Friday, February 17, 2017

"Former Coach" or "Former Competitor"

In the lives of every competitor and coach we serve there is one inevitable event, the end of his or her career. At some point, he or she has played the final game, run the final race, swam the last lap, hit the final shot, had the final at bat, inning, quarter, or period of his or her competitive career. While some who compete in sport may go on to be a coach, even that career will run its course and suddenly the weight of that moment is felt again.

Many of those we serve make this transition very well and rather easily. They are usually the ones who derive very little of their personal identity from their sporting life. The ones who are at most risk in this moment are those whose lives in sport fully consume all that they are. Some see the final day coming from a long way off and begin to prepare for it. Others find themselves overwhelmed by the gravity of the moment as they change clothes in the locker room immediately after the final competition.

Across twenty-three seasons of collegiate and professional sport I have witnessed a broad range of emotions in these moments. Some finish with a sigh (as Moses describes in Psalm 90), they are simply spent and are relieved at the finality of their careers. Some finish in a flood of tears as this era of their lives is over and they feel it as grief, though a part of them has died. Others become bitter and look back on their investment of time, energy, emotion, relationships, injury, and pain as a net loss rather than a gain. Still others seem to glide through the day without apparent difficulty, but a couple of weeks later they are stunned at the sudden appearance of free time and leisure.

One of our men’s swimmers from a few years ago shared his thoughts with our FCA group one evening. Although we had been talking about the end of career issues for a couple of years, he said it still hammered his heart and mind after he touched the wall for the final time at the end of his unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the USA Swimming Team for the 2012 Olympic Games. “It’s like I had been writing right handed for my whole life and then suddenly I had to start writing left handed.” That is how he described the depth of the change in lifestyle he experienced.

A coaching friend of mine recently retired due to health concerns. It was the most difficult thing he had ever done as the passion for the game and the daily process was still there, but it appeared it could also kill him. “I’ve never done anything else.” He was looking straight down the barrel of a crippling loss of identity, and wondered who he would be if he didn’t wear the title, “Coach.”

Given the power of this epoch in one’s sporting life and the fact that it will come to everyone at some point, I would like to offer some strategies to help those you serve navigate these turbulent waters safely and successfully.
·        Help them see the end of career issues before they arrive. Ask questions about their plans for post-career life. Talk about family, calling, life purpose, short and long term plans.
·        Encourage them to journal during the last season of their careers and to thereby capture each day’s memories, moments of significance, joy, and sorrow.
·        Ask them to share their stories of career highlights, funny moments, times of joy and fulfillment. Ask about the most significant people and situations in their sporting lives.
·        Discuss how their lives in sport uniquely qualify them to serve, to lead, and to make significant contributions beyond sport.
·        Help them see that they are of infinite value to you, to others, and ultimately to God, in or out of sport.
·     Help them to find their identity in a vibrant, living relationship with Christ Jesus. They are infinitely loved and identified with Christ, even more than as a competitor or coach.

Your presence in walking with them, your wisdom in guiding their approach, and your kindness in understanding their hearts will go a long way in assisting your sporting friends to make the painful transition from sporting life to that of “former coach or competitor.” 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Swimmer's Reflection

Occasionally we are privileged to be allowed inside the minds and hearts of those we serve. Many of our friends in the sporting community are quite reserved with their thoughts, their feelings of insecurity, their worries, and especially with their fears. That’s why it is so remarkable when we come across a candid and even vulnerable expression of the heart. I recently was able to get a glimpse into the heart of a twenty year old young lady who is a swimmer at our university. Her excellence in the pool, in the classroom, and in the community is evident to all, but I have been watching her faith grow over the last year or so.

The paragraphs below are from a social media post she made just a few days ago. It is in expressions like this one that the significance of our ministry is seen. More than with celebratory selfies after winning a championship that simply allow us to revel in the reflected light of athletes’ success. These moments unveil the normally hidden hearts of sportspeople and point to the significance to be found in quiet, behind the scenes conversations, study, prayer, and community. I hope this young lady’s faithful reflection on her life in sport is both a challenge and an encouragement to you.

