Whether you’re a seasoned competitor or new to the mat, wrestling
is understood to be one of the toughest sports around. Most people describe it
as gladiatorial and dangerous, while others see it as foundational,
transformative, and fun. Whatever your view of the sport is, there is no
question it prepares one for the mountains and valleys of life.
But what about the Christian athlete? How might athletes who believe see the connection between wrestling and faith?
We know once we accept Christ as our Lord and savior that we are made new. As we grow deeper in our faith, we find that many other areas of our lives, from the friends we have to the way we talk, act, and think are transformed. And we know wrestling mirrors life’s highs and lows in ways other sports simply cannot, and like faith transforms us in many ways, but how might the two be connected?
As the only sport mentioned in the Bible, the answer might be more significant than you think. Wrestling has a long list of parallels with the Christian faith, from themes and values to practical life wisdom, both teach incredibly valuable lessons
Below we’ll look at 5 ways faith and wrestling are connect, and some takeaways from each point.
1. Freedom over Fear – It’s about the next point, not the last mistake.
Deep in on a shot, you stop your opponent with pressure and look
for a takedown, and lose focus for a moment, just a moment. Suddenly he changes
angles, and the referee throws up his hand,
We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all felt what this is like to make a mistake. We know what its like to battle back from the mental weight of a loss, whether in a moment or a match. And know well what it looks like to wrestle to “not lose”.
Within the world of athletics who you are and how you feel are often exhibited into how you execute. If you’re excited, confident, angry, or afraid it comes out in your body language and how you perform. Whether from personal mistakes or from others such as coaches, family and friends, pressure and high expectations to win can sometimes be the culprit that puts that extra weight in our minds, more often with the worst coming from ourselves.
Handled well and this can be channeled into an incredible feats, but handled poorly and the pressure can hold make us crumble. It holds us down instead of propelling us forward, and when we wrestle out of fear “not to lose” often we come just over the line to victory (if that).
An athlete that has reached a higher level of functioning learns how to wrestle with freedom from fear doubt and worry, and with that unrestraint they often look confident, intense, and fun. Not being worried about the past but focusing on the next thing, and knowing if they lose a point they can get it back.
In a similar way, there is freedom in Christ when we accept Him as our Lord and savior. It means we are no longer slaves to the mistakes we’ve made, the sins we committed, or the identity we used to have. It means that we have freedom in Him, which means there is freedom to live, and to live with abandon. This doesn’t mean we are looking for ways to make mistakes, but we are confident that if we fall, He will pick us up and we can continue the pursuit. You are able to leave everything in the wrestling room everyday, on the mat after every match, and ultimately give your best knowing you’re worth isn’t tied in the wins or losses, or even your effort, but in Christ.
You wrestle better when you wrestle with freedom. This is the difference between wrestling to win and wrestling to not lose. In a similar way Galatians 5:1 speaks about how Christ set us free, and how we aren’t to fall again into the trap of slavery in sin. We no longer have to live worried about slavery because we are eternally free. This doesn’t mean do whatever you want, but it means you can live and move in a way that is confident in the bounds of the “rules”.
Take Away: You have freedom over slavery, so wrestle for the next point, and live knowing God will always catch you if you fall.
2. Jacob Wrestled – Be persistent in your pursuit and daring in your test.
Think of the hardest match you ever wrestled. How your lungs
burned in triple OT, or how dry your mouth was after coach made you run “one
more” set of sprints near the end of practice.
Now imagine that lasting for hours until the sun came up, stopping when you dislocate your hip.
For Jacob, that was his reality.
On the run from his brother, and on his last legs, Jacob
wrestled a match that went on for hours. His opponent wasn’t a decorated ‘blue-chip’
athlete or a feared hammer from a notorious school, but much more formidable:
His opponent was an angel. Scripture often tells of their ability in battle and
missions sent to execute God’s plans, and here we have a man willing to take on
an opponent who outclasses him in every way for a future that would outlive and
Instead of backing away from the challenge, Jacob wrestled all through the night to be blessed, and was relentless in his pursuit. Genesis 32:24 says that Jacob held on until at daybreak, the angel finally dislocated Jacobs hip. The angel could have done this at any point, but struggled with Jacob until the sun came up.
We know well that if
we endure the hardships of the night, we see at daybreak our prize. In life, we
see hard, dark times, the loss of friends or family members, grades and
academics, but what both wrestling and faith teach us is to relentless pursue
opposition, no matter the magnitude. Genesis 32:1-32 (24).
Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “one who wrestled with God” whom the Israelites are named after.
This is massive: Jacob wrestled for a night and won, cementing a legacy that would reach even to this day. Whatever match you are wrestling to struggle and to be relentless.
