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Thoughts from a Coach: Identity Crisis or Clarity

Identity Crisis? Or Clarity?

Identity Unrest – Back to the Beginning 

For me to really understand who I am in Christ (my true identity), how that effects every relationship in my life, and begin to allow God’s love to revolutionize my heart and how I relate to the world, I had to go back to the beginning.

I had to try to understand why it has gone so wrong, starting with Adam and Eve.

At the beginning of human history, there was a lie planted deep in our hearts that has created an eternal unrest at the core of who we are. A lie about whether we can really trust God, and whether he truly love us as much as He says.

Understanding this unrest in my soul has helped me understand:

  • Why it bothers me so much when I am treated unfairly.
  • Why I worry so much about my future and the insecurity of this career.
  • Why the “Monday-Morning-Quarterback” critiques of our last game get to me.
  • Why I can get so angry and blow-up at my players and the refs when it affects our chances of winning a game.
  • How I relate to every single relationship in my life – wife, friends, players, sponsors, fans, GMs, etc.
  • How I live out my faith in a God-honoring way in such a high-stress, public, roller-coaster ride environment.

Becoming Clear

If we don’t understand where it all went wrong, we will never understand how to start seeing ourselves the way God sees us and ultimately bring peace back to our hearts!

We will never understand why so many professional athletes who seem like they have everything this world can offer – money, prestige, and influence; also struggle with so many issue. 

Why two of the most important, pressing topics in professional sports today are mental health, and addictions.

If you talk to a sociologist about this, they will say our problems come from ‘unjust social conditions and oppression’ that has resulted in this unrest in the world and in our hearts. There is definitely some truth to this, but what made the oppressors oppressive in the first place if they weren’t oppressed?

Psychologists will say it is because someone was deprived of love, abused, or neglected. And while these are definitely real issues and part of the answer, why do so many who don’t have this type of background still struggle and do terrible things to each other.

What if these conditions don’t cause this deep unrest in our souls? What if they just magnify it?

Identity from Unity Instead of Empty Glory

In life, I have found that if you want to get to the root of a question, and find a answer that will actually work at the deepest, most complete level, figure out what God thinks by getting into His word.

Philippians addresses the root of this unrest in the soul of the church. Through-out the book, we see the church arguing and fighting. Something was breaking down their relationships with each other and with God. But to understand why, how Paul deals with it, and what this has to do with us on a very practical level, we have to get a little ‘theological’ for a second.Thoughts from a Coach: Identity Crisis or Clarity

In Philippians 2:2-4 (AMP), Paul writes, “…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

How many coaches would love that exact thing for their team?!?

How many coaches have started pre-season speeches with a similar challenge?

How great would it be to play on a team where the players are united in spirit, genuinely care about each other, and completely committed to one purpose?

How good could that team be?

We see examples of this on every championship team at every level around the world. And we see the opposite on every underachieving, unsuccessful team across the world.

Identifying the Roots of Selfishness

Thoughts from a Coach: Identity Crisis or Clarity

But something keeps getting in the way of us being that type of teammate, coach, friend, spouse, etc. Paul tells us what it is in the next verse, “Do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit…”

There it is – the root of all the unrest in our souls.

The root of all our striving for meaning and validation.

The root of all evil, fighting, cheating, lying, back-stabbing, stepping on each other get ahead…

The opposite of “being in one mind and love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” is “doing things out of selfish ambition or empty conceit.” But to understand what Paul means by ‘empty conceit’ and how it has affected us at such a fundamental level, we have to get a little ‘Greek’. Stick with me, because when I first heard Timothy Keller preach on this, it blew my mind, and – maybe for the first time – made everything so clear!

‘Empty Conceit’ is translated from the Greek word ‘κενοδοξία’ (kenodoxia).

     ‘Keno’ meaning empty, and ‘doxia’ meaning glory.

     Directly translated, ‘empty conceit’ means ‘glory empty’.

What does Paul mean by ‘glory empty’? What is he trying to say?

It means to be starved for validation and approval, to not be assured of your significance and value. To be constantly strive for respect and honor. To be insecure. To feel like ‘I don’t matter and I don’t count’.

If we are honest with ourselves, we all deal with this vacuum in our hearts where we aren’t sure of our significance or our value. So what do we do?

We feel like we have to go get this validation and acceptance somehow. So we scratch, claw, strive, fight, and even kill, trying to get ‘one-up’ on everyone else. It is the root of all evil, all sin, and all our relationship problems – acting out of this ‘Glory Emptiness’.

How Much is Enough?

When we do actually get a little success and validation, it doesn’t fill that void. It just feeds the emptiness, making it bigger.

When we score our first 15 points in a big game, it feels so great! A year later, we feel like if we aren’t scoring at least 20 a game, we played bad.

We frame the first dollar we earn, and it feels so good. Then we wake up one day, and the yacht isn’t enough to make us happy. It takes more and more success to get that ‘high’. Ask any addict, and they will tell you that’s how it works.

We work ourselves to death but feel more and more empty.

This is exactly how my coaching career has worked.

The summer after we won our 1st High-school State Championship as a young coach, I randomly drove by the gym where we had won a few months earlier. My heart filled with a fear of not making back the next season, of not winning another championship.

16 seasons into a professional European career, I would think that a little money in the bank, and a good enough resume to get the next coaching job would bring a little peace to my soul. But how much sleep do I loose stressed about the next game or the last loss, worried about my future and what others are thinking?

How quickly do I loose my perspective on who God is, who I am to Him, and what He has called me to do?

How often do I focus on winning over focusing on loving and serving and growing my players? How often do I still use this career and my players to fill my self-esteem bar?

Identity Clarity – Validated by God

Don’t misunderstand me. I want to be successful! I work extremely hard, and waking up every morning trying to be better than I was the day before. There is everything right about reaching for greatness, and striving for excellence every day! God put this drive in each one of us!

The question is “WHERE”?

Where we get our validation makes all the difference in this world.

I have seen coaches and players striving for validation, this approval, this sense of significance and value from this world! I have been this coach on any given day – and it makes me worse when I stop coaching from a place of peace, focused on the things God wants for me. Things that will give my life deeper meaning and purpose. I get distracted from who God says I am, the value He placed on my life at the cross.

But why? The lie planted in our hearts at the beginning.

Mike Mai | News Release Basketball
Mike Mai | News Release Basketball

Mike has been part of NRB for 20+ years. For the past 16+ years he has been been a professional basketball coach in Germany at nearly every level.