In the past few months I've had some life changing events occur. I'm not really sure why I am sharing it on social media but something is willing me to do so. 

Maybe it's my way of "talking it out". I'll warn you there is religious references in there. That is not to push my faith on anyone but as I am telling my story from my viewpoint this is how I best see it. This is pretty lengthy and I apologize, I've never really been good at summarizing ha-ha. Anyways, enjoy! 

It’s 11:48...p.m. I have a very overwhelming lab practical tomorrow at 9a.m. You know the kind where you feel you will walk in and forget everything because there’s too much to remember. So why am I still up? I have this shooting pain that goes from my hip all the way down to my toes. The kind that makes your eyelids scrunch up even when they are closed. I guess this was kind of my fault. I stood on it for the past 3 hours pretty much. Sad isn’t it? I can’t cheer on our basketball team with my swim team, get all crazy, dressed half naked and chanting, showing school spirit without being in agonizing pain after. Sorry, let me explain, I feel like I’ve told my story to so many people, I don’t want to tell it anymore, but here is the shortened version. 

On New Year’s Eve, I was diagnosed with a DVT which is a blood clot that takes up ⅔ of my right leg as well as a few superficial clots. They found this through an MRI that was to figure out what a lump on the back of my knee was.[Okay, side note, I was admitted into the hospital and they gave me an IV. Now, I am not a fan of needles. They are always associated with some sort of pain. To calm my nerves the nurse administering the IV comforted me by saying, this is the only stick. Just one and the IV is basically a one stop shop so they can do everything through there. If they need to take blood they won’t have to re stick you. Let me tell you, that IV HURT. I thought though, it’s over no need to worry. So when another nurse came to my room to draw blood for some tests, I raised up my arm with the IV to give it to her and her response? “Oh good you're IV is on that arm I need your other arm please.” Are you kidding, another needle? Not to mention I was getting injections of blood thinners through my abdomen. So then morning comes and they need to take more blood. I expected it this time and sure enough they’re stick me. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. The nurse comes back in about 5 minutes later and says, “I’m sorry, we forgot one. I’ll need to stick you again.” REALLY? Of course you forgot one! It was literally a needle haters worse nightmare.] Okay, back to my story,  

New Year’s marked the day that the sport I loved was taken away from me. I can’t swim until the clot is gone. They estimated that will take around 3 months. I will not get to swim in my Junior Year Conference Meet. I will not get the opportunity to score for my team. I will not get the opportunity to defend my 200 freestyle record. I will not get the chance to defend the 800 freestyle relay, or try and take back the 400 freestyle relay if I were chosen to be a part of it. The chance to walk out through the tunnel of athletes and get to my team and feel their support as I go to battle for them. I will not get to stand next to my teammates with water running down my very tight suit that hurts my shoulders, face beat red, uncontrollable breathing, knowing I had just given my all for them. I won’t get the chance to fight to defend our Championship title, to deal with other teams willing to do anything even if immoral to take us down and smiling and rising to the occasion. (Ahhhh, that’s the best feeling.)

This might sound dramatic especially when there are a lot of problems in our world today. I might agree with you on some level. I realize it is a privilege that many do not have to be able to compete in a sport, go to school, or even have medical resources. Some might say, “It’s only three months, ”so let me explain my viewpoint since not many can understand. 

Every day I deal with guilt. I realize there was nothing I could have done to stop this situation from occurring, but it doesn’t take from the fact that my teammates are working their butts off and I sit. Yes, I go to every practice. I sit there and cheer my teammates on. While this is torture for me, this is where I’d be had nothing happened. To me, it is where I belong. It’s ‘where my friends are, my team I call family, the pool is home. So that is why I show up to 6 a.m. practice. Not only because I’d feel bad if I got to sleep in while my team didn’t, but also so I can keep some normal part of my life. Meets are the worst. I get there and I am hungry. I sometimes have to sit away from the pool so I don’t throw myself in and start swimming. I just want to be able to help my team out and be a part of the fun atmosphere. Instead I have to take breaks from cheering and sit down, I can’t get up and dance because that would increase my blood flow too much, heck I can’t even do the warm up dance. 

