Living and Learning: My advice for High School athletes (and everybody else)

by Ryann Krais from Shine On

Visiting my high school Alma mater over Christmas break confirmed my heart’s desire to work with young athletes. As I pursued local coaching opportunities, I began asking myself ‘how am I being called to serve them and what insight can I provide?’ Thus the inspiration for my second blog has arisen! This is my advice for high school track and field athletes, written from the perspective of one who has NOT mastered, but one who is continuously learning and trying to tap into some principles that came more naturally to me as a high-schooler. With a heart that is more open than ever to the amazing works of Jesus Christ, I hope to provide this advice with scriptural guidance. Although the following is directed towards the track and field athlete, I can imagine the concepts below are applicable to any person of any age. Enjoy!

1. LOVE: Love your teammates. Love your coaches. Love your competitors.
How? Invest in these relationships. Spend time together and share your daily secrets, fears, and joys. Allow your teammates to become your best friends. Allow your coaches to feel like second-parents. Allow your competitors to embrace each race with you.

Do you cheer for one another at practice? Do you get pumped when your teammate clears a bar? Do you hug your coach after scoring those unexpected points at the league championship? Do you finish your 400’s way faster when your teammate is waiting for the baton? Do you high-five your opponents when they ran a great race?

My passion for track developed because of my team. Track was not about track. Practice was a chance to hang out with my friends- yes, working hard, but working hard TOGETHER. Even at a meet- each race was for more than my own glory. It’s for something indescribable… my coach yelling splits, my teammates cheering, my parents watching, but even something more (is that God and I didn’t even realize it yet?). Track should not be a sport described by numbers, but by emotion and passion and LOVE.

I hope the above comes naturally to you, but it may not always…. After tasting success, we set even bigger goals and become overly self-discipline cutting other “distractions” out. It is easy to make track become ALL ABOUT YOU (your pr’s, your medals, your championships, your dreams). I’m quite guilty! Track is NOT an individual sport, no matter what you may have been told. At times, I didn’t even realize how isolated I had become. Self-imposed isolation! (So self-center that I would sometimes even get mad if my warm-up was disrupted by someone). It is safe to say track became my idol- so much so that I forgot Jesus’ greatest command to love God and love one another.

Life isn’t all about you- you were made to love and be loved. If there is love on that track, I promise there will be significantly more fire in your heart when your legs start to burn!

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:7


2. (This goes hand in hand with #1) Have Fun: Dance, Sing, Jump on hotel beds, stick the team’s smelliest track spikes in your coach’s bag, decorate shirts, talk too loud during “stretch time”, tell your coach about “girl problems” just to see his reaction, go out to dinner.
For some reason my 4x400m relay decided to bring a goldfish to the state meet with us so we could leave it in our coach’s hotel sink. It probably wouldn’t be number one on my list of fun things to do at the age of 24 (or maybe it would), but that silly innocent prank brought us so many laughs it was literally impossible to fret about the meet. All car ride we would spontaneously burst into giggles every time we hit a bump for fear of spilling “ronzi fonzi” (our fish was named after our coach Ronzano).

Every track meet was its own adventure. Being focused at a track meet does not mean being serious the whole time. In fact, just like love grows your fire in competition, I believe laughter and happiness grow your focus during competition. When you are at the back of the runway or getting into your blocks, CRACK A SMILE. It’s not weakness. It’s fun. Track is fun!

“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people to do in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them.” Ecclesiastes 8:15

High School 4x400 going mud-sliding
High School 4×400 going mud-sliding

3. Don’t quit. Always get back up.

Some days you will stand at the start line feeling energized, pain-free, and invincible. The gun will go off and you will execute your ideal race, feeling smooth and graceful until crossing the finish line. There will be no struggle, just pure perfection. JUST KIDDING. That won’t happen, EVER, and thank goodness. Track-life metaphor: We were not created to go through life without experiencing hardships.

Sometimes the bear will jump on your back earlier than expected, and sometimes you will trip over a hurdle or foul your best long jump. Imagine track was not judged by numbers or distances, but by effort. It is beautiful to finish a race (or event) having given your best. I can promise you, there is no satisfaction in giving-in to disappointment. 9 years later, I am most proud of a race I considered to be a complete failure at the time- I tripped over hurdle 1 in the state meet, but got up and raced to the finish (yep, last place). Other times, I have had sub-par performances and dragged my feet through the rest of the meet (probably finishing higher than last place). Those are the situations, even if I did finish higher, that I look back on in disgust.

When life throws a curve-ball or knocks you down… get back up. You were not made to be perfect. But God strengthens us in our weakness. So grab hold of him, get back on your feet, and finish strong.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
4. Say “NO” to doubt.

Here lies the most challenging piece of advice. I am guilty of hypocrisy here which is why I passionately urge you to BELIEVE. Doubt is a sneaky enemy, attacking from any and all angles. It can hit immediately and intensely or chip away at you over a long period of time. Do you know the feeling? Have you stood at the line with a heaviness upon you or with questions as to whether you are adequately prepared? Have you ever tried convincing yourself that you are pumped for a meet that you’ve secretly been dreading? That bar is too high. This is going to be embarrassing. I’m too fat, out-of-shape, slow, untalented…STOP!

How do you overcome this? Well, let’s go back to those races where we excelled. For me, I know I had lots of positive energy. I was smiling and confident. I knew that I was ready to run better than I ever had before. For weeks leading into the race, I had developed a feeling of invincibility and I knew I had things to improve to make me even better. Even after poor results, I had found solutions and I was excited (not discouraged) to fix them. I felt confident that no matter what, I could respond and overcome. So how can we make this our permanent mindset?

For one, grab hold of a greater purpose. Why are you racing? If it is to glorify God, then no matter your shape, size, past, future, YOU CAN’T LOSE. Poor results happen and it is human nature to feel disappointment, but statistics are worldly. They are temporary. They do not define you.

Second, stay on your own path. God has a purpose for you, so do not fixate on the results of your competitors. Jealousy is blinding- if your mission is to outdo others, you will miss out on the blessings in front of you.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Don’t let a mistake chop away at your self-value. Let it build you. Don’t be confined by your own self-disciplined rules. If somebody so GREAT, POWERFUL, and PERFECT is so quick to forgive us upon repentance, then why should we beat ourselves up over worldly failures (ex: clipped a bar with our feet, ran too tentative in a race, dropped out of a workout, ate too much dessert)?!

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29:11

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

5. Work hard. Make the most of your God given gifts. Everything you do is a chance to glorify Him.

Working hard does not mean grinding yourself into the ground and crawling away from each practice. Yes, sometimes “work hard” does mean you will be laid out on the track for a while. But it really means to do the best you can to achieve the intent of the workout/race/jump. ‘Work hard’ and ‘work more’ ARE VERY DIFFERENT and I am not advising the second.

You may have friends or competitors that are “pure talent” and never seem to work hard, yet still always win. Unless they learn to work hard, they will never be their best. Remember, the most satisfying goal is to be the best YOU. By giving your all in whatever you do, you are essentially thanking God for the opportunity He provided.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” Psalm 128:2

There you have it- the best advice I can think to give you. Allow your heart to be filled with more and more love and joy each day. Refuse to let the world discourage or limit you, but instead put forth your best effort knowing that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

shine hs5
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