Take Away: be relentless and wrestle for the legacy you want to leave on the mat and in your faith. How do you want to be remembered?
3. Do for one, audience of One – Whatever you do, do it as your best gift to the
We know what it’s like when someone we respect, love or idolize comes to watch us wrestle: it wakes up the performer in the most meek and reserved of us. We want to show them what we can do, but more often we want to give our best and make them proud.
Hearing the roar from the crowd or chants from the supporters can give that extra push to hold on a little long or push just a little farther.
There is something special about knowing there are eyes watching that makes us want to give them a gift in the form of our best, premier effort.
As we grow with God
and become more aware of His presence, we begin to realize He is always with
us, watching with supporting eyes. We can give our best performance for an
audience of One, and Colossians 3:23 encourages us to do this, saying
“Whatsoever you do, to for the Lord, not for man”. Knowing that He is always
there with us, always present, and always asking us to give our best gives that
extra push to drive us to our best efforts and put on a show for an audience of
We can have confidence and assurance that what we are doing is bringing Him glory, whether it is first place, 0-2, or totally off of the mat (although we definitely want the first one).
Take Away: There are always eyes on us, so put your best foot forward and always give your best. There is always One in the crowd for you.
4. Discipline – Wrestling takes discipline.
If you ask anyone to name a few buzzwords on wrestlers, without a doubt “discipline” will be top five.
Without discipline, even the most talented of wrestlers and gifted of athletes can fall in matches, in practice, in their diet or beyond.
Discipline can be summed up as applying the necessary “yes’s” and “no’s” needed to maintain a goal with integrity, consistently. It is the self-control that keeps you on your diet so you don’t miss weight, and the control that holds you in good position even though no one is looking and your legs are on fire near the end of practice. For the wrestler it means maintaining diet, hard work and focus in practice, and doing things that will help and never hurt performance.
In your walk with
Christ, there will be distractions, and without spiritual disciplines, the
enemy walks as a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8). The
discipline in wrestling and discipline we are called to have in our walk with Christ
–spiritual discipline — encourages us to stay aware of the enemy who doesn’t
take a day off. We must be mindful that while we know we have eternal victory
over this opponent, we still must be ever vigilant against complacency, and
more importantly intentional with connecting daily to the Source.
Staying devoted to prayer, scripture, and active worship keep us spiritually aligned in the same way practice, clinics, and reviewing video that keep us physically and mentally sharp for wrestling.
Take Away: Discipline in faith and on the mat is critical; don’t be caught slipping by the enemy.
5. No “I” in “Team” – It is never all about you.
While wrestling is an individual sport, you also have a team
behind you. The team travels with you at duals, in tournaments, and sweats hard
with you every day in practice. As much as the sport its about the individual
and their accomplishments, the individual could not accomplish those feats
without their partners, supporters, and coaches; the sport is as much about one
person as it is about the community and team.
If you have a team that works hard, pushes each other to get better, and gives their best each match, doing this is not just easier, but more likely. It is why you tend to see a competitors from a particular teams wrestle a certain way, and have similar success or failure.
“Iron Sharpens Iron”.
We’ve all heard that phrase before, but if you didn’t already know it actually comes from the bible Proverbs 27:17. It says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (ESV). In our faith, the type of friends we keep directly affects our faith, life, and spiritual health because we are one team. The church, aka the body of Christ, is a collection of individual believers that spans across cities, contents, language, and ages. We are a team, and if you spend time with mature and seasoned believers, you will in time find yourself becoming a seasoned and developed believer yourself. If you spend time with immature or unmotivated believers, you can guess what will happen to you.
Take Away: Be sharpened and be the sharpener in the mat and in your faith.
Run the race
Whether at the end of a workout, the start of practice, or most
notoriously on our way to making weight most of us have a love/hate
relationship with running.
While this might be true, we run for what is at the end of the activity. Tangibly, it might be the end of practice, or making weight; it could be for a championship that we can see in our minds eye and long to taste. We stick to it when it’s fun and difficult, when we don’t feel like it, and when it’s the only thing on our minds. We run because we’re committed to the process for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says we run the race for the prize at the end, the greatest prize of all: finally seeing God.
No matter what our w/l ratio is, or how many falls we had last season, our end goal is bigger. No matter how many times we fall or slip, or how many scriptures we read, we know the race doesn’t stop until our time is over. And when it is over, when the last whistle blows, we’ll hear “well done”.
We hope you have a better idea now of how Wrestling and the Christian Walk are connected, and have an idea of where to look for connections between the two in your faith.
Remember that our power can win medals, but His power defeats our sins and grants us eternal life.
Is there someone who you think needs to hear this? Share with to a teammate or believer!