I’m always inspired by excellence whether it be on the track, in the pool or on the balance beam as well as in the realm of business, the military and the church. I am always looking for principles I can apply to my own life and share for the benefit of others.

A while ago I saw the  “Race” about the 1936 Olympics where American Jesse Owens won four gold medals.  I was greatly inspired to be the best I can be for Jesus. 

In 2 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 12:1-2 and I Corinthians 9:24-27 the Bible likens the Christian life to the world of athletics.

Following are some things I personally learn from athletic competition such as the Olympics. 

1. The importance of focus

Every athlete is incredibly focused in everything they do. They have a single purpose and goal and are willing to let other things go to accomplish that goal…tunnel vision!

2. The value of training

The more I read about Michael Phelps, the more I am intrigued by how much effort and daily training goes into making him the athlete he is. Some aspiring swimmers might say that they wished they could swim like he does, but how many are willing to train like he does. That holds true for every first class athlete and leader. I Timothy 4:7 speaks to the value of training, both in the physical as well as the spiritual realm.

3. The role of a team

It seems to me that every athlete is part of a team–even those sports normally thought of as a non-team sport. The team camaraderie and relationships help every member of the team excel. Your chances of succeeding at something rises exponentially if you have good team members around you.

4. The need for a coach

I can’t remember seeing a single athlete that didn’t have a personal coach.  If the best athletes in the world still need a coach, so much more for you and me. Being a life and leadership coach myself, I hold high this value for every aspiring leader.

5. Don’t disqualify yourself

In I Corinthians 9:27 Paul speaks of not wanting to disqualify himself. During the first week of any Olympics there will be a handful of aspiring athletes who will be eliminated from the competition for one reason or another. So sad to see a gifted athlete self-destruct and have what they have been working toward for four, maybe eight years, evaporate in a few minutes to a few hours.  I pray for myself on this one most days.

6. Be good at one thing

C.S. Lewis makes the observation that, “Everyone is composed of a few themes.” (Maybe only one theme!)

Michael Jordan has been called one of the greatest athletes ever. Michael could play baseball and golf, but in actuality he was really, really good at one thing. But that one thing was enough. I don’t know too many people who are really, really good at a number of things.  I remember Jack Palance’s character from  “City Slickers” saying to Billy Crystal’s character, “You have to find out what that one thing is.” In Christian leadership, what is the one area that, if you would give time and attention to it, would be your greatest contribution (by His grace) to Jesus’ kingdom purpose for your life? You will need to say no to other things to be the best at that one thing.

Billy Graham, when he preached Dawson Trotman’s (the founder of The Navigators with whom I worked for 38 years) funeral, said:  “Of Dawson Trotman, he could be said, not these forty things I dabble at, but this one thing I do.” Oh the power of a single focus!

7. Start early in life

I am amazed when I hear an athlete say they have been working at their craft since they were in grammar school. Now, admittedly, some parents (and some countries) have pushedkids into a sport because they had natural gifting regardless of whether they were interested or not. 

In other cases, the athlete himself/herself wanted to spend untold hours from early in life pursing their dream.  I recall this last week (don’t remember who it was) saying they had been pursuing being an Olympic medal winner since they were ten years old. Wow! Start early on with your God-given dream and pursue it with a vengeance and focus and see what God does. Don’t wait until you are fifty to start figuring out what you want to be when you grow up.

8. Think/dream the impossible

Jesse Owens had the thought planted in his head by his college coach while at Ohio State that he could win gold at the 1936 Olympics. Most everything up to that point in his personal and family life would have said that it was impossible for a variety of reasons. But through hard work, having a coach who challenged him, and staying focused on his dream he did it and won four gold medals.

She was born in a shack in the backwoods of Tennessee. During her early childhood she was sickly and frail and, due to a severe illness, had a paralyzed left leg for which she had to wear a brace.  Nonetheless, she dreamed of being the world’s greatest woman runner. She linked up with a coach in college who kept the dream alive and took her all the way to the Olympics. Wilma Rudolph won the 100 meter event and the 200 meter event, she had two golds. She was a member of the 400 meter relay team. Running the last leg she found herself pitted against Jutta Heine, the greatest, fastest woman runner of her day. In her excitement Wilma dropped the baton and everyone assumed she was through…that there was no way to catch up with the fleet-footed Jutta Heine. But she did and she won her third medal and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic games (1960). She achieved her dream.

 I close with this thought from the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, which is relevant to sports, life and leadership.

“Who can ask more of a man than giving all within his span? Giving all it seems to me is not so far from victory.”

As a leader, leave it all on the field for the Glory of God and be the best you can be as he leads and empowers you by his Holy Spirit.