This may seem all doom and gloom, you’d be right. The above information could destroy me. It could make me hate my life, wonder why me? Engulf myself in misery and jealousy to my healthy teammates. I could be mad at God for letting something like this happen. To wonder why it seems he never gives me a break. (Earlier in the season I had problems with asthma and my lower back.) However, as easy as that path would be I have chosen a different one. 

You see, I now have a new appreciation for life. To know a few more days and the clot could have traveled to my heart or lungs kind of teaches you that life is precious.  It’s a weird feeling for sure. To go through everyday knowing you have something inside you that could potentially kill you. While it is very unlikely it would travel there are no guarantees. So every slight chest pain, every leg pain, every time my leg swells, every time I get out of breath, it’s all very unnerving. I am happy to still have the ability to feel pain. 

When they say life could be over in a split second, live it to the fullest, it never really hit home with me until it could have so easily been taken from me. (Talk about learning a lesson the hard way.) You see, for all that I explained went wrong I never said what went right. Let’s start with my team staying in Carbondale instead of flying somewhere for a training trip. (Flying is deadly with a blood clot.) I had to have the athletic trainer want to take a look at that bump, then have our team doctor take a look. Instead of brushing it over and waiting to see if it’d get better in a week or so he wanted an MRI as soon as possible. For those non-medical people out there, MRIs aren’t good at picking up blood clots, they sometimes go undetected in them. The doctor that read mine was thorough enough to find signs of a blood clot and called me right away to get to the hospital. (This wasn’t even what they were looking at)  

As scary and heart breaking as this process has been, it has shown me that God is always, ALWAYS with you. Take a second and think about the last few sentences. If any one of those had not gone just so, this could have been a very different story being told. Probably not by me. It’s super scary when you think about it. However, I know God was there because he guided all of these people to the right answer. 

You see Faith is not measured on a good day. Of course it’s always good to thank God for those happy times, but faith is measured when it seems all is taken from you and you look to him and say God I trust you. It’s one thing to say God has a plan for me and then to be able to say that in dark times and truly mean it. It’s pretty funny actually. Only a couple miles before this situation arose, I posted a status on Facebook that my Nonnie had told me. It read, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I had a point to prove in the pool this year. I had a plan to have a great conference meet. I had a plan to train really hard over Christmas break. However, God has a different plan. I’d be lying if I said I was happy with this process. Although, I know that while I can’t see it now and I have no idea what it is, something good will come from this, and it will make me a better human being. 

So here I am saying it, GOD IS GOOD. I AM ALIVE. I love my family, I love my dogs, I love my friends, I love my team, I am one blessed individual. There is always a better tomorrow and a brighter side of looking at every situation. 

It is now 12:16 and I should probably get some sleep so I don’t fail out of college tomorrow morning. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit.) Anyway, these are my words for thought. I hope I have helped someone understand or made someone smile. Remember you are loved and as my family always says, YOU MATTER.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Global Sports Chaplaincy Summit

A number of the leaders in Sports Chaplaincy from around the world were gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for discussions on a number of topics and to coalesce their efforts toward continuing growth of this form of ministry across the globe. We were gathered by Richard Gamble of Cede Network (@CedeNetwork), formerly of Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom. We were very graciously hosted by Bob Dyar of Cede Network (http://cedenetwork.org/) in conjunction with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The august list of attendees included these men:
Brad Barts  - Athletes in Action
Cameron Butler  - Sports Chaplaincy Australia
George Dansey – Hillsong Church – Sydney, Australia
Bob Dyar  - CedeNetwork
Warren Evans  - Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom
Richard Gamble - CedeNetwork
Ross Georgiou - Sports Chaplaincy New Zealand
Landon Huffman - Johnson University - Knoxville, Tennessee
Brad Kenney - Cross Training - USA
Reid Lamphere - Athletes in Action
Roger Lipe - Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Larry Thompson - Athletes in Action
Stephen Waller – University of Tennessee - Knoxville Tennessee

Our discussions included such matters as: defining sports chaplaincy, outlining characteristics for the quality delivery of sports chaplaincy, and naming various models of sports chaplaincy service. The aim was to find agreement in such matters and to provide clarity as to what sports chaplaincy is. Many forms of ministry in and around sport are being called chaplaincy, but are far from these agreed to standards of sports chaplaincy.

