Most Americans don’t watch soccer. Chances are, you haven’t watched a minute of Euro 2012. Chances are you might not even know what Euro 2012 is , let alone that it is going on right now. Let me tell you, you’re missing out.
Euro 2012 is the equivalent of the World Cup in Europe. It happens every four years, just like the World Cup, and features some of the best teams in the world: France, England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, among others.
Euro 2012 so far has provided its share of sporting drama, with most of the games coming down to the last 5 minutes. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about soccer that is different than football, basketball, and baseball is that soccer is continuous. You can’t take timeouts in soccer. The two halves of the game go for 45 minutes, and within those 45 minute worlds, the game establishes a rhythm and flow that would not be possible if there were timeouts. Some Americans would say that that is what makes it internationally known as the “beautiful game”, while others would say that is what helps them fall asleep as they watch.
But one thing that is similar between soccer and every other major sport is that players have slumps. A team might look unbeatable on paper, but translating that success to the game day-in and day-out is nearly impossible. Two players in Euro 2012 that have known what it’s like to be mired in a slump are Spain’s Fernando Torres and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Both players made exorbitant salaries for their club teams during the regular season, but both have had difficulty playing well for their countries in international play.
They bear the weight of their countries’ expectations, and when they haven’t lived up to the hype, they’ve taken a beating in the press. Both players have unparalleled talent at scoring goals, but somehow, when it’s mattered the most in international games, they have largely been absent from the action.
Call it maturing, or call it waking up, but whatever the case, these two players have certainly come out of their individual slumps during Euro 2012. Both Torres and Ronaldo have already scored 2 goals for their teams, and look to continue their success in the days ahead. I’ve watched them so far in the tournament play with a looseness and flair that they didn’t have in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. They are playing with belief and with tenacity, and their teams have responded to their individual play.
I’ve noticed that life is similar to sports when it comes to slumps. We all go through seasons when it seems we can’t get anything right. Like a good athlete, we may know what it’s like to have experienced success in the past, but for some reason we just can’t make it happen. Many people fall into slumps that lead them to depression or despair, because they have nowhere to turn and no fixed compass pointing them back to the right path.
Torres and Ronaldo have their teammates and their coaches to remind them that even though they might be going through a season of difficulty on the playing field, they will eventually come out of it. These people are outside their lives, but speaking encouragement inside them.
God has designed each of us uniquely, but none of us is designed to live independent of others. Just like slumping athletes need people in their lives to remind them that things will get better, we need people in our lives who will help remind us of the bigger picture. But we need something more than just a reminder that things will get better. As Christians, we need people to come alongside us and point us back to Jesus. When we go through seasons of difficulty, oftentimes the first thing that changes is that we shift our focus from Jesus to ourselves. We need people who will patiently and lovingly remind us to fix our focus back on Jesus. When we get our focus back on Jesus, we are reminded that his love is perfect and unstoppable, that his plan for our lives is secure and good, and that our hope both in this present life and in the eternity to come is strong and steadfast.
Wherever you are today, chances are you fall into one of two categories: either you need to be encouraged by someone that this season of your life is just a season and that there is continued hope because of the sacrifice of Jesus, or you have someone in your life who needs you to speak these words of encouragement to them. Just like a sports team is made up of individuals but is one collective unit, so the body of Christ is comprised of many different parts, but we all need each other in order to function together to bring glory to God.
Mark Cook is a college minister, seminary student, and lifelong sports fan. His column will highlight the intersection between sports and faith.