Finishing Strong

US_men's_soccer_team_trains_in_NJ_2010-05-20When I coached, especially basketball, I often talked to my team about finishing. It’s great to jump out to a big league, but if you let down, if you start to go easy, your lead can evaporate and you end up in a close contest which you can easily lose. I’ve had teams lose by any manner of lucky shots, such as the three-pointer which ricocheted off the backboard and into the net.

Even more certain that lucky shots can win games is a sport like soccer or hockey. Ask the Anaheim Ducks who lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the LA Kings. They gave up a goal in the closing seconds of regulation and eventually lost in overtime.

Or ask the US World Cup soccer team who just yesterday gave up a goal in the closing seconds of extra time—time added on because of delays during regulation. After 94 minutes and 30 seconds, playing in the heat and humidity of the Amazon jungle, the US led 2-1. After 95 minutes, they were tied.

Some players, to be sure, were playing to finish, but others appeared to be going through the motions. The ESPN radio announcers accused Portugal of going through the motions. In fact, he said they already had their bags packed. Yikes, I thought. I didn’t see it that way. They were still playing hard, still challenging for the ball in midfield, and winning it far too often. All the US had to do was possess the ball for one minute. All they had to do was play keep-away. All they had to do was finish.

How like life games are. I’ve thought of that many, many times, even calling sports a microcosm in which much of the human experience is played out: success and failure, team work, integrity, discipline, attitudes toward authority, toward an opponent, jealousy, contentment, hard work, trust, obedience, humility. And finishing.

I hadn’t thought about finishing until yesterday’s tie. But how interesting to realize that sports teams don’t reach the end of a game and retire the way chess players do. A team losing badly still needs to play. A team winning big still needs to play. Those ahead in the score can’t assume they know what the final score will be simply because they’re up big at half time.

Painfully I recall my Denver Broncos being up big against the Indianapolis Colts at half time, then losing that game.

Those losing can’t assume they have no chance.

Just this hockey season, the Kings were down 0 games to 3 in a best-of-seven series. The San Jose Sharks couldn’t finish. The Kings took the next four games and advanced to the second round. In their game seven against Chicago, they fell behind by two goals, but they didn’t stop playing. They finished. And their efforts put them into the Stanley Cup finals.

So why does our society say people reaching sixty-five should pack it in and go on an extended vacation? Why should people who have gained wisdom and understanding and knowledge and experience not be expected to finish and to finish well?

To those who have been given much, much will be required—except apparently not of older folk. But why not?

Oh, sure, the hockey player will one day need to step aside from the game he loves and has excelled in. And so shall all retired folk. The day will come, apart from the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we will all step aside from this life. But up until that moment, ought we not to be giving life our all?

“Our all” might be little more than serving as a prayer warrior for others on the front line of our faith, but that’s a significant role and ought not be disparaged. I would love to see every retired person more involved in prayer than in daytime TV.

We can finish and we can finish well. And the difference between going all out and easing up as the seconds tick toward the final whistle just might be significant.

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Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on Finishing Strong  
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