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"Lord, I don't ask that I should win, but please, please don't let me finish behind Akabusi."

Innocent Egbunike's prayer at the 1988 Olympics

The secret place

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6

Athletes, more than most people, understand the relationship between the public and secret places. You perform and win in a public arena, executing the perfect start/race/jump/throw because of the hours of practice in front of two men and a dog. And to be honest the dog lost interest very quickly.

How many times does a sprinter practise starts, how many hurdles does a hurdler step or jump over in a year, how many times does a golfer or tennis player hit in practice in a year? Just to get it right when it matters.

Jesus tells his listeners the same thing. The secret of a Christian life may be less about what we do in public and more about what we do in secret. Or rather what we do in public is determined by what we have done in private.

As Christians we need to develop the discipline of spending that quiet time with God alone, to find a secret place. I have learned, for example, that I cannot pray in my office because I am too easily distracted by what I have to do that day. I go to a different room – without my phone – where I will not be distracted to spend the time in less distracted prayer.

When you are in a training camp, on the road, in a competition sharing a room that can be hard. But we need to make the effort to find the quiet place to be alone with God. I have used this quotation from Muhammed Ali before but it bears repetition:"The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out on the road, long before I dance under those lights".

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