord.”
So let the athlete beware—it is not the crowd’s fault if an athlete finds him or herself subject to self-centered play due to a mounting desire for attention; the crowd is doing its job, and supporting specific athletes is certainly a part of the job description. Paul reminds the Galatians of a similar life approach, a verse that should resound clearly with any child of God: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ,” (ESV).
Athletes have specific gifts and abilities to play sports, and must remember that these sports are all played before an audience of One, and it is for His glory these athletes are playing at all. Humility and thankfulness must be apparent in each and every athlete, even when a large crowd is chanting their name.