Why I Stopped Leaving My Faith On The Bench

My journey to Simon Fraser was an interesting process, and one I can truly say was planned by God. It all started during my junior year of high school, when I was being recruited by a couple of mid-major and USports universities. At the time, basketball seemed to be going great. I was developing my game, my confidence was growing, and I was receiving more and more recruiting interest with each passing game. However, in the middle of the season, it all came to a screeching halt when I fractured the fifth metatarsal in my left foot, effectively ending my season. It wasn’t a simple break, either.

Apparently, I had developed a stress fracture earlier in the year that went unnoticed, and when I fractured it again, the break was 90 percent of the way through my bone. Unfortunately, it was an interesting break. The previous stress fracture lengthened my healing process and, ultimately, resulted in surgery that sidelined me for an entire year.

Throughout the recovery process, I began losing interest from universities that had previously shown interest in me. And since my expected return to the game was estimated to be February of my senior season, my plans to play at the next level were in jeopardy. I found myself in a tough spot.

Fortunately, I was still recruited by two schools, one of which was Simon Fraser. Primarily known for its prestigious academics, SFU is the only Canadian school to compete in the NCAA. For that reason, I saw an opportunity to have the best of both worlds: a Canadian education and an opportunity to compete in the NCAA.

As a kid from Toronto, I believed SFU was my best opportunity. It gave me the ability to travel across Canada and the United States, experience life on the west coast and deepen my relationship with the Lord.

Othniel Spence attempting a contested layup.
Photo Courtesy of Paul Yates // SFU Athletics.

Now in my third year, I’ve had time to reflect on the challenges I have faced over the past few years. Since joining the program at SFU, I’ve had to get comfortable being uncomfortable. My teammates and coaches have steered me in the right direction by helping me develop my all-around game, turning me into a great player within our conference.

From the day I started at SFU, I’ve been challenged with answering the question, “Who am I playing for?” As student athletes, we are faced with so many expectations from different sources: coaches, family members, teammates, and often, ourselves. So, I think it’s a good question to ask, especially as an athlete who proclaims Jesus Christ.

During my first couple of years, I struggled to understand what playing for the glory of God looked like, and how it could be expressed on the court. Despite calling myself a Christian, I was trapped in the idea that God was on the sidelines. As soon as I checked into the basketball world, I left my faith on the bench.

Ultimately, I was trying to fulfill the expectations of coaches and family members, while simultaneously receiving praise from teammates and friends. It’s what shaped my identity as a basketball player. So, that’s what I played for. But with the help of Athletes in Action and spiritual mentors, I began to learn that we, as athletes, need to enter the world of sports with the same mindset; to glorify God. God’s word supports this in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

This is true worship: glorifying the Lord in anything and everything you do, including sports.

When I grabbed a hold of the truth in that verse and began applying it to my life, I noticed a difference in my mindset while competing. It was transformed to, “How can I glorify God in my play?” which has set me free from the expectations of coaches and helped me embrace the mentality of playing free. You know, playing free of expectation, reward or punishment, and ultimately, expressing my love and thankfulness for the Lord within my game.

This year, I became a captain and I’m using the lessons I learned to create a winning culture in our program that is characterized by inclusion, love and genuine care for each other. I want to generate life-long relationships. That’s what it’s all about.

-Othniel Spence

Othniel Spence is a NCAA Division I Canadian basketball player for Simon Fraser University, a member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

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