Prayer and Sport


Ryan Hall, running in the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London, cropped image
Photo by By Peter Mooney via Wikimedia Commons

Can praying make you better at a sport? Liz Waid and Colin Lowther explore the connection between prayer and winning at sports.

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Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

In 2007, Ryan Hall was running the Houston half marathon. The race is a little longer than 13 miles. Hall was having a great race. He was running each mile in about 4:20. He was even winning the race. But with only a few miles left, Hall felt his stomach tense and become very painful. This can happen during long, difficult exercise. It feels like there is a rock in your stomach.

Voice 2  

Hall is a Christian believer. So he decided to pray - to talk to God. This is something he does every day. He talks to God about his hopes and fears. He talks to God about good things for his family. He talks to God about different ways to make the world a better place. So Hall decided to pray about this too. He told Outside Magazine that he prayed,

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“Lord, please help me get to the finish line without my stomach stopping me.”

Voice 1  

He repeated this prayer for about a minute. Then the feeling in his stomach went away. He was able to continue to run. He even went on to win the race. In fact, he had one of the best races of his life. Hall says it was because of the power of prayer. Hall had trained for years as a runner, but the prayer seemed to give him something extra. But what was it? Today’s Spotlight is on the power of prayer in sport.

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The human brain produces different signals depending on how the brain is working. These signals are called brainwaves. Scientists can measure these waves in a laboratory. Scientists can look at brainwaves and know if a person is sleeping or if they are thinking about a difficult problem.

Voice 1  

When a person is competing well in sport, their brain makes alpha brainwaves. The brain makes alpha waves when a person is calm and focused. They are not thinking too much. Many athletes call this being in “the zone” or “flow.” They report being able to perform their sport and not think too much about what they should do. They just act.

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But it is difficult for a person to force their brain to make alpha waves. Playing a sport is not something that is always calm and relaxed. There is a lot of pressure to perform well. Athletes try to find ways to be calm and focused. They often use a process called visualization.

Voice 1  

Visualization happens when athletes think about what they want to happen. Before they compete, they imagine how they will achieve their goal. They imagine a perfect performance. They imagine all the details. This helps them prepare for their sport. Visualization is similar to prayer in some ways. Both things happen in a person’s mind and claim to change the physical world.

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Andrew Newberg is a Neuroscientist. He studies the effect of religious acts like praying, on the human brain. He believes that prayer is more powerful than visualization.

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Newberg’s research shows that religious people are doing more than visualization. They believe what they are doing. This makes prayer stronger than visualization. Newberg told Outside Magazine,

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“The more you believe in whatever you are doing, the stronger the effect is going to be. If you are a religious person and your religion is important to you, then being able to pray can be very valuable.”

Voice 2  

This means that when people like Ryan Hall have very strong beliefs, their prayers in sport can help them. But while many people pray that they win their sport, there is more to prayer than winning. Being a Christian believer is not all about winning.

Voice 1  

The Christian Bible says that when people follow the example of Jesus, their life will be full of love, joy, and peace. They will be patient, kind, and good. They will be faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Reid S. Monaghan wrote for the organization Athletes in Action. He wrote about how when Christians pray during sports, they can pray about more than winning. He wrote,

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“We can be a very superstitious group as athletes. We think that if we do the right things before a game that things are going to go well in the game. There is some truth in this. Doing the same thing before every game helps us focus, calm the mind and prepare the body. Yet it is dangerous as Christians to mix God up into sport as if we are using him to make us win. Some of us pray before practices and games almost as if God will give us good luck if we do so - as if God is a lucky charm and our prayers will make us win. God is not our good luck charm.”

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Monaghan says that we should not see prayer as all about us. Prayer is about other people too. He wrote,

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“Many times during games we can forget that God is working in the lives of many people. During the game, what if you prayed for a struggling friend or someone whose anger is stopping them from their best play? What if we could move away from prayers only for us and learn to love God by thinking about other people? That would be a big change.”

Voice 1  

Athletes who are followers of Jesus say that Christian prayer is not just a trick to be better at sport. It is a way to talk to God. In fact, for athletes like Ryan Hall, being a Christian athlete is not mostly about winning or losing. It is about living how God wants him to live. In an interview with Runner’s World Magazine, Hall said,

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“I believe that the Bible unlocks the perfect heart for athletes to compete from. The most important thing I can train is my heart. It is what drives the body. Christians should be able to compete with more freedom, less pressure and more joy. I have become better at being OK with whatever God has for me in a race.”

Voice 2  

Do you think prayer can help people? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Bruce Gulland. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Prayer and Sport’.

Voice 2  

Look for our listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever prayed that something good would happen? Was your prayer answered?

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