How Ireland rugby hero Jacob Stockdale tackles being Christian in rugby world
Ulster and Ireland rugby star Jacob Stockdale has said being a Christian in the rugby world "can be tricky", adding that he feels the biggest challenge to his faith is the "perceived culture".
The 22-year-old winger, whose career highlights include scoring the only try in Ireland's historic win over the All Blacks last year, also revealed he sometimes prays during games in order to "hand it all over to God".
In an interview in this month's Presbyterian Herald magazine the star, whose father is Presbyterian hospice and prison chaplain Rev Graham Stockdale, said he feels he is there to "be an evangelist" in the sporting sphere.
"It can be tricky," he said.
"There is a very small percentage of people who have any sort of Christian faith within the rugby world and that can be a tough challenge.
"It's a challenge that I don't always get right; sometimes I can get into fights on the pitch and do things that probably don't point towards me being a Christian, so the challenge is trying to get it right more times than I get it wrong."
Discussing that "perceived culture" in rugby, Jacob said he is a "firm believer that you can't completely detach yourself from that culture because it makes it hard to socialise, to interact with your team-mates".
"At the end of the day, the guys that I play with are my really close friends, whether they're Christians or not," he said.
"When you have team socials where there is a lot of drinking involved, you have to balance it; go, maybe have a few drinks but know when to stop drinking and be smart about it in that sense.
"I think it's detrimental not to go to team socials and to distance yourself from your teammates and colleagues - at the end of the day you're here to be an evangelist and separating yourself from others doesn't help".
Jacob, who is originally from Lurgan, revealed that in addition to mental preparation, he prepares for games in another way.
"And then spiritually I prepare through prayer - that's the biggest one for me - I pray before the game; I pray after the game; I pray during the game sometimes," he said.
"It's great to be able to do that, especially when it's a game where things aren't going your way, to hand it all over to God and allow him to deal with it for you."
He revealed that he normally trains three nights a week and plays on Friday, and is involved in the church at weekends. "I'm very involved in Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church on a Sunday evening. I am a leader there with the youth group."
Reflecting on his childhood, the player said there is a "certain expectation placed on the children of ministers, but that he "enjoyed" the experience as he "always had somewhere to live, a community to be part of".
"But there is also the other side of it - you're expected to be this 'perfect' child and when you don't live up to the ideal it results in rumours and I was always aware of that," he said.
He added that his "first real profession" of his Christian faith was at a summer camp when he was 14.
Revealing that he was "pretty small" until a growth spurt at 16, Jacob said the fact that he had a "bit of a late start" in rugby meant he focused on other things such as school work, becoming "more of an all-rounded person, to a certain extent".