Lesson #2: Learning to Take Risks and Put your Abilities on the Line

by J. R. Cuevas

“Go for it!” is an imperative that has a pointed expression in the world of competitive sports. The importance and value of taking risks is far more effectively understood in athletics than in academics. In academics, good students study in a way that removes having to conduct any risk-assessments. A student doesn’t want to take risks if they are taking a calculus exam or writing a research paper.

But risk-assessment decision-making is a necessity in all sports. When competing in the field, there’s a relationship between risk and reward. The shots or plays that are inherently more risky are also those that—if rightly executed—increase the reward. Some athletes are, by personality, willing to take more risks than others. At times, such risk is rewarded. At times, it is the percentage plays and consistency that gets the win. But what is never rewarded is timidity. Athletes understand that, when it comes to competition, the outcome is not guaranteed. You can be at your best and still lose; you can be at your worst and still win. But as Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” A competitive athlete understands that, in order to succeed, you have to take risks and put your abilities on the line even if the outcome is uncertain.

I recently had a conversation with a young athlete about the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. How many times have we seen athletes who were in winning positions somehow lose because, under the pressure of competition, they shrunk back and instead hoped their opponents would make mistakes? I’ve fallen prey to this as a player; I’ve watched in heartbreak as teams I coached were in winning positions and let it slip away because of it. There’s a difference between playing with control and playing timidly where you actually relinquish control.

As a tennis player, whether I’m choosing to go for a down-the-line bullet or a cross-court rally ball, I need to be stepping into my shots and be decisive. Whether you’re an ultra-risk taker or a more conservative percentage player, good athletes know the importance of being in command, being purposeful with your game plan, and asserting yourself. In sports, there’s a big difference between being humble and being timid. And timidity is not only a hindrance in competitive sports; it is a hindrance in Christian living.

Timidity and passivity guarantee one thing in life: you will accomplish nothing. Ecclesiastes 11:4 warns, “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” In other words, waiting passively for life to happen out of fear of failure will only result in failure to achieve. We are called to “cast our bread on the surface of the waters” (Eccl 11:1) not because we are certain of the outcome, but because because we know that nothing will be gained by waiting for a perfect moment.

Why? Because life, by nature, is full of uncertainties. We cannot live in a way that attempts to guarantee tomorrow’s outcome, for James 4:14 warns: “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” Nor can we live in a way that attempts to avoid failure, because failure is an inevitable part of growth (Luke 22:31-32). The wise way to respond to uncertainty is by humbly and courageously taking calculated risks and boldly stepping up to the plate and giving life its fullest shot. This is the only way we will ever make a difference for the kingdom of God (2 Tim 1:7). So, for the glory of God and the good of others, step fully into life and put your abilities on the line.

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