Paul Poulton reflects on the positive effects working as a team has in life.

Paul Poulton
Paul Poulton

When I was a child I loved football. I had the advantage of belonging to an area that had a number of parks, and football was played by children and adults alike most days. The district generated several footballers who went on to play professionally. I wasn't one of them but I did have the privilege of playing with an excellent team of players some of whom met the high standards required by football league clubs.

I had an unusual experience during one particularly exciting and skilful game. About half way through the second half I had an epiphany, (a moment of sudden realisation). I had been lost in the game - my thoughts, instincts and focus were on my job in the team; I played left of midfield. When suddenly, quite out of the blue, I had the strong impression that the game was a jigsaw puzzle, a four dimensional assembling that would produce a pleasing picture for those looking on. Each pass, dribble and tackle contributed to the overall image, and each player in the game was a necessary and important component. I was there, working hard and playing my part in the overall portrait being produced by the tapestry of football players.

When the game had finished the manager of our team got us all together for a post-match team talk, I was surprised when he singled me out and commended me to the other players for the hard work I had done during the game. He mentioned the running off the ball I'd done and praised me for making myself available across the pitch. Over the years since that game I have thought about the impression I'd had in more detail. Yes! I could see how each player fitted neatly into the overall picture. The other players in the team that day were so skilful the game was almost a piece of art; I can see why people call football the beautiful game.

Since then sports science has made huge leaps in informing players and coaches what makes a good and effective team. Clubs are prepared to pay a lot of money for this information, but for me, that day, I could see quite clearly what made a good and effective team-player.

Considering that in any 90 minute game of football a specific player will have between 60 and 90 seconds on the ball - meaning that in the entire 90 minutes he or she will interact with the ball itself a very short time. Sports science tells us that football matches are won through work that's done off the ball, although, of course, someone has to score, but it's the effort put in off the ball that facilitates the goal being scored.

I have paid to watch professional games of football and I've seen how a team's strong defence can be undone by work on and off the ball by the opposition. The attacking team will adeptly manoeuvre themselves outside the penalty area until an avenue appears revealing the goal at the avenue's end. The defence are opened up like a man finding the correct series of numbers to a combination lock. Suddenly there's a route through to the goal and a goal is scored. One nil.

As I thought about the football game being a team effort, I realised that I ought not to limit my vision of the jigsaw to football. So many pursuits require people to work together. We might say that life itself is a team sport. Firms whose employees work well together are often beneficial for both the consumer and the firm's personnel. Churches that grow and reach-out to the community are effective churches, which invariably have good team players in them. Clubs that have their members' interests as a priority produce a synergy among the membership that translates into a great club that people want to join.

If we sow discord we reap friction, life will grind along laboriously. I noticed that the best football teams I played in were teams that encouraged each other. I remember one game where I was asked to take a penalty and a team mate came alongside me and said "Don't worry, it doesn't matter if you don't score," that put me at ease. And I'm glad he said it, because I didn't score. Ha! But other opportunities came and we kept moving forward in a positive way. The team was a joy to be a part of.

The apostle Paul talked about the church being an effective support network, a framework in which every member belongs and has a part to play. Preachers and participants, apostles and adherents, leaders and those being led must all (as stated by Canned Heat) "work together".

"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you" (Heb 13:17).

I enjoy being a part of a football team where there is positivity, encouragement and unity. I also enjoy being a part of a church that has unity, rather than conflict, dispute, gossip or envy.

There are many parts, but one body.

"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Cor 12:21-25).

I don't want to throw a spanner in God's good work by being disagreeable or taking part in fruitless disputes. I want to enjoy the oil and lubricating work of being a part of the Holy Spirit's plans for planet earth. I hope you do too. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.