Building a Perspective

FCA President John Erickson Looks at the Fellowship’s Role in the Competitive Arena.

CA—What is your definition of competition?

Erickson—I’d define competition as that which pits individuals or groups against each other as they try to attain a common goal.

CA—How does your faith correlate with your definition of competition?

Erickson—I’m not sure my faith life has a direct bearing on the outcome of achieving a goal in that sense. Faith life is the personal relationship one has with a tremendous power called God. It has a lot to do with the person as he handles the outcome of competition—or the struggles involved before the outcome is reached.

CA—What responsibility does the Fellowship have in helping people define their Christian theology of competition?

Erickson—I see the Fellowship as a “perspective builder.” FCA assists the athlete and coach to make sure he includes the spiritual dimension in his growth; that he doesn’t exclude it. Once he begins to include it, there are a number of directions he can take. Ultimately, we’d like to see him acknowledge Christ as his Savior and Lord but this may be down the road a ways.

CA—As to this life perspective, does a person automatically come to grips with his competitiveness as he or she is related to Christ or does the FCA help more specifically in this area?

Erickson—It’s certainly not automatic. Often those who want their life in perspective are far out of perspective when it relates to competition. We’ve both seen that. For many reasons, in the frustration and pressures of competition, people often act just opposite of the way they know is best—and the way they really wish to act.

CA—Do you see some athletes and coaches who try to segment their competitiveness from the rest of their faith life?

Erickson—Many sports figures compete as real disciples for the Lord’s glory. But there are others whose faith does not touch their competitive life. And we see this great dichotomy in other areas, such as business and politics. Read Congressman John Anderson’s Between Two Worlds, or the philosophies of Senator Mark Hatfield and former Congressmen Walter Judd. There is great conflict between knowing what is right and doing what is right.

CA—What’s the answer?

Erickson—I believe all life is holy. Hopefully the FCA aids people who compete. As we help them into a realization of the relationship with Jesus Christ and give further depth and enrichment to this, the person’s lifestyle—and his competitive lifestyle—may change. I don’t believe organizations change people. The only time anyone changes is when they decide personally to change. The FCA can only influence thinking, but the only way an athlete or coach will change his competitive inclinations is when he makes this decision. I believe it takes the presence and strength of Christ through the Holy Spirit for a person to do this.

CA—Well, how do we help persons make these decisions?

Erickson—It seems to me that FCA can help by its role as a caring body which allows a sharing of concern. FCA focuses in on the “tough decisions” all of us have. As we share these suffering or uplifting experiences, the truth of God’s presence begins to empower us with decision-making ability.

CA—If you were to return to coaching today, would there be any changes in your competitive attitudes?

Erickson—I’ve always considered myself a caring coach. I wouldn’t change much technically, but I would try to be much more concerned—for the players, officials, colleagues, families, other coaches, the opponent. I would try to understand them better.

I would try to handle victory and defeat better. I think that at times I was too low after a loss and too happy after a victory.

CA—Is it harder to be a competitor today?

Erickson—If you are speaking of enjoying competition, yes, all up and down the line. Because of the pressure… the tremendous pressure to be successful (whatever that may be). And that pressure is felt by everyone—the athlete, the coach, the superintendent, the school board member, college president and professional owner.

CA—In your coaching did you ever have your competitive attitude influenced or changed when you competed against coaches you suspected of having recruited illegally or in other problem situations?

Erickson—There were times I harbored bad thoughts. But it did not affect my competitive attitude or the way I coached. Of course, when you’re beaten it’s easy to find all types of excuses.

I loved the collegiate level of competition. I was kidded about having the toughest schedule in America. But I always enjoyed competing against the best coaches and the best teams. If you develop relationships with outstanding people you have a chance of enjoying competition. One of the pleasures I have now in speaking to coaching groups is that I still believe these are some of the most outstanding men in this country.

CA—Does your personal theology of competition always square up with what you see the Fellowship’s role to be?

Erickson—I’ just one member of the FCA. And I don’t always agree with everything we do as a movement. I don’t think that’s necessary. For example, I could speak out personally on some problems I see at the high school, college or professional level, but I don’t think this is the role of the Fellowship. We’re not directly in that arena; that isn’t our mission.

CA—Do you see FCA ever conceiving a “Ten Commandments of Competition” or any kind of general statement as to a theology of competition?

Erickson—I think we would be wrong to do that. I believe the faith life rests by and large with the individual. He needs the fellowship, the community. But I think it would be wrong to impose a theology or doctrine of competition on those men and women who wear the colors of Christ. I think by the very nature of faith that individuals will come around to a common theology based on the scriptures. But it is more important for the individual to arrive at that himself than for someone to ascribe for him what his competitive theology is to be. Perhaps we can be helpful with some guidelines.