Because of the global nature of our group and the presence of men from the academic community, we also discussed strategies and alliances for encouraging and growing sports chaplaincy as a form of ministry in non-Anglo regions of the world. We were most thrilled with the collegiality experienced by all of us.

One of the consistently strongest felt needs listed by sports chaplains is that of isolation. Most of us feel terribly remote from our colleagues. One of the ways we aim to address this issue is through a global registry of sports chaplains. Our teammates from Cede Network have the technical expertise to develop, to manage, and to lead such a network with state of the art security features to protect the data and identities of all concerned.

We left Charlotte for our respective homes with a great deal of momentum for the growth and development of sports chaplaincy around the globe and with a strong brotherhood between us. Please join us in praying for wisdom, favor, and vision as we pursue the Lord’s purposes for this form of ministry in the world of sport.


Monday, January 30, 2017

FCA Collegiate Ministry Conference 2017

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes held a conference for Collegiate Ministry leaders in Louisville, Kentucky last week, 23-25 January. Over 105 men and women from across the USA were in attendance at the Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Louisville for an inspirational, encouraging, and fast-paced event.

The event kicked off with a welcome from FCA Campus Director at the University of Louisville, Chris Morgan, some talk around our tables, and then a welcome by FCA National Director of Training, Dan Bishop. We then enjoyed dinner together followed by a bus ride to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to participate in the U of L FCA meeting. Roughly 300 Louisville student-athletes welcomed the FCA staffers into their meeting which was highlighted by testimonies from Jessica Brewster of Tennessee State University and Derrick Moore of Georgia Tech. After the huddle meeting we rode buses back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning included worship music, and a talk from Virginia Tech Campus Director, David Gittings. After a break and lots of conversation, we heard from Florida State University Campus Director, Reggie Hutchins. Several periods of discussion around our tables were woven into Reggie’s talk. We had lunch together and lots more conversation. During lunch, we also enjoyed a panel discussion featuring four Head Coaches from various sports at the University of Louisville. These four men all participate in a weekly lunch time Bible study with Chris Morgan.

After lunch, Chad Mosteller, also from the U of L, shared about “Four Chairs of Discipleship” and we discussed this, point by point. After an afternoon coffee break, we regathered for another presentation and discussion by Tammy Morgan, chaplain at the U of L and Chris Morgan’s wife. Jill  Nash from Georgia also contributed strongly to this discussion. The final portion of the afternoon was given to FCA’s new President, Shane Williamson. He took some time to outline his vision for FCA’s future in general, and in collegiate ministry in particular. Shane took some questions and wrapped up the session with an energetic tone.

The evening was highlighted by a purposefully loose plan for groups of people to gather themselves for dinner in any of the nearby restaurants. Upon our return at 9:00 pm, we enjoyed the comedy of “The Laugh Therapist,” Vernard Hines. We wrapped things up with an ice cream sundae bar.

Wednesday morning kicked off with worship music and a challenge by our host, Chris Morgan. I had a few minutes at the conclusion of the conference to promote the monthly conference calls we host for sports chaplains and character coaches, to promote the FCA IMPACT Internships in Europe and South Africa this summer, and to outline the growing list of resources available in the FCA collegiate staff Dropbox.

The conference was very encouraging, inspirational, and allowed plenty of time for us to network with our valued teammates and colleagues. A number of issues were addressed including David Gittings’ “Reality Check,” awakening us to parallel realities at work – one we can see (circumstances) and one unseen (where God is at work) as he walked us through the entire book of Galatians. Reggie Hutchins challenged us re: Racism. He said we must understand: Our role in a world of racism, the reason for racism, and our resources for dealing with racism. Chad Mosteller outlined the four chairs of discipleship as: “Come and See, Come and Follow Me, Come and I’ll Make you Fishers of Men, and Go and Bear Much Fruit.” Tammy Morgan challenged us re: the nature of our ministry with women. She had us discuss our strategies and our roadblocks for serving women well. Chris Morgan challenged us in the final session on “Occupational Hazards.” He reviewed Mary’s example of how to serve in contrast with Martha’s example of how not to serve.

