Life Lessons through Sports

From “Lessons from My Father, Lewis Marler


Article by Malcolm Marler, Edited by Dee DeWitt


My father and I shared the love of sports when I was growing up.  We tossed a football in our yard on a regular basis.  He taught me how to catch a football and baseball.


We went to major college football games, which in the deep South rivals any religious commitment.  We cheered for our favorite team, but we also talked during the game and afterward about particular plays or players in the game, and what made them stand out.  We’d also listen to games on the radio together (before the days of cable TV and multiple channels).


Before you think my father lived his life through me in sports, I never experienced pressure from him to play …


One day, I came home frustrated after a bad practice and told him I was quitting.  He listened to the reasons why I wanted to quit.  He then let go and said, “If you decide you do not want to play football anymore, that is ok with me.  All I ask is that you try one more time tomorrow and see if you still feel the same way.”  The next day was a new day, and I kept playing for years.


Some of the life lessons my father taught me from sports were: 

Start with humility;

Make sure you show up, and; 

The value of teamwork.



It was not until my high school years did I learn that my dad was a starter on both the varsity football and basketball teams in college at Howard College (now Samford University in Birmingham, AL), and was president of his senior class.


He only talked about those years when I asked about them.  It was just the way he was.  I had to hear about his past athletic skills from other teammates over the years when I met them.


He encouraged me to do the best I could, which was always separate from whether we won or not.  He would say, “It’s the only thing you are in charge of, just do the best you can.”  After a game, he would say, “I’m so proud of you, not only because of the way you played, but more because of who you are.”


Showing Up

My father came to almost every athletic event I ever played in from the first grade through varsity football at Clemson University.  He showed up.


When I played at Clemson University, he drove or flew to see me play in 38 of the 44 games I played in from Maryland to Florida to North Carolina, to Georgia, to Texas in my four years there, and made it back to preach on Sundays.  He was the first person at the airport my teammates and I would see when we got off the plane for away games.


He was an encourager and coach for me in life as well.  Here’s an excerpt from one of the letters he wrote me in college:


Dear Malcolm, I wish every Daddy had the joy of having a son like you.  You have never brought me anything but joy since you have been born.  I am proud of you just as you are.  I love you as much as any person could love another.”



My junior year in college was the toughest one for me athletically.  It was a hard year because our team’s expectations had been high after a good season the previous year, but this year we were losing a lot.


I lost my position as a starter due to a nagging shoulder injury that later required surgery.  I called my father and he could hear how discouraged I was on the phone.


After talking for awhile, he said, “I know that you have been used to being a starter all of your life in sports, and this is a hard time.  Do you remember how much it meant to you to have your teammates encourage you and slap you on the back?  Since you are on the sidelines for now, what if you were to watch your teammates on the field, find the ones who did something well, and go up to them when they come off the field and tell them what a great job they are doing.  Encourage them, make that your role for now.”


I took on that new role of encourager with a passion, and discovered my own disappointment softened in the process.


Applying Lessons

So what about you?  What have other people in your life taught you who are no longer living?


1. Are you aware that life is not about always getting the credit for the good things you do?

Live life the way you want to because you have a passion for it, not for the accolades.


2.  Are you showing up in life for those who are important to you?  Your presence means more than you know.


3.  Finally, can you take on the role of encourager and catch people doing things well?  Whatever team you are playing on, whether it is your family, your work, or your faith, how do you encourage others?  Your life will be richer if you do.


How do I know?  Because my father taught me so.




“My father taught in the wise way which unfolds what lies in the child.” 
-Louisa May Alcott


Malcolm Marler is Director of Pastoral Care for UAB Hospital in Birmingham, AL.  In addition to his interest in spirituality and health, he loves to identify physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of persons, then design and build programs that help meet those needs.  His warmth and humor along with his powerful message of hope and grace is his greatest strength.  Malcolm grew up in Alabama and attended Clemson University (S.C.) on a football scholarship as a defensive back where he graduated with a B.A. degree in Psychology.  He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY with Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees.  Malcolm lives on a lake in North Alabama with the love of his life, Mary Bea Sullivan.  He has two open-hearted, loving stepchildren, Brendan and Kiki who are both freshman in college.  For more information or to contact Malcolm, please visit


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Posted on 14 May, 2010 in Inspirational Stories, Motivation, Parenting
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