Prayer and Sport

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Photo by Matt Lee

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

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

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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.

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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.

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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,

Ryan Hall, running in the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London, cropped image
Photo by By Peter Mooney via Wikimedia Commons
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“Lord, please help me get to the finish line without my stomach stopping me.”

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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.

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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.

Photo by Jonathan Chng
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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.

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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.”

intense boxer
Photo by jose aljovin
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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.

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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.”

Photo by Jeffrey F Lin
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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 You can also comment on Facebook at

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 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.


Have you ever prayed that something good would happen? Was your prayer answered? Write your answer in the comments below.

Join the discussion

  • i never praied in my hole life because i dont have the faith in god ever it doesnt exist im sure about that and i asked him many times to prove his existence by kill me or ended the war in my country but how much im stupeed i challenge somthing superstitious…by the way i will not be a lair in my chieldhood i praied many times and he didnt work anything maybe because im was myslim and this religion is just a mistake…

  • Pray is abeautiful feeling, pease , satisfied , feel like someone always with you , make you strong and happy , make your hope reality . In Islam religion , we always pray to Allah , want to please Allah and call Allah in our prayer thats make you feel more comfort .There are five prayer in everyday .These prayers made us more closelly to Allah .Allah accepts us in our condition .

  • – Yes , I always pray god about every simple actions in my life for example passing exams , find job , good people ..etc .
    – many prayers was answered , the prayer need continuous and commitment, some from our prayers will answer in different ways . Finally , you have to pray with totally trust about that the pray will be answered in one day

  • Yes! I always pray to God before going to sleep at night and before we start our work. And yes, i can say that God always listen to my prayer God always protecting me wherever i will go. I praise Jesus Christ because he is the King of all kings.

  • I agreed with what has been said in this episode “praying isn’t about winning or losing” we pray for God because this is what God told us to do besides that praying make us feel satisfied and focused on our life.

  • There are many people who will not believe the pray, but there are also some people who very believe even superstitions. That’s life, there are many things and many points will make more colorful and experiences. In my view, I also believe that the pray but I can not superstition. With sincerity, I can pray for something and I can achieve it. I remember I used to pray for my result university exam. In fact, I try my best and I learned very hard. And I have a good result as expected. So I think if you are only praying but you don’t try, the results will not as your expectations. I think when the pray something that only the way helps us feel more assurance. But I know that there are some cases that they must spend a lot of money to hire a shaman. Who take advantage of the truth of you. If you are superstitious, you will lose money so easily.

  • Yes, I have .
    I prayed to study in college after that l felt the principles in the university are not interested in my grades so I forgat that ideas about completing my study but I try to live my .ife normally and I started to open my own business in that day and I resceved a massage from the collage . I opened the massage and I found it . It was about accepting me in the collage . I said to myself my gad listened my voice .

  • Prayers is a beautiful feeling, peace and safe, feel like someone always with your, be with you in happy or sadness everywhere with your, strong, peace of mind , when I need talk always I will talk with God I know he hear me, Thanks for everything .

  • Always be with Allah, he created all the world and all inside the world.
    In 5 Prayers every day you are may pray for all what happen in your live and what you are need because we have the hereafter and there is account for all people between the fire and the heaven, all Muslim is want the heaven, and all the people need the heaven.
    I will praying now.

  • yes l’m always pray. Pray is a miracle for life

    and feel like someone with you and make satisfied about your self and life
    religion lslam learn to pray to Allh

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