Forging genuine connections with other people begins with building a foundation on the common ground we share. We usually start with safe topics, such as their reaction to the weather, where they might work, or what they thought of that new movie that just came out. In this, we’re searching for a common experience, familiarity in the midst of unfamiliarity. At its most basic level, this is how we form community.
At the University of Alberta this past summer, a group of students from the Navigator group found common ground through ultimate frisbee. They’ve formed a tight group over the last two years, allowing them the opportunity to live out an example of their faith in a competitive environment.
Peter Wing, one of the team’s co-captains, says when they started the team, most of the players were relatively new to the sport and that “it started up as one of those little initiatives, where a couple of our people said we should have a frisbee team, and we jumped on not knowing what it was going to be like. We were pleasantly surprised because everyone loved it and it was a great opportunity to keep people together and see everyone throughout the summer.”
Maintaining these connections is critical in creating a stable community. For some members on the team, “their communities during the summer, shift, shrink, shatter, transform, become diminished and they become stranded until the school year starts up again.” For others out in the city, the ultimate team is their only connection to the Navigator community. For both of these groups, the shared experience of being on the frisbee team helps them develop stronger relationships with each other that can transfer into connecting with the larger Navigator community.
Megan Langager, a U of A Navigator alumnus who plays on the team, says their post-game and practice ritual has been to go as a team for ice cream or slurpees. This more relaxed environment provides an avenue to deepen their relationships with each other. “We’re definitely more comfortable around each other than we would have been without that common, shared time that we’ve had together,” she says, adding that as someone who is working and no longer a student, the team helps her to connect with the students she otherwise wouldn’t see as often.
If they decide to connect with the larger Navigator community, those on the team also have the opportunity to explore issues of faith with a wide range of people, all at various points in figuring out what faith means to them. Peter says “some of the people in our regular, year-round Navigator community are still working out what they believe or journeying in that area. Some people might be going through whether or not this is real to them and some might be going through whether or not they’re willing to commit their lives to something like following Jesus.” This team, and other outlets like it, provides a shared experience that allows people to build relationships, helping to set them on the path to deeper involvement with the larger community.
One of the newer members of the team is a young woman from Calgary who came down to U of A to do some summer term work for her degree and didn’t know anyone. Peter’s sister connected with her, and in talking with her on the way to games and practices, found out she has been involved in a Christian ministry working out what her faith means to her. Peter says this is an opportunity because “we have a chance to be with her for this entire summer and show her the love of Christ,” helping her to come to a deeper understanding of what living like Jesus could look like.
The catch with using a sports team as an opportunity to reach out and connect with others is that competitiveness needs to be managed well. Peter says the way they’ve gone about doing it is “showing that we have invested our identity in something other than the sport, or even anything that people are normally invested in. Being able to compete and have competitiveness but not having the mentality that this is what our lives are about.”
Megan says having a majority of Christians on the team adds more responsibility to set an example. “I would hope that those that aren’t [Christians] would see that there’s something present that might not be present in other places. Even as we relate to other teams, that Christ would be present in those interactions. Hopefully they wouldn’t see us as competitive and out there to beat them, but that there’s something different about who we are and what we bring to the field.”