With 30 guys on our team, some guys are easy to love. I have a lot in common with them; we approach life and soccer in a similar way. But there are always a handful of guys who come from different backgrounds and cultures, who have a different set of beliefs and a different approach to things than I do. It’s not always easy to cultivate friendships with them. But regardless of how much work it takes, that’s my goal.
I’m a follower of Jesus first, before I’m a soccer player, husband, dad or friend. It’s always my aim to bridge the gap between a friend and something deeper than that. If I can speak into the life of my teammate, letting him know I have his back on and off the field, if I can press into him and have spiritual conversations with him, that’s my goal. Of course, since I see these guys every day, we’re not always talking about Jesus. We have real friendships, and a lot of time that looks like sharing the Gospel naturally, and a lot of times it looks like small talk. But I trust in the sovereignty of God, that I am faithful to share the Gospel but He is the one that does the transformation.
As a professional athlete who is first and foremost a Christ-follower, I do have a great opportunity to share the love of God with others, and it is a beautiful calling. It’s a lifestyle of living with them and loving them and walking the fine balance between the imminent and urgent need for the Gospel, and the steadfast consistency of a long-term friendship. The goal is to show the watching world, and specifically my teammates, a true Biblical worldview of who Jesus is and what He’s doing in and amongst us.
With the amount of change that is happening in the world right now, people are hungry to know what’s right and wrong. Having those standards and knowing them well is crucial for Christ-followers. We need to be able to provide the hope that we have in Jesus with others. There’s no formula or playbook showing us how to best do that in each moment, it’s about living life with these guys and showing them Jesus.
When you’re on a team with 29 other guys, it’s amazing how when one person is not doing their job, so many are immediately affected. There are 11 guys on the field at one time. It’s easy to grow frustrated with teammates when they slack on the field because when they do, it makes the other 10 players have to do twice the work. If every one of the 11 players does the job they’re meant to do, the other 10 can focus on their own job.
We’re constantly fighting for our next contract. When teammates around you don’t play well, it is detrimental to your own work. It’s also detrimental to your other teammates and your organization, not to mention the player who isn’t playing well.
In those moments, when one guy is not pulling his weight, the last thing he needs is a teammate to pull him down. As a leader on the team, I need to ask myself, “How can I give him the clear and direct criticism in that moment so that I’m not just yelling at him?” There’s no point in calling out a player in a way that makes him play even worse. Instead, I want to let him know what needs to happen to be better in a way that increases his activity in the game. It’s a call to action.
When I’m able to be the kind of leader who builds people up instead of tearing them down, not only will it help my witness as a Christ-follower, but it will ultimately help our team become better as well.
— Ryan Hollingshead, FC Dallas midfielder/defender
Ryan Hollingshead is a regular contributor to The Increase, providing articles and opinions. Check out Ryan’s Increase profile here.
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