Playing for an Audience of One
Features, Sports

Playing for an Audience of One

By Tru Swoboda

She has three tiny letters written on her basketball and tennis shoes.  At first glance, you may question the meaning.  AO1.  

What could that possibly mean?  

But to the owner, those three tiny letters are more substantial than the game itself.  They symbolize who Elizabeth Bamidele is playing for each game.  

An audience of one.  

God.

Many other Christian athletes have unique ways of honoring God through the game.  Some paint crosses on their faces with eye black before every game.  Some prioritize prayer before, during or after the game.  Some like to listen to worship music before they perform. 

And although these God honoring strategies differ among Christian athletes, they all share one main priority: to play for God and not the world.

Bamidele, a sophomore,  started writing the phrase “AO1”  on her athletic shoes last school year. She was influenced by her friend, sophomore Grier Backus, who has it written on her track cleats.

Bamidele writes it as a reminder that she isn’t playing to impress people in the stands.   She isn’t concerned with how she impresses others, because God is her biggest fan.  

“When I’m playing, I don’t have to prove anything to the world because I’ve already won the biggest prize, which is God’s love for me,” Bamidele said.

And although writing “AO1” on athletic shoes has become a growing trend among Christian athletes, prayer is a common strategy that many Christian athletes prioritize as well.  

Jennings Wine, a junior, uses prayer as a way to stay in tune with God when he is performing.  

  Wine likes to pray before his games and during halftime.  He said praying during halftime gives him a small amount of time to distance himself from the team and spend time alone with God.  It helps him tune out all of his distractions and make God his focus.

“It helps me stay diligent in my faith and reminds me who I’m playing for.” Wine said. 

In fact, Wine and three other players led a prayer group at the end of the sectional football game against Yorktown.  A group of almost 40 Delta and Yorktown players gathered at midfield and prayed about topics such as the importance of coming to know God, the game, and the opportunity to play.

football
Yorktown and Delta football players join together for prayer after the semifinal sectional game. (Photo by Jeff Mosier)

Wine is just one example of many Christian athletes that remain strong in their faith while staying locked into the game.

And although it may seem like it, these Christian athletes didn’t always know and have a relationship with God like they do now.  Almost every Christian athlete has a unique upbringing in their faith.  A testimony.

Backus is a great example of this.  She grew up attending church as well as playing sports.  She said she was always aware of the basic aspects of being a Christian, but she never really had a true relationship with God. 

“I considered myself a Sunday kind of Christian,” Backus said. “I went to church, ran through the motions, and forgot about it as soon as the week started.”

But once she came to middle school, everything changed. She began to experience problems in her life that weren’t there before.

She became intensively overwhelmed with gymnastics, a sport she had been involved in for most of her life.  She was frequently getting injured, constantly with a boot on her foot or walking on crutches.  Along with always being injured, she found that she rarely had time for school work or academics.  It became too much for her, and Backus was eventually faced with the decision of quitting gymnastics.  

It was tough for her because it would alter her life immensely.  Her days went from being at gymnastics for three hours after school every day to nothing at all.

In the midst of these hardships and tough decisions, Backus realized that God was the only thing in her life that was there for her 100 percent of the time.  

Backus’s testimony is significant to her powerful journey as a Christian athlete because she realized she prioritized gymnastics over her relationship with God.  

Taking that step helped her to recognize the true meaning of why she is an athlete, and who she should truly be playing for.  She used to play for the world, and now she plays for God.  

“Gymnastics was everything to me,” Backus said. “ It was my complete identity until I quit.  But now I want to be identified as a follower of Christ.”

Now that Backus plays for God, she finds that she has better overall performance as well.  

grier
Sophomore Grier Backus now is a two-sport athlete in diving and track but no longer does gymnastics. (Photo Provided)

“When I play for God, so much tension and anxiety is lifted from my shoulders,” she said. “There is no need to be perfect, but just to give my all for the glory of God.”

Along with Backus, Bamidele also believes that playing for God helps her with her performance.  She finds that when she looks to God for her success, she is driven to play harder, stronger and with more compassion.  

And even though these athletes prioritize putting God first, they also focus on influencing their teammates in their faith as well.  

However, each athlete has a different approach to this.

This year, Bamidele is making it a goal to spread more love amongst her teammates.  To her this means becoming more available to talk with her teammates about how they are doing, not just in their faith, but in general as well.

“This year I really want to become a more open-hearted teammate that doesn’t judge others,” Bamidele said. “:I want my teammates to feel like they can talk to me and even pray together if it’s needed.”

She felt that she struggled a lot with judging her teammates in past seasons.  She wants to become more considerate to how they are doing, instead of just drawing her own opinions.  

Ella Marcum, a sophomore, felt like Bamidele was a great positive influence not only for her, but for many other athletes during their freshman tennis season.  

“She is constantly involved with her teammates and helped me so much throughout the season,” Marcum said.

Backus also prioritizes reaching out to her teammates, but with a somewhat different approach.

She likes to reach out to her teammates by simply asking them about their relationship with Jesus in a non-confrontational way.  

“Talking about Jesus helps to make friendships, but it also helps to spread the word of God,” Backus said. “As a Christian athlete, I think we are called to do this.”

But how do these athletes maintain such a strong faith while trying to play their absolute best?  The truth is, there are many struggles that come along with being a Christian athlete.  

For example, Wine sometimes struggles staying focused on the Lord while performing.

“It’s so easy to get distracted with all the adrenaline in the moment that I forget the real purpose,” he said. 

This is a common struggle among many Christian athletes.  The moment of the game can outweigh the real purpose.  

But one thing that helps Wine combat these distractions is spending time with other Christian athletes, who may even be struggling with the same thing.

They gather in science teacher Mr. Terry Summers’ room every Tuesday morning.  It’s a club called FCA, which stands for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, even though all students are welcome to attend.

“FCA holds me accountable and helps me to stay faithful throughout the week,” Wine said.

He has made valuable friendships through FCA and loves the positive atmosphere.  

It’s evident that these athletes are willing to do what it takes to make God their main focus, whether it’s competing in their sport, influencing their teammates, or practicing to become a stronger athlete.  

Although from a distance, it may just appear to be some little abbreviation, to these athletes, AO1 means something so much greater.  

So whenever you get a chance, ask them what it means to play for an audience of one, and you might get a pretty impactful answer.

November 8, 2023

About Author

Tru Swoboda

truswoboda Tru Swoboda is a sophomore at Delta High School. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, playing tennis, going to church, and watching Gilmore Girls.


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