Don Leypoldt: An introduction…

Being a slow, short, uncoordinated kid in a huge high school outside of Philadelphia, Don Leypoldt realized quickly that his athletic talents were better suited for the marching band, where he played trumpet. Nonetheless, he always had a passion for sports and a passion for writing.  He did his Master’s thesis on revenue and competitive imbalance in Major League Baseball, which stoked the fires for other sports media positions.  In 2005, Don started working for a team in the New England Collegiate Baseball League; he currently serves as the League’s Media Director and baseball remains his number one passion but his most recent article was interviewing a Tennessee Titan starter.  For three years prior, Don worked for a newspaper in suburban Philadelphia covering a variety of high school and college sports.  He has interviewed nearly 70 MLB and NFL alumni.
Spiritually, Don is starting to realize the depths of the commandment: Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me.  Don recognizes that athletics and competition are a good thing and can be used as a unique avenue to build God’s kingdom.  Facets of them can also be idolatrous and produce results not pleasing to God.  AIA is in a special position to reach the de facto campus leaders and role models- athletes- and equip them to be better disciples.  Don believes that, while never a college athlete himself, he has the gift of empathy for the challenges that they go through on a daily basis.  He looks forward to working with AIA staff and leadership to assist college students in their spiritual walk in whichever form that may take.

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AIA Principle 2: Inside Game — On the Field

AIA Principle 2: Inside Game — Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Let’s first recall the main points from the first Principle of Sport: Audience of One. This is essentially saying, God owns you and your sport. He alone is the ultimate audience we play and live for. On the field, this means we’re not subject to the ups/downs of the game, the audience, or our performance. Rather, we compete for God; and then our performance is simply an extension of our worship to this God who has gifted us with these talents and abilities.

The concept of sport as worship is worth chewing on. Music, singing, art, books, church, preaching—these are some of the obvious, more noticeable forms of worship. But why not other physical abilities, like athletics? We even see direct talk of sports in the Scriptures (e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-2) and others that could apply as well—such as 1 Corinthians 10:31, “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Sport can be a form of worship to God, if done His way.  That’s what these AIA principles of sport hope to address.

Principle 2 is called Inside Game and this partly refers to the mental aspect of the game, but it’s closer to the motivational aspect of the game—that is, why do we compete in sports? Two weeks ago, I had us discuss the other audiences—besides or instead of God—for whom we play. These substitutes for God replace Him as the center of our lives—where we find love, satisfaction, purpose, and identity—with something else, like…power, approval, or achievement.

But if God is our one audience and you have a relationship with Him through faith in the person, works, and words of Jesus Christ,  and He owns you and your sport, then God dictates how and why you play your sport. And God doesn’t want you to compete for these worthless audiences. God doesn’t want you performing to earn greatness or self-worth.

The Christian doesn’t do good to become great. Instead, the Christian becomes great in order to do good. Or better yet, the Christian receives greatness (from Christ), and then performs greatly.  This is grace—unmerited, unearned favor and blessing from God. God wants you to understand and believe that He is great, and that you become great once You’re with Him. Because of what Jesus has done on our behalf, our spot on God’s team is secure.  We don’t have to tryout to make the team, we’re in.  It’s a never-ending contract with only one stipulation: follow Jesus. 1 John 5:11-13

Instead of playing for inferior audiences, we now compete because of God’s love for us.  And God’s love for us our maximum motivation that we can be playing for. I know there are other motivations that compel us to compete (e.g., friends, fun, character development, etc.), and I’m not necessarily taking away from their impact on our performance, I’m just saying that the maximum motivation only comes from God’s love for us.

Let me try to break it down even more:

  • God commands us to love Him with all of our heart/soul/mind/strength and to love others like ourselves.
  • God enables us to do this through faith in Jesus and in the power of His Spirit.
  • Competing in sport can be an act of worship to God if it’s done in God’s way.
  • Therefore, we ought to compete with all of our heart/soul/mind/strength (since it’s a form of worship to God).
  • And, therefore, God enables us to do this through faith in Jesus and in the power of His Spirit.

In other words: with God we can truly become the best athletes that we can be.

Let’s look at a few examples and compare playing with a “grace motivation” (God already declares that He loves us) vs. “other motivation” (playing for something or someone other than God.)

1. You’re season hasn’t started off like you’d hoped, like the women’s soccer team going 0-2 in Ivy League play. That really stinks. Devastating, even.  But how will they bounce back? What will they play for? Are their championship dreams dashed? Let’s say they are, now what? If you’re playing merely for that, then why finish the season? But if you want your performance to be pleasing to God because it’s an act of worship to Him, then you’ll go just as hard every day. You play for God and with God

2. It’s mid-season, you’re not getting playing time, and it’s time for conditioning at practice. Will you go all out? If you’re all about yourself and your playing time, then you could just dawg it, no one would really notice. But if you want your conditioning to be pleasing to God, then you’ll go at it with all your heart/soul/mind/strength. Not to appease God, but to please Him, to thank Him for the abilities you’ve been blessed with, to respect the authority (your coach) He’s placed above you. Your motivation is one of gratefulness for God’s grace in your life, for God granting these wonderful talents and skills to use.  Remember: God owns you and your sport. Put in another way, God created you and your sport.

3. Coach is playing favorites (but none of you have experienced that, right?) That was me: sophomore season, JV basketball, head coach chose the starting 5 before the season even started…I didn’t figure it out until midway when JV coach accidentally blurted it out…I was pissed…What did I do? Did I just prove the Varsity coach wrong? Did I work harder…? Did I trust that God had a plan? Did I refocus my efforts on pleasing God and not worrying about the politics of coaching? No, I quit.

I focused instead on baseball…And that lead to wild success, right…? No. That was probably my worst season in sports…I wasn’t a Christian then, and when I look back, I see that baseball was my “god” in that all of my future dreams/goals were wrapped in my performance on the baseball field. As a result, I put so much pressure/stress to perform that the game was no longer fun/enjoyable, and I was playing horribly. Basically, I didn’t have any Inside Game.

Do you have Inside Game?