Friday, September 19, 2008

Sport Chaplain’s Game Day

This is an account of a normal game day during a college football road trip in my life as a sport chaplain at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

I am normally an early riser, but even more so during such trips. I will get to be very early on Friday evening and awaken well before dawn. I’ll gather my Bible, iPod, notebook and coffee cup. I’ll make my way to the hotel lobby or, weather permitting, outside for some reading, solitude and contemplation of the coming day. I’ll take some time for intercessory prayer for each player and coach related to their assignments and personal development. I will also put the final touches on my chapel talk which I would have drafted the evening before.

I will dress and prepare for the chapel by arriving early and distributing a devotional letter to the team at each place setting for the pre-game meal. I greet the players and coaches as they arrive in the room and then begin the chapel at the head coach’s prompting. This is typically 4 hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff.

I will ask a player or coach to open the meeting in prayer and then will begin my talk. It’s usually 5-7 minutes long and begins with a statement related to today’s situation followed by a scripture reading which parallels that situation. A summary of the scripture’s main points forms the outline for the applications which follow. I will take my last minutes to apply the scriptural principles to this day’s situation, to challenge and to encourage, praying to finalize the talk.

A season of prayer will follow the talk, either by the whole team saying “The Lord’s Prayer,” in unison or by having different players or coaches to pray for the offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff, officials and our opponents. I will finish the season of prayer and thereby conclude the chapel.

After chapel, we will have our pre-game meal and a brief talk from the head coach. From there it’s back to the room to make final preparations for the trip to the stadium and the painfully long wait for game time. I will make my way from the room to the bus early and we’ll drive to the stadium. I’ll often use the time after arrival to review the travel list and to pray for each player on the roster by name. I’ll stretch and prepare for pre-game warm up activities. I’ll catch and return the footballs kicked by punters and kickers, speak with a number of players, challenging them to lead well and to play their hearts out. I’ll often pray with individuals who request it.

After our pre-game warm up activities are completed, the team will return to the locker room where I’ll have the stadium countdown clock on my wrist watch so the head coach will know the timing. We’ll hear a final pre-game talk by the head coach, we’ll take a knee and the hands of those near us and I’ll lead the whole team in saying “The Lord’s Prayer.” We’ll then take the field and play the game.

I am the team’s “get back coach,” meaning that it’s my responsibility to keep the sideline area clear for the officials to move freely and for our team to not incur a penalty. I’ll also help gather special team units to the sideline according to down and distance situations. At half-time I also keep the countdown clock on my wrist and advise the coaching staff as to the time remaining prior to the second half kickoff. When the game resumes, so do my on field responsibilities. If we’re behind, I’ll work to encourage and to inspire a comeback. If we’re leading, I’ll work to challenge our players to finish well and strongly.

At the end of the game, I encourage our players to treat their opponents with respect as they greet them on the field and then we gather in the locker room. We’ll either celebrate or console each other, depending upon the outcome, and then we’ll again take a knee for “The Lord’s Prayer.” After a final talk from the head coach we shower, change and exit the locker room for the buses. I meet the players and coaches near the buses and help distribute the post-game meals. I speak to them to encourage and to praise their performances, their effort, attitude, etc…

Once the buses are loaded, we travel home and I listen to music, watch the movie, write in my season journal or all three. I occasionally even sleep. This is how I spend half of my Saturdays throughout the fall and I dearly love it.

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