Gavin Peacock / Bernhard Langer / Jonathan Edwards

The hope that life is more than failure or success – football, golf, athletics

Other themes:

coping with disappointment, taking sport too seriously

The Problem

Listen to this and see what you think at the end.

Karen could hear part of the crowd changing her name: “Ka-ren! Ka-ren!” They knew it all depended on her – she knew it too. If she won this final race in the Inter-School Swimming Gala, Compton, her school, would carry away the trophy. It would be tight though: Compton and one of the rival schools, The Laurels, had equal points. It was up to her.

But she was confident. The swimmer for The Laurels looked nervous. Winning shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

And the gun went off. She dived. Good, long, clean strokes, come on!

But on the second lap, she began to feel tired for some reason. Push, Karen told herself, push! She was vaguely aware of the roaring crowd, vaguely aware too that she was not in the lead. Push! Push!

Then it was over. And there was the girl from The Laurels jumping about in the water. She’d won. Karen was, what, fourth, maybe even fifth. She pulled herself out of the pool, trying to keep from crying until she was alone. Behind her as she ran, she heard a teacher saying, “Bad luck, Karen, but stay around, we’re about to take team photos.”

But Karen didn’t stop. Not until she reached the changing room where she buried her head in the towel and let the sobs come. She felt so ashamed. She’d done her best, but she’d let everyone down.

Then she heard a voice, “Karen, the photo, come on…”

Now think:

What should she do? Is she right to be ashamed? What would you say to her?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Picture the scene. Wembley Stadium. You’re there in the crowd – and it’s the FA Cup Final, 1994, Chelsea versus Manchester United. The teams haven’t come onto the pitch yet, but you can feel the excitement all around you. The atmosphere’s electric.

Ah, here they come, striding onto the turf, Chelsea in blue, Man United in red. They look tiny in the vast stadium, but you know they’re giants of the game. Even so, this is one of the biggest days of their lives, they’ve worked so hard to get here. If you’re excited, how must they feel?

The game begins. The minutes tick by. No score yet. They’re playing their hearts out but the break hasn’t come to either side.

Then it happens. A chance. Gavin Peacock for Chelsea has the ball, outside the box, but there’s not much between him and the goal. He shifts the ball from the right foot to the left, not much time now before the Reds pour down. He kicks. Yes – it looks dead on line for the goal, the ball flying through the air, unstoppable surely. The crowd holds its breath. It’s nearly there…

Oh no! It’s hit the crossbar, bounced out!

If it had gone in, Chelsea would have been in the lead, they’d have been able to put ten men in defence and just hold on to win. Ah, if only…

But how does Gavin Peacock himself feel about it? We’ll hear later.

Let’s change the scene. 1991, a golf course in the United States. Two teams, Europe and the States, playing for the Ryder Cup. A big, big match. And now the result hangs on one short putt. If the German Bernhard Langer knocks it in, Europe wins. If he misses, it’s a win for the States.

The ball’s only lying about two metres from the hole and Langer is very experienced, very cool. He takes a couple of practice strokes and moves to the correct position. He looks at the ball, the hole, back to the ball again. The spectators are like statues.

And, click, the ball begins to roll towards the hole, closer, closer, it’s right at the edge now. But – it doesn’t go in, it just slides round the rim of the hole and comes to rest a short distance away. He’s missed.

The US team jump and dance about. And Bernhard Langer – do you think he does the same?

Yes, how did these sportsmen feel? After that kick did Gavin Peacock mentally give up? After that shot did Langer throw his putter on the ground in rage?

In a word, no. Gavin Peacock knows that was just one kick. He did his best at that moment. All right, it didn’t’ work out. But he can live with it, he can carry on with the game, continue doing his best.

For he knows that one of the most valuable assets in professional football is a level head, whatever comes. He knows that one moment the crowd could be roaring out his name, the next he could be out of the team. Being a Christian helps him cope with failure and success and not get too worked up about either. He knows God’s given him a terrific talent as a striker, but he knows too that God hasn’t promised he’ll get every ball in. He’s just promised to be with him in the good moments and the bad, with him always.

