The Victory Amid the Loss: Three Reasons Sports Are a Blessing
by Emery Pyykkonen, Class Eight
Sports can be a great blessing whether you win or lose. For they teach us to love each other better, work together according to our different abilities, and they help us to know Jesus more.
To help you understand what I mean, I’d like to paint a picture of one of our volleyball games.
It was our semi-final game against Winfield. We were sure of victory, which would bring us to the championship. I walked to the serving line, hearing someone shouting my name. As I tossed the ball into the air, I forgot everything but the serve I was about to make. I swung through, feeling the solid feeling of a hard serve. I sprinted to my spot, ready to set up a hit. I sensed my teammates’ energy around me, and drew more adrenaline from the crowd. The ball spun over the net, and Lucy dove for it, making an amazing save. Then the other team made a save, forcing us to act quickly. I dived for the ball, hitting it just over the net. I scrambled up to prepare for the next touch. Kaiah made a beautiful pass to me, followed by Steph's powerful hit.
We had won the point.
All six of us ran to the middle of the court, yelling and jumping into the air. As I looked at my teammates, I saw the joy in their eyes and the firm resolve to win the next point. I shouted encouragement to the girl stepping up to the line, hearing the shriek of the whistle, followed by the smack of the serve. I rushed to my spot, dimly aware of the bright lights, shouting crowd, and hard floor beneath me. All I felt was the determination to do my part for the team, serving, bumping, setting, or hitting, focusing on nothing but the moment before me. I keenly felt the sense of togetherness and teamwork which alone could bring us victory.
We couldn't win alone, so we strove to work together, forgetting each other’s mistakes in view of the greater goal. We rejoiced together when we won a point, and encouraged each other when we lost it. One person’s defeatism could bring down the whole team, so we pushed each other to work our hardest no matter the score.
But we lost.
Despite our hard work, concentration, and even desperation, the ball still dropped. All our efforts weren't enough to reach victory. When we walked off the court, our season was over. We would never play together again.
This semi-final game aroused the question: Was our season a success? Was it worth it? Did all our practice and effort still matter if we didn’t win?
Since then, I've realized that our season was a success and blessing, despite our loss, for three reasons.
Three Reasons Sports Are a Blessing Regardless of Whether You Win or Lose
1. Learn to Love Others
First, I learned how important it is to love my teammates well.
After our last game, as we lingered in the gym, not wanting our season to end, it didn’t feel like our work had paid off. We wanted to wake up the next day and prepare to play in the championship, to earn the trophy, to end with a win. But now we had to go home, ending in defeat.
Yet a couple weeks later, our team got together for an end of season hangout, and we started talking about our favorite volleyball moments. Surprisingly, what most girls recalled weren’t the times we won or the good practices. It was the community we felt when we comforted each other after a tough practice, the satisfaction of knowing we played well and together despite a loss, the joy of winning a point even when we were down. Although every team strives for an undefeated record and first place medal, it is the moments when we lose, the moments when we shed tears together, that truly make us a team.
So yes. Our season was a success. It was worth it. Our efforts still mattered. They mattered because we are not living for an earthly victory, but for a heavenly one.
For as we won, it was easy for me to place my value in my performance on the court. Yet our loss showed me what truly matters—building a community which loves its members as Jesus loves, unconditionally, not dependent on works or success.
- Learn to Appreciate Each Person's Gifts
Second, I learned to appreciate each girl’s gift.
I remember our coach Karis Jones gathering us together after one of our first practices and reading us 1 Corinthians 12. In this chapter, the apostle Paul compares true community in Christ to the human body. He declares that “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ'' (1 Cor. 12:12). Paul goes on to say that the smallest member is no less important than the largest, and the most beautiful is no more necessary than the least beautiful (1 Cor. 12:15-25).
Our coach used this analogy to show us a picture of how a healthy volleyball team should function. She pointed out that just like the human body, we have many members which make up our team. And each member has a unique gift to help the team work as it should. On the court, every player is needed to win, and off it every gift is necessary to serve the ultimate purpose of loving one another (1 Pet 4:10). The players serving unacknowledged, behind the scenes, are really just as necessary as the players serving in the spotlight.
I learned to value each person’s gifts as I saw how the leaders, hard workers, encouragers, and optimists all helped bring our team together to form a loving, joy-filled community. Without any one of them, our team would not have been the same.
3. Know Jesus Better
Third, and most importantly, I grew to know Jesus better. We know from John 17:3 that life is about knowing Jesus. As I reflected on Clapham Volleyball, I found comfort in the reality that I am loved no matter my performance. I experienced true peace as I grew to better know Jesus’ heart for me, as His beloved child.
For the greatest sacrifice, the largest gift, the craziest talent is nothing without love. “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away . . . [but] love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8). Love is the force that inspires, motivates, and empowers Jesus’ followers to live beyond themselves, to forgive the unforgivable, to persevere amid trials, to sacrifice everything.
Love heals. Love hopes. Love trusts. Love saves. Love redeems. Love casts out fear.
But this love can never come from inside oneself. By ourselves, we will only fall short again and again and again. We will grow weary, faint-hearted, broken, lost. But Jesus reaches out and finds wandering sinners. He strengthens the weary, restores the faint-hearted, heals the broken. And He not only redeems His people, but He sanctifies them, filling them with His love. He gives us the power to run the race He sets us on, welcoming us into the victory He already won on the cross. For when I depend on my own strength, looking inside myself to earn happiness and success, I will only discover more weakness, more exhaustion, more despair.
But when I turn to Jesus and surrender myself to Him, I find my identity in His unconditional love. When I rest in His grace and acknowledge my dependency on Him, then I find strength. For God’s “power is made perfect in [my] weakness… When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10-11).
In the end, playing volleyball at Clapham taught me that victory does not mean first place. Victory is teamwork, valuing, loving, and caring for one another beyond the court to greater life. For no athlete has achieved true success until they know how to love their teammates, valuing each person’s contribution to the team, and looking to grow closer with Jesus through it all.
Whether you are in sports or not, maybe you have experienced a disappointing circumstance. I would encourage you that God has blessings in store for you even in that disappointment. He wants to show you His heart for you. So ask Him to teach you to see His goodness and love, and He will!
Emery is a Class Eight student with a passion for God's Word, writing, and people.