I am not an avid follower of sport but I live in a house with 3 men, so I am obliged to take an interest in some of it. Over the past few months even the person most uninterested in or unenthusiastic about sport can’t have missed some sport news headlines as we have had so many.
At top level sport, nobody makes it on their own. Everyone has a support team. But what has struck me is the extraordinary variety of supporting roles in sport.
In tennis (in singles anyway) the player will have coaches, nutritionists, medics and so on but once they are out there and participating, the players are on their own.
In Formula One again you have lots of people behind the scenes, and you now have a team of participants out where everybody can see them, but it’s a team of just two, such as Hamilton and Bottas. And sometimes those two are supporting each other and sometimes they’re racing purely for themselves, and sometimes they’re not sure!
With football (we had the World cup recently and we were holidaying in France when the French won) you have much larger teams of 11 a side. And with these teams you start to see lots of different roles among the players – defenders, sweepers, midfielders, and strikers who grab the headlines if they are good enough, but they’re all kicking a ball in roughly the same sort of ways.
And then you have sports like rugby and cricket where they are still team sports but you can see instantly that different players have very different functions – scrummagers, wingers, batsmen, bowlers, fielders. And in cricket you start to see the notion of deliberately sacrificing yourself for the greater good of the team, e.g. damaging your batting average in search of quick runs, or allowing yourself to be run out so the better batsman can stay in.
But the one that has really caught my imagination this year is Tour de France with its quite astonishing variety of team dynamics. You can be racing against someone one day, and helping him the next, and all be supporting each other in the peloton the day after. And it is the only sport I know where for some participants - the domestiques – sacrificing yourself and your chances isn’t just something that you might be called upon to do occasionally; it’s part of the job description! You go into the tour knowing that you will have to race day in, day out, in a way that enables your team leader to have a relatively easy ride until towards the end when he disappears into the distance leaving you exhausted. Your job is not to care where you finish as long as you are helping your team leader in the general classification, or to pick up extra points or whatever. These domestiques could well echo the words that John the Baptist spoke about Jesus: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Geraint Thomas, winner of the Tour de France this year would be the first to say that his success was due to other members of his team, as well as his coach, the medical team, the support people who provided a new wheel if he had a puncture etc, and it’s good to hear the people in the background getting their due.
The words of the poet John Donne come to mind:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
It’s a reminder that no-one is self-sufficient; everyone relies on others, we need each other, we cannot do without each other. And some of us more than others may be called upon to make sacrifices of our time, money, energy, freedom etc for the sake of others and, depending on how you view it, for the sake of the God whom we follow. And let us not devalue ourselves if our own role isn’t the sort that thrusts us into the limelight – the work that gets the headlines isn’t by any means always the most valuable.
And finally, maybe we could also say a prayer thanking God for all those who have gone out of their way to make a difference in our lives, without whom we would be diminished.