26th October 2018

Support On A Life Changing Journey


As well as supporting hundreds of senior elite athletes who are Christians, we are also investing in the next generation. Here, Lisa Elliott, who heads up our work supporting Young Performance Athletes (YPAs), sets the scene.


The world of sport can be an extremely tough place, particularly if you’re a young elite athlete. For the exceptionally talented young sportsperson who is a Christian, the journey on the performance pathway can be life-changing in terms of potential successes, but perhaps more so in terms of challenges.


The number of training sessions increases, meaning more time on the road, diary clashes and less time for homework and friends. Expectations of the coach, and others, increase and therefore the pressure to perform becomes greater. Family dynamics can be tested amidst the busyness. Meeting other Christians at church or youth group, and spending time alone with God, can become less of a priority.


In this culture, where sportspeople are told that who they are is based on what they do and how well they do it, we are passionate about helping YPAs live for Jesus. We want YPAs to recognise their gifts are from God and be able to worship Him as they train and compete, with the confidence that their identity, value and worth are secure in being children of God and not based on their performance.


Primarily, we would love to see YPAs being taught and discipled by local churches. However, we understand this can be a challenge for YPAs because of their increased commitments, and for the church, which may not have the capacity to support them. Therefore, we aim to work with the local church to help these young people grow in their faith and tackle sport-specific issues that arise. 


There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to how we provide support, as we recognise that every family and situation is unique. Our main ways of support include praying for families regularly; sending resources which address various topics or issues; linking up families in the same region or sport to encourage each other and, where appropriate, offering a mentor who will keep in regular contact with the YPA and family to pray and read the Bible.




The YPAs we support include a 16-year-old athlete, who focuses on 800m and 1,500m track running in the summer and cross country over the winter. Here, he shares some of the highs and lows he faces as a Christian sportsperson.


I have had a lot of races where it hasn’t gone as I would have liked, but I always pray I would do it for God’s glory - the audience of one idea. This means that although there may be many people watching me run and competing alongside me, I try to remember that God is the only audience I’m looking to please.


I know my identity isn’t found in athletics. It’s found in God and how He views me as His child because Jesus has died for me. But living that out can be difficult.


I have got some very close friends within my running group and I think they respect my Christian faith and how I live my life. I just try to tell them what I believe. We have had some good chats about things like evolution. Often, they are really interested and ask questions. I just want to be around them in a way that honours God and Jesus. A lot of the time, I’m guilty of not doing that.


Sometimes in different places, when I’m not so close to the other athletes, I will get jeered at because I’m a Christian. If you take it well, it can be a good witness to Jesus. It’s really amazing to have a God that loves you and cares for you no matter what.


One of my main battles is congratulating opponents when I lose unexpectedly. There might be someone who you have always beaten in races and then something happens and they beat you. You feel like saying to everyone ‘he shouldn’t be beating me, I have beaten him loads of times’. But that is not how I should act. I will try to justify myself and say how much better than him I am and that was a bad race for me. He had a lucky run or whatever. It’s something I have been struggling with.





Supporting a child who is a YPA brings plenty of ups and downs in its own right. Here, the mother of a 16-year-old netballer, shares her story.


I have been a Christian for a long time and my faith is really important to me, but working out what following Jesus looks like in our position has been a real challenge. My daughter was always a very sporty girl and once she focused on netball at 13, she progressed from county to England level. I didn’t realise how much impact it would have. It has been a steep learning curve for me. There are big demands on the players in terms of training, travelling and nutrition.


We’ve definitely become quite isolated from our local church because they don’t really understand our situation. I am still able to stay quite involved myself because I have time in the week. I think my daughter is less connected to her faith than she has been at any point in her life. Although not intentionally, she was made to feel that she was not a good Christian because she couldn’t be as involved as others in the youth group. 








On the other hand, the high for me is seeing her so fully alive when she’s playing her sport. I guess that’s the bit that people at church don’t see. They don’t see how much joy it brings her. All the best bits of her come out when she’s in that team environment. Being a Christian in a very competitive world like that is quite hard.


Another parent I met through netball passed me Lisa Elliott’s number. Meeting Lisa and having her talk to us was just so wonderful. I thought I was losing the plot with all that was going on. The pressures we face are fairly unique, so it was great to hear that others are in that position too. Lisa talked my daughter's language, she talked about sport and faith, which others in church found it hard to relate to.



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