SPORTS: At World Cup, U.S. defender found purpose sitting on the bench
BOSTON (BP)--U.S. team member Stephanie Cox spent much of her time on the bench at the Women's World Cup in Germany.
The lack of playing time -- she played in two of the team's six games, for a total of 67 minutes -- was frustrating. But it also served as a reminder to Cox of her responsibility to her teammates, no matter how much she was on the field.
Cox, a defender, began to see "that God has me there for a bigger purpose than for me to excel at my sport, or just wins and losses. It's more about the effect I can have on my teammates. My responsibility is to show them Christ."
Cox said she tried to cheer loudly for her teammates, supporting them and encouraging them in persevering through the competition. In doing so, she hoped they could see her love for them -- and Christ's love in her -- shining through.
"Eternity's worth more than playing every game," Cox said.
A native of Elk Grove, Calif., Cox grew up in a Christian home and was a member of First Baptist Church there affiliated with the North American Baptist Conference. She made a profession of faith at a young age and took several mission trips with her family as a youth.
As she grew older and became more involved with soccer, Cox often struggled with figuring out how the sport could fit with her life as a Christian. "How could God use my role as a soccer player?" she asked herself.
She often felt during high school as if soccer competed with her relationship with the Lord. Her commitment to the sport often caused her to miss youth group events or other church activities. But when she began her college career at the University of Portland, she discovered something important about the connection between soccer and her faith.
"When I got to college, some other girls on the team were Christians, and I realized you could find a community of Christians wherever you are," said Cox, who plays professionally for the Boston Breakers. "I've been trying to seek after communities on my teams ever since. That's an encouragement to my faith and my relationship with God -- because often you can't go to church on Sundays."
During her time in Germany as part of the U.S. team, Cox said she could see ways in which God was moving on her team. She and several Christian teammates often prayed for team unity, and Cox said they felt God bringing them together.
"We were just so grateful that He was writing a bigger story than we could have," Cox said.
They held regular Bible studies, and on one Sunday they gathered to sing worship songs and listen to an online sermon.
The tournament's outcome was heartbreaking for Cox and her teammates, who lost to Japan in the championship game. But Cox said the World Cup experience has given women's soccer more exposure -- and given her and other Christian teammates a greater platform to talk about their relationship with Christ.
"So even though we lost, I feel so honored to be a part of a team that so many people were watching and so many people were taking notice of," Cox said. "I almost feel like we won, in a way."
Tim Ellsworth is editor of BPSports (www.BPsports.net) and director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.