The circumstances we live in bring much uncertainty in our lives, including our sport: the European Championship of football was postponed as were the Olympic Games and right now there is no telling if  the cyclists of the Tour de France will reach the finish line in Paris without COVID 19 putting a stop to the cycling competition of the year.

How can you stay motivated, how can you keep on grinding, training for some competition that may never take place? That is the challenge many top athletes now have to deal with.  

To me, retired marathon ice-skater, this is no novelty. For ice-skaters, there is a mythical race we all dream of and train for, not knowing if and when it might be cold enough to take place. I am talking about the legendary Elfstedentocht (a 200 km skating race on natural ice that requires exceptionally cold weather)! Year after year, I spent my summers training up to 30 hours a week to be ready, just in case…. My non-skating friends could not understand or relate to my commitment to long hours of training for an hypothetical race. Again and again they would shake their head in unbelief. To be fair I did find it crazy too but still, if the Race Of The Eleven Cities was going to take place, I wanted to be ready for it!

To defend myself and my fellow-skaters I would often make the following point: “Our training for the Race Of the Eleven Cities is actually a parabole, a perfect illustration of how we are called to live as Christians”, I would say. Like Jesus says in Matthew 24:44 “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”. We do not know when Jesus will return but we have to be ready every day. Just like I prepared myself for years to skate the Race Of The Eleven Cities although to this day it has not been cold enough for the race to actually take place, the bible calls us to be prepapring and ready for the return of Jesus.

The similarities are obvious but what can we, athletes, learn from it? Matthew 25 shows us a couple of interesting things which can enhance the practice of our sport, keeping us motivated for practice, thus reflecting Jesus in our discipline:

  1. Keep the passion burning (Matthew 25:1-13)

In Matthew 24 Jesus challenges us to live expectant of his return. In chapter 25, He unpacks His statement helping us to see what this expectant life looks like. First he tells the story of ten virgins. Half of the young women have packed extra oil for their lamp and are therefore equiped for a wait that is longer than first anticipated. Five virgins are wise because they live prepared and expectant even when the waiting is long and when the moment comes, they are ready while the other five, the foolish ones, ran out of oil. Oil is often an image of the Holy Spirit in the bible. And the question is ‘How do we make sure we don’t run out of oil, of God’s Spirit? How do you keep an extra jar of oil at all times?  And as an athlete, how do you remain passionate about your sport even when competitions are uncertain or altogether cancelled?  How do you stay prepared for your big moment, not knowing when it will take place? First, it is good not to do things alone. As a skater, when I spent my summers training for extreme cold weather, it felt silly and pointless at times but I was never alone. I was constantly surrounded by like-minded crazy ice-skaters. Together we would laugh at how misunderstood we often were and we kept each other on track, reminding each other of the Race OF The Eleven Cities: hundreds of kilometers of frozen canals, natural ice, the reason why we all had started skating in the first place.

 In a time like this, it is good to stand still and remember why exactly you do your sport. Remember again why you fell in love with your sport. Find motivation in its purest form.

What exactly makes you so enthousiastic about your sport?

  • Develop your talent (Matthew 25:13-30)

Illustrating what life in the expectation of God’s Kingdom looks like, Jesus gives a second image. If the master is not around, if nobody is keeping tabs on the workers and the quality of their work, the master still expects that people in His service will use and invest what He entrusts his workers with to make it grow. God has given us, atlhetes, unusual talent for sport and whether coach, audience or fellow-competitors are watching or not, God is watching, expecting us to consciously use and develop the talent He has given us.

In nearly all sports there is an “off-season” which can be used to become stronger, better than the previous season. How cool is it to use the time we have on our hands to invest in our God-given talents, knowing that God – our audience of one – is watching and noticing our progress!

Which specific talent may you grow right now to glorify God?

  • Help others (Matthew 25:34-46)

The last part of Matthew 25 is quite self-explanatory. All we do for someone else, we do for God Himself. As an athlete it can seem unnatural to think of ways to help to fellow-athletes because sport is by definition competitive. However, in my own experience there is something immensely rewarding to daring to help others become better.

Maybe now more than ever, a chance is given to us to reflect on how to serve others by helping them to grow. Is there anyone in your circle who may benefit from your help? How can you help others to hold on to or capture again the motivation needed to give every thing at every practice?

Who around you can you help?