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The Race of Life: What a Real-Life Relay Coach Can Teach Us About Running to Win

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Homeschool parents know that the race of life is not an individual event. It is a relay. We only win when we successfully pass good values to the next generation. But how do we do that?

Some time ago I had a conversation with Coach Nigel Hetherinton, the National Manager of Sprints/Hurdles for Scottish Athletics, who described strategies for winning a baton relay. I thought these principles applied perfectly to the race of life and wanted to share them along with commentary applying them to our families.

1. The race is about the baton, not the runners. The objective is to keep the baton moving at maximum speed at all times throughout the race. The baton must always remain the fastest member of the squad!

Galatians 3:6-9 says that those who believe are children of Abraham, and are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. In the race of life, the baton is the blessing of faithfulness that we pass from generation to generation. We want our children to succeed not for their own sake, but so that they become a blessing to all nations of the earth.

The message to give to our children: “Life is not about you. It is about fulfilling the design your Maker gave you. I am homeschooling you because I believe it is the very best way to prepare you to be a blessing to all nations of the earth.”

2. The relay brings out the best in everyone. The relay should increase, not decrease, the speed of the athletes. A properly-trained 400 meter relay team will post a time that is less than the four runners’ combined 100 meter times.

In Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions,George Barna points out that only 1 in 20 families have any spiritual connection with their children outside of church. Most parents don’t understand that discipling our children does not impede our influence, it expands it.

The message to give our children: “I believe homeschooling is good for you, but I also believe it is good for me. It is helping both of us become the kinds of persons God wants us to be.”

3. Every team member should be prepared to run in all positions. Every possible combination of positions and changeovers should be practiced to allow complete flexibility in covering every eventuality.

Those who’ve battled Americans know that when an American officer falls, a soldier rises up and becomes a leader. It is difficult to defeat such a flexible army. In the race of life we must equip ourselves to be flexible in helping our team win.

The message to give to our children: “We never know when God will call us into action. He called Samuel when he was a little boy, Isaiah when he was a grown man, and Moses when he was elderly. Whenever it happens, and whatever He asks us to do, we must be ready to say, with Isaiah, ‘Here I am Lord, send me!’”

4. It is a good idea to practice the baton pass. Have all members of the squad stand one step apart in the same lane, facing the same direction. Give the baton to the athlete at the back and ask each to pass it until it arrives at the front.

First Corinthians 9:24 tells us to run in such a way as to win the prize. Champions are formed long before race day. In the race of life we must give our kids opportunities to exert influence, to make a difference, and to be a blessing to others—starting at a young age.

The message to give to our children: “I am going to be looking for situations in which you can take responsibility and practice making a difference. When the time comes for you to influence others, I want you to be ready.”

5. Practice until the handover becomes instinctual. Athletes must learn to trust one another. Rather than looking back, the outgoing runner should be trained to respond to a ‘hand’ command.

In Proverbs, Solomon repeatedly implored his sons to give him their hearts and listen to his instruction. That’s the kind of trust I must maintain with my children if I am to complete a successful baton pass in the race of life.

The message to give to our children: “Life is a race, and I’m running my lap right now. You’re warming up for yours. We need to make sure that the trust between us stays strong so that we are both ready when it is time for me to pass the baton to you.”

6. Practice under pressure. Introduce the pressure of race day during practice. For example, run two or more closely matched teams together and practice exchanges with athletes on either side. Recreate spectator noise if possible.

Homeschool parents are agents of change. Our children must see us gracefully stand for truth and battle against evil and injustice. Only by first standing with us will our children learn to truly stand alone.

The message to give to our children: “I don’t just want you to learn from my words, I want you to learn from my actions. I will make mistakes, but I want you to walk with me as I seek to be a blessing to others.”

7. The last runner must be chosen carefully. The last leg runner must maintain form while under pressure—there’s no one else to help them out. Choose an ‘adrenalin’ runner who can hit the finish line at full speed.

It is up to me to run my lap in the race of life as well as possible, recognizing that there are no individual awards, only team awards. If I run my lap fast by short-changing my children’s preparedness, I have failed.

The message to give to our children: “I have climbed a certain way up the ‘ladder of life.’ My job is to grab you, pull you up, and then push you on ahead of where I myself could go. How I live my life gives meaning to my parents’ lives. The same is true for you and me.”

8. The baton exchange should occur at very close maximum speed. The incoming athlete should not be overstretched, or he will be off-balance when making the exchange. The outgoing runner must focus on reaching full speed and only put his hand back when he receives the ‘hand’ command.

I teach what I know, but I reproduce who I am. I need my children to see me being proactive rather than reactive. At the same time, I must pace my life so that I am not overstretched or off-balance.

The message to give to our children: “When God is in something, then a proper amount of hard work each day will be sufficient. My goal for the race of life is to balance my responsibilities so that I do not burn out before my lap is finished. That’s what I want for you, too.”

9. A baton drop does not automatically disqualify a team. Whoever had the baton when it was dropped may retrieve it and continue the race. If the incoming runner drops it, he may pick it up and complete the pass.

In the race of life, we all stumble and fall. The only way a dropped baton becomes a failure is if we leave it on the ground and quit. As F. W. Robertson wrote, “Forget mistakes. Organize victories out of mistakes.”

The message to give to our children: “How we respond to failure is important. We should acknowledge our failure, be reconciled to others, and trust God to redeem the time. Failure is only truly tragic when we give up.”

10. Intentional efforts will be rewarded! Improving relay skills work can be invigorating and rewarding if performed intelligently. Without doubt, a squad utilizing these principles will substantially improve race performance.

Hebrew 12:1-2 tells of a great “cloud of witnesses,” heroes of the faith, who surround us as we run the race of life. They have passed the baton to us, and now it is our turn to pass it to our children.

The message to give to our children: “We are all in the same race. I only win when you win. That is why I will always love you no matter what, and that is why I will always do my best to train you to be a godly person of character. God’s way of living is the best way.”

Running to Win: Applying What We Know to be True

If life truly is a relay, then it’s time to rethink everything—not only how we raise our own children, but how we disciple others in our neighborhoods, churches and communities. I believe this is the most important cause of our age.

The next generation is poised, hand outstretched, eyes down the track, adrenalin pumping. Will we make the pass? The answer, in large part, is in our hands.


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