It is interesting to note that the world of sports training and sports science seems to focus almost entirely on two aspects of human performance and training:
Even then, the psychological side of training tends to be more tolerated than vigorously invoked as an essential part of the overall training process. However, when anyone mentions any possible role for religion in sports training or performance, it is unusual if this does not raise eyebrows and comments that this topic is something totally apart from sport. We run into a brick wall even if we try to logically approach this topic in sport.
- The Physical
- The Psychological
No matter what one's personal beliefs may be, the essence of the search for knowledge, understanding and 'truth' is that all topics are worthy of discussion, analysis and application.
Without taking any stand for or against religion or any specific religion, let's see if we can dispassionately examine the possibility that it may play some role in sports preparation and competition.
The effects of religion, or the belief in the existence of an infinitely superior form of intelligence in the universe, may be examined as something which may influence human performance.
Religion, as a powerful belief system, can profoundly influence the way in which the mind works.
Thus, when some athlete prays to win a sporting event, the agnostic, atheist or non-theist tends to subscribe to the philosophy that any beneficial effect of such an action is due entirely to some enhanced psychological factor. If the religious athlete wins, she gives thanks to her creator or sustainer. If the non-theistic athlete wins, well, the well-tuned body was responsible, with possibly some useful help from the mind, whatever that is conceived to be. To some rare athletes who have no concepts of separated mind and body, the event was just an event and they enjoyed success because they had trained properly nothing more, nothing less.
Let us now consider the clash of two equally matched teams, both of which pray to their respective creators in their specific ways. The winning team later naturally thanks Super Being in Space (SBS) for blessing them; the losing team says "Ah, well, it was the Will of SBS that we lose - to teach us some lesson." In other words, no matter what happens, SBS comes out looking pretty good and most team members manage to eliminate any critical conflict and skepticism. Some bystanders to this analysis will ask: "Does anyone seriously think that SBS takes any real interest in who wins some dumb sporting event which has no real effect on the future of humankind?" There are probably others who maintain that the winning team had the right "attitude" and strategy, so that some mind stuff ought to be given a lot of credit.
Then, what about religion and injuries? The faithful SBS-fearing athlete attributes any healing to SBS and any failure to heal to the doctors or the need for SBS to teach some special lesson in living. The SBS unbeliever thanks the doctors or his own approach to rehabilitation, with no special awareness of anything supernatural. If mind indeed is the common religious or non-religious denominator behind optimal utilisation of the non-physical aspects in sport, then does religion not warrant some serious scrutiny as a part of the entire training and competing process? Or should we continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that many athletes privately or openly pray to or rely on SBS to help them in sport? Should we rather try to enhance and measure success in sport by prescribing some guruesque physical training regime based solely on the use of specific exercises, loads, sets, tempos, plyometrics, periodisation schemes, food supplements and so forth?
Sure, this is a highly controversial subject, but should we continue to play these "super scientific" games which seem to maintain that human performance depends solely on physical processes? Or should we take a more serious academic look at the possible influence of religion in determining sporting prowess, either as something which implicates SBS directly in the process or indirectly as a belief system which enhances the power of the mind in sport?
The above is an edited version of an essay by Dr Mel C Siff, Denver, USA