CA—Many problems harass the competitor today—oversaturation of sporting events in the media, recruiting problems, overemphasis, overblown salaries, etc. How do we help the competitor cope?

Erickson—It is not up to FCA to try and be a judge and jury for all the concerns of the sports or educational world. Rather, it seems to me that as a “perspective builder” and positive organization our role is to take leadership in assisting the individual to establish a criteria for himself which will bring honor and glory to God in every way.

CA—What can a coach do to foster a Christian theology of competition on his team?

Erickson—Be an example; it’s as simple—and as hard—as that. This is still the greatest teacher. That’s the breakdown in leadership at all levels in this nation—the inability of leaders to discipline themselves. If I’m a coach and don’t love and respect my players, how can they love and respect me? And it doesn’t have to be totally vocal. Men can see. Coaches never fool players.

CA—FCA began its ministry at the high school, college and pro levels. This past year we moved down into the junior high area. It is claimed a youngster’s basic attitudes and outlooks are formed by the time he’s in elementary school. Do you ever see FCA moving into the elementary schools in any fashion?

Erickson—I think it’s very possible in years to come. However, I believe at that age it may be primarily the work of the family and the church to minister to those needs. Really, we are just an extension of the family, the church and the school.

And we also need to move in another direction—to the retiring athletes and coaches. We owe a ministry to a lot of lonely people. Those who are no longer players or coaches face a vacuum in life and desperately need a caring fellowship.

CA—We mentioned a family unit. As you see your own family and other athletic families, is this where kids are going to learn their basic competitive foundation—in the home?

Erickson—It was in my case. But it’s an amazing thing. Many coaches are totally different at home than when in competition. There are so many pitfalls in red hot competition. Some coaches don’t want their children to get involved in that kind of thing. Most coaches keep a much lower profile at home than on the job.

CA—Jekyll and Hyde?

Erickson—Well, not necessarily, but perhaps. Things in competition can be so instantaneous and we’re not as strong in those moments as we’d like to be.

CA—We’ve talked about the essence of FCA being to bring a person into relationship with Christ and also fellowship with believers. But are there specific ways we can help people in their competitiveness?

Erickson—The National Federation of High School Athletic Associations is very concerned about the moral responsibilities of coaches, and the FCA has been asked to provide programs at many sate association meetings. And the national organization is urging coaches to participate.

We are working primarily at two levels often overlooked—the first year coach and the assistant coach. Each has tremendous problems in his own situation.

This month, for example, I’ll be speaking at an assistant coaches clinic in conjunction with the NCAA basketball tournament in San Diego. The FCA is being invited to share its perspective in many such situation, not dealing with X’s and O’s but with individual lives and relationships.

I firmly believe that “the will to win” is still extremely vital to life itself in every area. Be certain you hear that correctly. The “will to win”—not necessarily the outcome. We cannot always obtain the desired outcome despite our will to achieve but the “will” gives us the strength to try again. I personally deplore (and have for many years) those statements which give no courage and strength to those who suffer in defeat. Greatness may come either in victory or defeat. Certainly Christ was a perfect illustration.

CA—The evangelistic stance of the Fellowship has been defined as “evangelism through fellowship.” How does this tie to a theology of competition?

Erickson—Jesus met people right where they were. I see the Fellowship doing the same thing. We’re meeting athletes and coaches and people connected with sports right where they are—in their marketplace. Through our sharing and caring we can move into a faith life relationship with them.

You know, the huddle as we know it—the team huddle—was really the forerunner of small group emphasis in the churches today. The huddle is to sports what “koinonia” (the fellowship or community) is to the Christian church today.

CA—And you think this FCA “huddle of believers” allows people to better define their competitiveness and put it in perspective with their faith life?

Erickson—Yes. And the important thing about the huddle is the touch, the closeness. The touch of coach to player and player to player is electric. Maybe it sounds silly for a coach to be talking that way but there is a transformation of power in that touch. This is what happened when people sought to touch Jesus. When you touch and embrace there’s a transformation of power that is unbelievable and indefinable.

I believe we do that in the Fellowship. When we huddle together, acknowledging our weaknesses, our sins, and have a common touch, there’s a power generated that begins to change lives. We understand each other as fellow athletes and coaches, we know each other, we struggle together—and all this combines to allow us to help each other.

CA—Our national theme this year is “We Really Do Need Each Other.” How does this fit into a theology of competition?

Erickson—Well, we really do need each other in live and in sports. There isn’t a coach or player who doesn’t understand the need for teamwork. We need the coach, the players, the teammate, the officials, the school people, the fans,–all those involved in sports are a vital link.

CA—And the opponent?

Erickson—You need the opponent to bring you to your best. There are performers who are super in practice against their teammates. But the great performer is the one who really rises to the occasion when his opponent enters the arena. The opponent provides the incentive to grow, to excel, to exceed what your potential might be, to accomplish the task. Yes, “we really do need each other.”

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