Sports Spectrum Daily Devotional: Monday, November 25

“… in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your path straight.” — Proverbs 3:6

When To Walk Away

John Wooden was, without a doubt, one of the most successful coaches in the history of sports, and, without a doubt, the best college basketball coach the game has ever seen. When he arrived at UCLA in 1948, it was a little-known program in a cramped gym. Wooden basically began with nothing and eventually built the program into an athletic powerhouse that won 10 NCAA national championships and made 12 NCAA Final Four appearances.

He also taught his players the essentials about life and success along the way. 

When Wooden won his last title in 1975, many thought they’d continue to see him coach for many years. He hadn’t mentioned anything about retirement and seemed to be loving what he was doing. All of that was entirely true — that is, until he walked toward the press room before the game. Suddenly, he had no interest in fielding media questions anymore, and he had no desire to continue on with coaching. While he still loved the players, the work, and the chance to teach his boys about life, he was finished with all the rest.

He walked into the locker room following the championship game to talk to the team. After celebrating their victory and telling them how proud he was of their effort, he told them that they would be the last team he’d ever coach. The players could hardly believe it. When Wooden spoke to the media a few minutes later, everyone was in shock. It seemed so crazy to walk away at the height of his success, but he simply knew it was time. And he knew that if he didn’t have the grace or desire to keep doing it, he should walk away. So he did. Unlike many other coaches who have been lured back into the game after retiring, Wooden never returned to coaching college basketball. When he walked away, that was it. 

It can be very hard for coaches and athletes to know when to walk away. But, at some point, everyone in sports faces the decision of when and how to close that chapter in their life of competition. For those who have walked away well, it’s usually been because their identity wasn’t wrapped up in what they did, and they could transition into a new role in life because they knew something better and more impactful lay ahead. 

God sometimes changes directions on us and asks us to let go of things that have played a role in our lives for a long time. Sometimes that’s at what seems to be the peak of our success and a change seems illogical. Do we still roll with God’s plan and trust that a new direction will turn out to be good? Do we walk away in peace, knowing that our ultimate fulfillment isn’t in how long we do something but how well we do it? 

You may be in a sport for a short time or a long time. Whatever length of time you’re there, make the most of it. But be willing to follow God into something new if and when He asks you to. 

— Katherine Singer

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