Gavin comes from a footballing family. When he was small, his dad, who was a Charlton player for seventeen years, used to place balls round the garden so Gavin would get in the habit of kicking them. Eventually he went in for the England schoolboy trials, got in the team and played at Wembley when he was fifteen – in fact he played at Wembley on the Saturday and took his Maths GCSE on theMonday.

He became a professional as soon as he left school, playing for Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle before Chelsea. Then he moved back to Queens Park Rangers.

Gavin always prays about which club to join and he feels God guiding him. And he prays for strength too – both in his legs and in his mind when things aren’t going so well. But he knows there’s more to life than football, much more.

Bernhard Langer, the golfer, says the same. Knowing that his talent comes from God, and knowing Jesus as a friend standing by him, even when he misses, helps him a lot. Of course, he was sad to let his team down in that Ryder Cup, but his responsibility is to do his best, not to make every shot, win every tournament. What he says is, “There has only ever been one perfect human being, and we crucified him – I only missed a putt.”

Anyway winning has its problems too. In the World Athletics Championships in Sweden in 1995, Jonathan Edwards broke the world record for the triple jump – 18 metres 16, a fantastic distance. But then he jumped again – and broke the record again – 18 metres 29 this time. He knew he’d done well, but when he realised just how well, he gave one of the biggest grins ever seen on a human face. Then to top that he won the BBC Sports Personality Award for that year.

It must be hard to be modest after that. In fact it must be easy to think you’re the king of the world. But Jonathan doesn’t think that way. He says he’s no more important than the person who measured those jumps. They just have different jobs, different talents.

For, like the others, Jonathan is a Christian and he knows his ability comes from God. But he knows too the danger of making sport the only thing in your life – you can overtrain, get boastful or tense – you can stop enjoying sport if you take it too seriously. In the end he knows there’s got to be something more important than jumping into a sandpit.

So – you won, you’re the champion? You ‘re not the king of the world – don’t act like it.

You lost? So? It’s not the end of the world. God loves you, winner or loser. Doesn’t that have to be the most important thing?

Time of Reflection

Yes, we know winning’s best , but – what do you think? – perhaps we need to experience a bit of both, winning and losing. And I’m not just talking about sport here, but about any competition we go in for. Now we know what we can gain by winning, a medal, a feeling of achievement and so on, but I want you to think what you can gain by losing. Just a moment to think about that…

Well, what did you think of? Perhaps that losing can make you try harder, make you more determined. Perhaps that it can make you more sympathetic, so you can encourage others when they lose.

So perhaps losing can be winning too. We need to learn how to do both.

Bible Bits

Be careful if you win a lot. The Bible says:

“Too much honey is bad for you.” (Proverbs 25:27)

and “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should.” (Romans 12:3)

And if you keep on losing, there’s this verse:

“If we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.” (Galatians 6:9)


Lord, help us to be good losers and good winners, to do our best and leave it there whatever the result. You know we’re not Superman or Superwoman, but thank you for the abilities that you have given us. Amen.

Variations on a Theme

Pupils could speak about sports events or other competitions they entered, and, even though they didn’t win, how much they enjoyed them anyway. This would show that the result is not the be-all and end-all and that losing is nothing to be ashamed of.

Quiz Questions

  1. Which teams played in the 1994 FA Cup Final?
  2. What stopped the ball Gavin Peacock kicked from going in?
  3. What was Gavin’s reaction?
  4. How did Gavin’s dad get him in the habit of kicking balls?
  5. What did Gavin do on the Saturday before his Maths GCSE?
  6. Tell me one thing Gavin always prays about?
  7. Which country is Bernhard Langer from?
  8. Name the golfing cup the teams were playing for.
  9. Which event is Jonathan Edwards famous for?
  10. What did he do in Sweden that was so special?
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