Last night my son’s team (which I coach) competed in the 10-11 year old league soccer championships in our local area. It was the final game of a long season, and both teams had played well throughout the season. Nothing would be better than winning the game, right? What would it look like if something did matter more than winning? I think I got a glimpse of that last night.
After a 0-0 score in regulation and a scoreless 5 minute sudden-death period, the game went to penalty kicks. (Don’t you hate that? The poor kids have to deal with such incredible pressure to decide a game that both teams deserved to win. And that’s not even considering the poor parents and coaches who have to deal with their own nerves while watching the shootout unfold.) After the first five shots for each team, the score was tied, so it would go to the 6th kickers, the 7th, and so on, as needed.
The first act of sportsmanship came when my 6th kicker missed the goal with his kick and was distraught. His friend from the other team came over immediately to comfort him and let him know that it was OK. What matters more than winning? Being there for a friend in need.
After the other team did not score on their 6th kick, my 7th kicker had his turn. He kicked a bullet shot into the goal. We all went to congratulate him on a beautiful shot, and then I went to prepare my goalie for her turn to defend. I noticed that there seemed to be some delay, and though I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, it appeared that the opposing team’s goalie had not been ready for the previous shot. The commissioner of the league was officiating, so we just waited to see what would happen. After a few moments, the officials said “play on,” and the shootout continued. Our goalie stopped the other team’s shot, so our team was declared the winner of the game.
Winning was fun. The kids were excited. Emotions of relief, joy, and satisfaction were bubbling over. What could matter more than winning?
Later at the town’s ice cream shop, I saw one of the coaches (a friend of mine) from the opposing team. I asked him about the penalty shot that had caused the confusion so that I could find out what had happened. He said that it was true that his goalie wasn’t ready. As the commissioner and the officials were trying to decide what to do, my friend, the opposing coach, had basically told the official, “It was a good shot that probably wouldn’t have been stopped anyway. We’re not contesting it.” Looking back, he would have had every right to request a “do-over.” And I’m sure the league commissioner would have granted that request. But in that moment, it appears that my friend responded to the question, “what matters more than winning?” with the answer “sportsmanship,” or even more fundamentally, “following the lead of the One who knows something about giving up personal rights.”
Philippians 2:3-8 – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.”