Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sports: It's Mostly About Losing

Earlier this week the Boston Bruins lost the Stanley Cup. Last week the Spurs lost the NBA Championship. These teams were just the most recent of a long list of teams to lose those titles. 28 NHL teams didn't failed to make the championship series and another 28 teams sat out the NBA Finals Series.

Yesterday the mighty Roger Federer  experienced the taste of defeat in only the second round of Wimbledon. He wasn't alone however. "On a crazy day, Federer was one of seven players who have been ranked No. 1 to depart the tournament in a span of about 8½ hours."

Despite the extremely long odds that we'll succeed at any given sport, we talk very little about losing. When I stop and think about it, that's a little strange.  Don't get me wrong, I've never yet played competitive sport intent on losing. In fact, a fundamental tenet of competitive athletics is that all competitors play to win. But when I think of crazy coaches and parents on the sidelines at youth sports it's evident that winning is the only acceptable outcome to those people, despite the odds.

I began thinking about writing this post several weeks ago when I read about Scott West's induction into the Aussie Rules Hall of Fame. He played 19 years in the AFL. He was a club leader. He was tough. I can still see him making a characteristic run carrying the ball down the wing. Yet at the end of his career he commented "it's a huge regret of mine not playing in a grand final or winning a premiership."

Later in the same article he says regarding a Preliminary Final the Bulldogs lost after holding a five goal lead, "I remember that game as vividly as my first game, I think about it a lot, but I've never been able to bring myself to watch a replay of it."

Perhaps we look at players like LeBron James, and think that success is inevitable. But plenty of stellar players like Scott West, never win championships. Winning is not a right regardless of how much talent you possess. No one in the US demonstrates this better than Karl Malone. Malone holds the honour of scoring the second most points in an NBA career. He has the nickname "The Mailman" because "he always delivers". But he never delivered an NBA championship to the Jazz. Winning is never a right.

So How Should We Discuss Losing?

It's not cliche to say that losing develops character. (So too does winning.) Sports fans always hope that their team will learn from one year's loss and come back the next year stronger, and more determined. (Do you hear me Memphis, Pacers, Spurs???)

We generally recognise that the potential improvement that comes from challenging ourselves against more talented competition outweigh the joys of beating up on an inferior opponent. In that context although the defeat still stings we primarily look for improvement in our own performance with the goal that one day our improvement will increase our abilities beyond those of that particular opponent. The student may become the master.

In youth coaching/parenting we work to avoid bitterness, regret, feelings of inadequacy and anger. Instead we want to encourage persistence, determination, and healthy ways of handling disappointments. We point them toward other opportunities and establish priorities where sports don't have the greatest importance. Life is full of disappointments and setbacks. Competitive sports provide a cauldron for developing the character needed to overcome life's challenges.

What Does God Have to Say About Losing?

God's people have been losing for centuries. 400 years of slavery to the Egyptians. Another 400 years of intermittent oppression during the period of the Judges. 70 years of Babylonian captivity not counting the previous years as a vassal state or the complete obliteration of the Northern Kingdom.

Then Jesus dies. The Christians are burned at the stake and fed to the lions. The Muslims capture the Holy Land. Christians fight each other. Today many Christians despair at the rate of moral decay in Western civilisation most recently demonstrated by the US Supreme Court giving the green light to gay marriages: another loss.

But Jesus rose from the tomb and God placed him "at His right hand in heaven. There is nothing over Him. He’s above all rule, authority, power, and dominion; over every name invoked, over every title bestowed in this age and the next." (VOICE) In the meantime God tells us, 
"Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Happy is the person who can hold up under the trials of life. At the right time, he’ll know God’s sweet approval and will be crowned with life. As God has promised, the crown awaits all who love Him." (VOICE)
Like a coach encouraging a youth team in whatever sport you prefer, God always affirms to us that he loves us despite our losses and struggles. He endeavours to instill in us a priority that life is about more than wins and losses. We're to place our priorities on the eternal above that of the earthly. Remembering that He has already defeated the competition. He reminds us not to spend our lives looking backwards at missed opportunities, regrets, and "if only's". Instead we're to press on with our lives bouncing back stronger and more determined to face our next challenge. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Losing can devastate or strengthen us. The more we talk about it, the greater the likelihood that we can overcome. We need to encourage each other with the reminder that any loss is only temporary, because ultimately Jesus has already scored the game winner!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Is Your Church More Effective Than The Dallas Cowboys?

In case you are not a Dallas Cowboys fan or you were living in a cage the last 48 hours or so, Jerry Jones once again showed why his team will never win another championship. Jones is a great owner--but a terrible GM and coach. He constantly undermines his coaches, overrules them, tells them what other coaches to hire all the way down to the conditioning coach.

This past offseason he fired Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett's defensive staff that Garrett had handpicked and hired a new staff. And he stripped Garrett of his play calling duties--which were the duties which elevated Garrett to head coach in the first place.

And Jones undermined Garrett even in the announcement of this decision. Jones told the press that Callahan would be calling plays, Callahan heard that Jones said this and said that he was honored to be taking this over--and Garrett refused to even comment about it. It was clear that he first heard about the communication of this through the press--unbelievable. As sports writers are saying, Jones threw his coach under the bus and undermined him.

This has led many to once again conclude that the Cowboys will never win due to Jones, who once again undermined his coach. Read the story: "As Dysfunctional Offseason Continues, Cowboys Setting Themselves Up to Fail" Even for me--and I have seen this from Jones time and time again--this took the cake. I have been stunned the last couple of days at how terrible management this was.

It is not that Jones does not have the authority to do what he does. He does--he's the owner. No one questions that. But by refusing to delegate and empower and support his coach--and by seeking to play GM, which he does not have time to do because he is also the owner, nor the training--he is setting the Cowboys up to fail. Like in the draft, when he overrules his scouts and coach. It is no coincidence that the last time the Cowboys were really successful was under Jimmy Johnson, who had "total control of football operations." Of course, that led to their divorce, as Jones got jealous of the "credit."

And if churches are run in this way, they will not go very far either. Church leaders have all the authority. But if they do not properly delegate, if they undermine, and if they micromanage those who have training and experience, the church will not grow. 

Jones and the Cowboys would be best served by Jones being the best owner that he can be, and hiring smart, experienced people who are empowered and supported in their jobs. And that means not hiring the Dave Campos of the world so that he does not feel threatened, but smart, capable, competent people. Jones is not a coach, he has no experience being a coach, and he is a poor GM. That is why Garrett just bites his tongue. He knows that Jones is setting the Cowboys up for failure, but there is nothing that he can do. 

Jones has done this time and time again with different coaches. On some level he must know that it does not work, but let's face it---he does not want to delegate or "give up control." We shake our head at Jones--but this dysfunctional pattern extends many places--including churches. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you" (Mt. 20:26).

Do you think that the Dallas Cowboys will ever win another Super Bowl with Jerry Jones as owner?
What parallels do you see in churches? 
Do you think Jesus was a micro-manager? Can you support that answer with Biblical examples?

Many thanks to James Nored for letting me repost his article on this site. James is a long-suffering Cowboys fan (aren't they all?) and minister at the Grapevine Church of Christ in Texas. James also founded the website Missional Outreach Network which encourages churches in their efforts to spread the Gospel. He also blogs regularly on that site.