2015 has been a tough year for coaches and teams who wish to openly pray and worship God in public schools throughout the country. While sneering comments like "God doesn't care who wins or loses a game" have been commonplace for years, outright bans and on prayer in and outright hostility toward Christianity in public school sports is on the march. However, new research suggests prayer may be beneficial to athletes, making it the most natural performance enhancer of them all. So, should prayer be banned from all sports like other performance enhancing drugs, or will science help defeat the anti-prayer movement.
Tracy J. Throthren, associate professor of Ethics and Christianity at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, is interested in the role religion and meditation play in sports and has conducted research to determine the effects prayer has on athletes and athletic performance. In November, Trothren spoke at the annual The Spirit of Sports conference at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and presented that she believes prayer does play a part in improving the performance of athletes as reported in The Baptist News. "It is possible that prayer can be seen as an enhancing technique," said Trothen, the author of Winning the Race? Religion, Hope, and Reshaping the Sports Enhancement Debate (Mercer University Press). "From my perspective, I think meditation and prayer have such huge, strong, positive effects that of course they are enhancing."
Trothren said she believes prayer and meditation techniques have a similar effect on the brain as music. In fact, in 2007 the U.S. Track and Field, the governing organization overseeing running events such as the New York Marathon have barred the use of music players, such as iPods, and headphones due to safety issues as well-established physical enhancements music has on the body.
In the wake of the music ban at the New York Marathon, the scientific publication The Sports Journal published an article on the issue titled Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on Research and Application in 2008. Researchers found that listening to music during periods of physical exertion has the ability to divert the mind from the sensations association with fatigue, a technique known as dislocation: "Effective dissociation can promote a positive mood state, turning the attention away from thoughts of physiological sensations of fatigue. More specifically, positive aspects of mood such as vigor and happiness become heightened, while negative aspects such as tension, depression, and anger are assuaged."
With one major governing body already banning music, it is not a far-fetched notion that prayer could find itself banned from other sports as well, not on separation of church and state grounds, but on anti-doping grounds instead. "It raises questions about what we see as unduly improving ourselves," Trothen said.
Of course, if there is a case to be made for the benefits of prayer and athletic achievement, the Golden State Warriors are Exhibit A. Led by, Stephen Curry, perhaps, the most outspoken Christian athlete of our time, with the exception of Tim Tebow, the Warriors are the defending NBA champs and are currently 23-0 and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
What do you think? Do you believe prayer will, eventually, be banned in college and/or professional sports, or do you believe Christian prayer in athletics will surge in the future? Comment below or email your thoughts to [email protected]