Conferences like this one directly address one of the greatest problems for sports chaplains, isolation. Many of us feel like we’re serving on an island with very few of our friends, colleagues, or supervisors either understanding what we do or the issues with which we deal every day. Simply being together like this is a shot in the arm, a boost to the spirit, and a fresh drink of cool water to the soul. Thanks to everyone at FCA, especially Molly Collins and Dan Bishop, who made the arrangements for us.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Faith is the 'Biggest Under-Covered Story' in Football"

Partners in Ministry,

This article from Relevant magazine ran across my Twitter feed this week and I thought it could be of interest to you. At the bottom of the page there is a link to the complete article from Sports Illustrated mentioned by the author. I hope this is of value to your service of the men and women of sport. To my readers outside the USA, when he says football, he means American football.

Jan 19, 2017 /
NFL Columnist: Faith Is the 'Biggest Under-Covered Story' in Football

If you're not a football person, you might not know, but we're approaching the culmination of the NFL season: There are now only four teams left in the league's playoffs, and this weekend's conference championship games will determine who will meet in the Super Bowl on February 5.
Sports Illustrated gathered a few sports journalists and NFL columnists for a "roundtable" discussion about the 2016-17, trends, off-the-field issues and stories they think get overlooked. That last part is where things get interesting. When asked about stories in the NFL that don't get enough attention from sports media, Armando Salguero, an NFL columnist for the Miami Herald, brought up the place of faith within the NFL.
"The biggest under-covered story in the NFL every year is how huge a factor faith in God and Jesus Christ is in the playing and coaching of the sport," he says. "Every day, in season and out of season, coaches and players (and women on staff) pray before they begin their duties and often ask God through Jesus Christ for guidance and health in the carrying out of their functions. Yes, they get paid and rewarded, but for many, everything they do is unto God. It is their motivator and at the center of who they are."
He continues:
In times of adversity, which come often in the NFL, they turn to their faith for answers, strength and encouragement. That touchdown celebration you see every weekend, where guys point to the sky? That's not the first or only time these men address God, Christ, and heaven, but rather that is the public view of a deep and daily walk and relationship these people have with their Lord. Many of these people see themselves as Christians first and employees of the NFL later. And yet, their stories—their testimonies—go unreported because the media is largely secular and the NFL wants to keep the game largely secular despite the fact a large percentage of its employees are believers.
Salguero suggests that faith is under-covered because the topic makes people in sports media uncomfortable. Apparently anticipating pushback, Salguero points out how frequently football players will cite God, Jesus or their faith in sideline interviews, but almost never get asked to elaborate on or even defend their statements. He says:
When sideline reporters ask a question after the game and the player says, "First I want to thank my Lord Jesus Christ," the follow up is never, "For what? What did He do for you?" The follow is more likely about a touchdown run or turnover. Disagree? Here's a test: Did you cringe or roll your eyes when you read the first sentence of this answer? Yeah, faith in God and Jesus Christ among NFL people makes the media uncomfortable and reporters and news organizations run away from the topic.
Who knows if Salguero's analysis will bring any change in how sports journalists approach faith in football, but at the very least he's put the topic on a very big, nationally read table.
You can read the whole SI roundtable—which goes on to talk about other social and ethical issues surrounding the sport like concussions and continued instances of domestic violence among players—here.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Ministry at a Coaches Convention

The American Football Coaches Convention was just held this week in Nashville, Tennessee (USA). Approximately 4,000 American Football coaches, mostly collegiate, but some from high schools were in attendance for the Sunday through Wednesday activities, meetings, seminars, awards programs, and more.

