I enjoy watching basketball. I love it when there are a few seconds on the clock and the coach calls a time-out. There he huddles with his players and writes out a play designed to win the game. Everything depends upon the players executing that play. Over the last few weeks this has become apparent as some teams have successfully executed their final plays, and some teams have failed to execute. Successful teams and players have some common components that enable them to achieve a winning play. They understand that winning is hard work, it involves intentional planning and the one must have the right motivation.
Winning plays do not come easy. In fact they often come at the end of a series of hard and painful trials. Sports in general are grueling events where there are winners and losers. Many life lessons are learned in sports. One life lesson is that trials happen. How we respond to those trials is what will define us. A great example of a player exhibiting a winning attitude amidst very difficult circumstances is seen in the actions of Kevin Ware. In 2013 the Louisville Cardinals Basketball team was playing against Duke when one of its guards, Kevin Ware, suffered a severe broken leg. This was no common break, but an open fracture that made the highlight reel of every sports show in the country. After the leg was stabilized Ware is said to have told his team, “Win the game, win the game!” He understood that the circumstances, which were bad, did not need to define him. Rather Ware realized that his actions in the midst of trials would directly impact the success of his team. As a result of Ware’s encouragement the Cardinals went on to beat Duke, then Wichita State and Michigan to win the 2013 NCAA Basketball Championship.
Winning plays are the result of intentional planning. When Tony Dungy took his first job as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001) he had a specific plan to take the Buccaneers from the bottom of their league to the top. He realized that he needed the right coaches on his staff, and that plan took time to bring to realization. He knew that his team had some areas that needed help, and it took a number of years to draft or trade for the right players who would be able to act like a team and respond to the football platform that he envisioned. Dungy states in his autobiography, Quiet Strength, that his philosophy was “No Matter What. No excuses. No explanations.” The result of his intentional planning was that the Buccaneers made the playoffs 4 out of the 6 years he was their coach. Dungy later became the head coach of a football team in Indianapolis, and they that had a pretty good run too.
Winning plays involve the right motivation. There was a famous fight that you may have heard about. A guy named Goliath, who was trained as a soldier from when he was a kid, challenged the nation of Israel to produce someone who would fight him to the death! After the battle the winner’s army would be declared the winner of that battle. No one in Israel would volunteer for this “suicide mission,” and since no one was coming out to meet him Goliath talked ‘smack’ about the Lord. That was enough for a teenager named David to step up and challenge Goliath. The Bible states that David said to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” (1 Samuel 17:45-46a) Goliath dishonored the Lord, Goliath thought that victory came from being cruel and vicious and David knew that winning was more that size and boasting. Winning ultimately comes from God. The result of all of this was that David put a rock in a sling and that rock smacked Goliath in the middle of his forehead. David executed the play that God had for him and the result was life and victory for David and death and defeat for Goliath.
Winning plays don’t just happen. They are achieved by components like endurance that come through trials and tough times, by intentional planning, and by having proper motivation. So what about you and me? We need to be proactive and choose be successful. We also need to develop resiliency and toughness, because winning is hard work. We should have a well thought out playbook through which we can identify the steps needed to complete that winning play. Finally, we need to be more excited about bringing glory to God than being successful. If we fail to glorify God through Jesus Christ then we will find ourselves having unsuccessfully executed the most important winning play on that final day of judgment and accountability.