Training to Compete

Then David said to Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly.”  (1 Chron 28:20, The Living Bible, emphasis added)


Reflecting on David’s charge to Solomon, above, one thing jumps out at me.  Solomon was pushed to be strong and courageous and, …get to work”.  Since I’m over 6-ft tall, I can bluff “strong” while standing still.  Flexing biceps and puffing-up my chest, I can fake “courageous” (until I exhale or cramp-up).  But I cannot counterfeit “get to work”.  Preparedness for elite athletes is about extreme physical training and toughened mental readiness to get to work.  They drill, ad nauseum.  They push exhaustion, day-in and day-out.  They strengthen muscles.  They memorize play books.  They recite roles and responsibilities.  Then having prepared, they get to work!    

Jerry Rice: One of the NFL’s greatest receivers of all time, Jerry Rice was famous for his “in-season” workout habits. During workouts, Rice mimicked game scenarios by sprinting to the end zone after every catch.  Rice is equally well-known for his amazing, 6-day-a-week, “off-season” workout habits.  While most players relax during their off-season, Jerry Rice devoted mornings to an exhausting 5-mile hill circuit. During his run, Rice ran a series of 40-meter wind sprint “reps” up the course’s steepest incline. His afternoons regime focused on weight training and strength conditioning. Jerry Rice’s was dedicated to gameday readiness, year-round.

Michael Phelps:  Phelps 28-Olympic medals has made him the most decorated Olympian in history. Phelps was gifted with a physique that slices through water.  His 6’-4″ frame is complemented by a 6’-7” wing span; 3-inches wider than his height!  But his natural giftedness is only partially responsible for Phelp’s 23-gold medals, 3-silver medals and 2-bronze medals.  During peak season, Phelps swam two 3-hour workouts daily. Grueling workouts burned 12,000 calories every day. Phelps regiment amassed 40-50 miles in the water every week. Beside herculean workouts, Phelps habitually slept 8-hours each night and took naps every afternoon to allow his body to recover.

Tiger Woods: Tiger Woods continues to be one of PGA Golf’s greatest spokesmen and players.  When asked about his training regiment (1997-2008) during the process of winning 14 major championships Tiger explained how he stayed ready to compete.  Woods would run 4-miles each morning.  Then, he was off to the gym for strength work and conditioning.  He hit golf balls every afternoon for 2-3 hours. Time on the driving range was followed by a round of golf and, then, a return to practice greens to work on his short game.  Days were topped-off with another 4-mile run … and an occasional pick-up game of basketball or tennis. 


At birth, God uniquely gifts emotional, intellectual and physical talents into every man.  But while our Father gifts natural abilities to every man at birth (Ps 139), God gives spiritual gifts to believers at re-birth. (Rom 12, Eph 4, 1Cor 12).  Disciples “get to work” by addressing challenges and redressing trials using both skillsets.  Life is not limited to physical obstacles or overcoming competitors that we see. God’s Spirit hones natural and supernatural gifts “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)  That’s what coaches do!

If you and I are alike, we are out-of-shape.  I am more prepared to compete physically than spiritually.  I run hills, curves and straightaways to prepare for marathons.  I run, paddle and swim miles before an ocean swim.  I cycle mountains and tracks to condition myself for a road race.  My tendency is to prepare myself for what I see. I fail to train spiritually for the unseen … for life’s toughest battles.  Every day, I confront an invisible enemy. This enemy is hell-bent on destroying my friends, my wife, my children and me. Everything for which I stand is at stake.  This enemy doesn’t play fair.  This competition has no rules.  Satan lies, cheats, steals, undermines, fouls and interferes with every aspect of my daily life and the lives of everyone around me.      

Next Steps

Knowing that we are gifted, physically and spiritually, how do you train?  When elite players compete, they commit themselves with a singular focus.  They run.  They lift weights. They devote days, months and years to conditioning and preparation at the gym, in the pool or on the golf course.  They are “all-in”to perfect their talents and and techniques. Sadly, I confess that I’m lax about spiritual conditioning. As a coach, God equips me to get to work.  As a player, my training is derailed too often. My focus is distracted too easily.  Lazy habits must be chiseled by spiritual strength and conditioning. To re-commit myself to train every day. To drill myself to engage in real life battles.  Our villain stalks us. His cohort undermines everything and everyone we love with treachery using inhuman and unimaginable power. Unprepared, we are underdogs. Prepared, we can defeat the most impressive opponents. 

Where were you on Friday, March 16, 2018?  That Friday evening NCAA Division 1 basketball history was made by a lowly Maryland university players who trained to get to work.  That evening and for the first time in its 79-year history, a overlooked #16 seed knocked-off a highly favored, national powerhouse ranked #1 in tournament play!  By an astonishing 20-points, dismissed UMBC[1] (#16 seed) defeated the mighty Virginia Cavaliers (#1 seed). 

The 31-3 Cavaliers entered Friday evening as NCAA sweethearts and prohibitive favorites to make the Tournament’s Final Four.  In their 2017-18 season, their stifling defense held opponents to fewer than 54-points average per game.  None of their previous 34 opponents scored more than 70-points.  Their championship quest began that evening with an insignificant “speedbump” called the UMBC Retrievers. UMBC barely qualified for the NCAA Tournament. They placed second in the America East Conference Tournament.  In the prior three months, UMBC had not won a game by 20 points!  That Friday evening, UMBC scored an astonishing 53 points in the second half alone. They got to work! They defeated the Virginia Cavaliers 74-54.

My Prayer: Lord, coach me to faithful reading, memorization of your Word and prayer for my teammates.  Without you, I am the underdog in every spiritual battle. With you, I am the prohibitive favorite in combat. Mature me with fierce dedication as I prepare for the competition ahead.  Exercise the spiritual muscle of my faith with the same grit that I give to my physical workouts.  By Your Spirit and through Your word, help me take the enemy seriously and get to work!  

[1] “UMBC” stands for “University of Maryland – Baltimore County”