For the last dozen years I have attended this event, simply because that is where the coaches are. To see this many of the coaches, already in my network or those I have yet to meet, at any other time would require months of travel and tens of thousands of dollars. On these days, they are all in the same building.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was in attendance and engaged in ministry with these coaches and their spouses in various ways.
1.   We held a worship service on Sunday morning at 10:00. An estimated 250 people were in attendance for the service which included a simple welcome, three worship songs (led by a man with a guitar), prayer, and a talk by a college football team chaplain (Mitch Mason from the University of North Carolina). The service was well done and well received.
2.   We held a Coaches Huddle on Sunday night from 9:00 to 10:15. Rather than delivering another talk from another guy at a podium, we had the coaches and spouses (around 200) to rearrange their chairs into circles of 6-8 people each. We then invited them to talk with the others in their groups, answering the questions projected onto the screen. We started with facts like their names, where they coach, and how many years they had been in coaching. We moved on to questions like, “Why do you coach?” We talked about the coaches from their pasts who shaped how they coach, their legacy in the coaches’ lives now, and the legacy they’d like to leave in the lives of their players. Lastly, we invited them to pray together, and we finished a few minutes early. We were thrilled that many lingered in the room well beyond the parameters of the meeting. They enjoyed the fellowship and our questions uncovered their hearts in a way that passively listening to a presentation never would have.
3.   We hosted an FCA Breakfast for about 400 coaches on Monday morning. The program was crisp, it moved quickly, and each part was succinctly presented. It included an emcee with introductory thoughts, a prayer, and then breakfast. We viewed a strong video of a coach, his team, and the impact of FCA’s 3Dimensional Coaching upon the players and the community. We then interviewed that coach, live on stage. The program continued with an annual Coach of the Year award, and the recipient made brief, but excellent comments. The final part of the program was an address by FCA’s new president, himself a football coach. The coaches left the room encouraged and many made connections with other Christian coaches they only see at this event or occasionally on the field of competition.
4.   We spent hours and hours at our booth in the exhibition hall. We were favored to have a spot right by the entry doors, very convenient for those looking for us, and even better for those not looking for us. We had countless conversations, hugs, handshakes, trades of business cards, referrals of colleagues, and more. We distributed hundreds of copies of books, devotional materials, and brochures. In addition, we had a kiosk that included an iPad for connection with our various web based resources and programs.


I would challenge you to consider where the people you intend to serve are. Where do they gather? What would it take to be there with them? In what ways could you serve them in that location or event? The clinics, conventions, and other gatherings where they gather are rich environments for ministry. Discover them and then develop a strategy. Go!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Who is Your Chaplain?

One of the items of great interest to me in the book, Replenish – Leading from a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt, is the terrible fact that far too many pastors and other ministry workers are terribly isolated. Too few of us have strong relationships with trusted friends or mentors.

This leads me to ask, “Who is your chaplain?” Who is there in your life to provide the same sort of service that you regularly dispense to others? If you didn’t immediately have an answer, this is a problem to be addressed. Who cares for your soul? Who knows you well enough to ask you hard questions about your use of time, energy, and relationship? Who understands your life’s pressures, your weak spots, your character flaws, and loves you through them?

Are you close enough to your pastor for this sort of relationship? Have you given him or her permission to enter your life beyond your “public persona?” Is there a friend or colleague with whom you meet often enough to be vulnerable about your life?

Although I am an off the chart extrovert with thousands of acquaintances, there are few people I trust with my life’s pains and struggles. My introverted friends may find this even more difficult, but with a smaller circle of relationships.

Again, “Who is your chaplain?”

I meet with two men every Tuesday at 6:30 am at a local coffee shop. One of those gentlemen and I have been meeting together for over twenty-two years now. We three have walked together through family health issues (cancer and epilepsy), a divorce, a suicide attempt, a remarriage, multiple family issues, financial growth and challenge, joy, grief, and pain. Such is life. We know and trust each other. They are my chaplains.


Once more, I will ask, “Who is your chaplain?” I challenge you to find an answer to that question, to commit to an enduring and vulnerable relationship with someone who knows you well enough to care for your soul’s health. The long-term success or failure of your ministry as a sport chaplain or character coach may be determined by this relationship or the lack thereof.