Life Lessons from the Arena

Life Lessons from the Arena

By Steve Johnson

June 2010
“He shoots, he scores!”

A few short months ago I, along with most Canadians, proudly watched as our men's and women's hockey teams won gold medals at the winter Olympics. Recently the Stanley Cup playoffs captured my attention.

Many people, like me, learn best by using analogies—using something we know to learn something we don't know. Like Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” Or Solomon: “…look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two” (Proverbs 6:6 MSG). So let's think about hockey and let it teach us a thing or two about the Christian life.

Life is like the hockey arena. It is out on the cold hard ice of the world where we play this game called life, where we get banged around and bruised. It is where we win or lose. It's where we may be ”…afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9). It's where we try to get ahead in the standings, trying to win for our Lord, our loved ones, and ourselves. And it's where we face the opposition.

Church is like the dressing room at the arena. That's where we prepare ourselves for the game. During the game it's the place we retreat to refresh, regroup, and repair ourselves. The dressing room is a sanctuary where we can sit in silence to reflect on how the game is going. We can enjoy the company of our team and find encouragement or help, exult over the victories won or commiserate in the agony of defeat.

In the dressing room, we hear from the coach. He's like the pastor of the team, if you will. The coach's role is to guide and equip the team to greater effectiveness. Note: it is not the coach/pastor's job to score all the goals. He's there to teach, encourage, challenge, correct, and motivate the team to score and win (Ephesians 4:11-13).

When the team gathers in the dressing room the coach reviews plays from the playbook. A good coach knows it inside out and can teach the players what they need to know to win (2 Timothy 3:16,17). He'll often recount previous games and use star players of the past as examples to show what they did that won or lost them the game.

The coach will also talk about the opposition. We face an opposition that doesn't want us to win (Ephesians 6:12). Beating them requires a good balance of defence and offence. Too defensive and we will not prevail. Too offensive and we're open to attack.

Our opposition is unbelievably skilled, clever, and mercilessly mean. They trip, hook, spear, and slash trying to defeat, demoralize, and disable us in any way they can. They know our weaknesses and exploit them to beat us. It is important that we study the playbook to learn their schemes and to know the best defensive plays to counter the attack.

Teamwork is one of the most important elements to defeat the enemy and to win in the arena. No individual player, no matter how great, can defeat the opposing team alone. “…there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:20, 21).

We need each other. There is strength in unity. It builds morale when players cheer, encourage, and congratulate one another after a good shift or goal. In hockey an assist and a goal both get one point in the stats, so on a team those who help are just as important as those who score. Nobody likes a puck-hog and as coaches are fond of saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

We need passion and perseverance to win. The game isn't won by a single end-to-end rush or one good shift or period. It takes the whole time. Eventually winning the trophy takes consistency over the long haul. Each player really only has a short time to play so every shift counts. Make the most of your time on the ice. Stay focused and keep your head in the game. Keep moving. If you stand still you will lose. Don't give up or quit till the final buzzer sounds. Only when the game is over can you stop playing, change out of your equipment, and finally, go home.

By Steve Johnson