Article Jan 11, 2016

Championships, satisfaction and why winning isn’t enough

Inspirational words from a great coach have the power to transform unlike anyone else’s in a young person’s life. I can still remember words spoken to me by my Dad when he coached my little league teams. Words on fundamentals like “thumb to thumb” and “pinky to pinky” when teaching me how to catch a baseball above and below my waist, respectively.

He also used to tell our teams, “If I holler at you, that means I love you.” He wanted us to know he had to be loud for us to hear him at times, but more importantly, that he loved us enough to care that we do things the right way. I pray I have the opportunity to coach my sons one day and use those same phrases.

There’s a special bond between player and coach, especially if the coach has earned the team’s respect. I see this sort of bond between the two coaches and teams preparing for the NCAA College Football Playoff Championship game. It’s energizing seeing videos of Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney giving his B.Y.O.G. (Bring Your Own Guts) Speech, or Nick Saban talking to the press last season about his passion for giving players a second chance. Both have a gift for inspiring and calling their players to another level.  

Learning about winning from John Candy

But even more than the words of these special coaches, the most transformative words that I’ve ever heard come out of a coach’s mouth were from none other than John Candy.

Yes, you read that right, actor John Candy.

He played Coach Irv Blitzer in the 1990s Disney hit film Cool Runnings. It is based on a true story about a group of guys from the tiny tropical island of Jamaica who aspire to compete in the winter Olympic sport of bobsledding. This group of guys does, in fact, qualify for the Olympics, and they make a run at winning a medal. And the night before their final race, an exchange takes place between the team’s leader, Derice, and Coach Irv.

Prior to coaching this team, Irv had been an Olympic bobsledder himself. He had even won two gold medals for the U.S. But at his last Olympics, he was disqualified for hiding weights in the bottom of his sled to make it run faster.

The night before the Jamaican team’s final race, Derice just has to ask Irv why. Their conversation goes something like this:

Derice: Coach, can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to but . . .

Irv: You wanna know why I cheated, right?

Derice: Yes I do.

Irv: It’s quite simple really. I had to win. You see Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Do you understand?

Derice: No I don’t, you had two gold medals, you had it all . . .

Irv: Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.

So Derice naturally asks the question, “How will I know if I’m enough?”

He’s got to be thinking to himself, “Then what’s the secret to contentment—because if even winning a gold medal isn’t enough, then I’m in trouble. What could possibly fill the void left following both a demoralizing defeat or a miraculous triumph?” When he’s on top of the world or flat on his face, he wants to know, is there something that transcends worldly outcomes or his own performance that can suffice to settle and satisfy his soul?

I remember watching this in the movie theater when it first came out—on a school night with my Dad when I was seven or eight (getting to go to a late movie on a school night was a big deal!). And I remember my Dad nodding with approval after these words spoken by Coach Irv. I knew deep down even then that they were true, but it still took a little over a decade before I realized how I could be enough.

The secret of contentment apart from performance

None of us can be enough, in and of ourselves. We need something outside of us to give us the type of strength necessary for contentment. Paul echoes this in Philippians 4, where he writes at the end of verse 11 and following, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

If Paul were playing in the National Championship game, he would not let the outcome of this game or his own performance in it dictate his fixed state of contentment. He would know that he is not enough, in and of himself, regardless of how well he or his team plays. What he does will never be enough, just like it wasn’t for Irv, to fill the void that haunts all who build their life on the shifting sands of performance.

Through Christ, he would go into the championship game—or any situation—with the settled confidence and soul satisfaction that his identity and self-worth are not based on what takes place on the gridiron in Glendale, Arizona in 2016. Instead, they are based on what has already taken place on a cross over 2,000 years ago outside the city walls of Jerusalem, and in a vacant garden tomb a few days later.

May all the players and coaches, as well as those of us watching, learn like Paul and Coach Irv that championships are a wonderful thing—but to be enough with or without one, you need the strength of a Savior, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He will welcome all who turn from their own devices and trust in him alone to save and strengthen.

ERLC2018