Friday, February 27, 2009

Character Coaches

During the past weekend I was in Kansas City, Missouri for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes staff meeting. As I was there I had conversations with two gentlemen who are doing a tremendous job of leading volunteers in sport chaplain ministries in their respective areas of the country. Ed Pulkinen in the Savannah, Georgia area and Lester Walls in Jackson, Mississippi are using a similar strategy to impact their communities for Christ as their volunteer sport chaplains influence coaches and student-athletes.

Here’s how it works. These men find people who will serve as sport chaplains in their own communities, they train them, provide a simple model for ministry, facilitate the relationships with the coaches and turn them loose. They give them oversight and monitor their progress during the season and then review the season with them after its conclusion.

Ed has taken this strategy one more step. He assigns one person as the school “character coach” and that person directly oversees all the “character coaches” for the various teams at that school. His goal is to have each chaplain have only one sport to serve, thus each school could have over a dozen individual sports chaplains in volunteer service. Across his area, that could mean as many as 500 people eventually serving as sports chaplains. Wow, that’s an ambitious strategy and one which deeply benefits each community.

This is a model for ministry which I believe to be wise and powerful. I am excited to know these men and to encourage them in their pursuit of the Lord’s will for helping the men and women of sport in their communities to honor Christ by how they compete in sport.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Character and Sport

It has been trendy in the last fifteen years for people to say things like, “Sports build character.” Some have said, “Losing is good for a team, it builds character.” Others have tossed the whole conversation aside as they have seen less than exemplary character displayed by sports people, on the field of competition and off of it. What do you say about the issue of character and sport?

As I have competed in sport and worked with those who compete for my whole lifetime, I have noticed that rather than sport simply building character or tearing it down, it tends to reveal the nature of the character in each person and often in a whole team, organization or community.

It’s like the competitors are each being squeezed by the competition. The sport and its situations, stresses and pressures squeeze the player’s heart, soul and mind. Like an orange leaks orange juice when squeezed, so the sports person leaks the true nature of his or her character.

When we’re under pressure we’re much more likely to display the weaknesses of our character through our speech, our actions and our attitudes. The opposite is also true. Often the best of our character is revealed when the pressure comes. Otherwise, where would the hero be? What would reveal the champion’s character of perseverance, courage, loyalty and resolve?

So what is our conclusion? I affirm that sport and all its pressures reveal the character of each participant by creating points of insight for those who observe. Coaches, parents, teammates and even some fans can see the true nature of the participants in competition. Sometimes it reveals the weaknesses we would all like to keep hidden. Other times it reveals the absolute best parts of who we are and we’re thrilled with the outcome. In either case, let me encourage you to play your heart out and to welcome the testing as a part of your personal development.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Values for Life in Sport

Recently I was to speak at a fund-raising event for a local sport club and sharing the program with me were two professional athletes. One is a now retired baseball pitcher who played for twelve years in the Major Leagues. The other is presently playing professional fast-pitch softball in both the USA and Australia.

As the program moved along I took notes on their talks and the answers to questions of these two outstanding people. Below are some of the items from their talks about the important things they have learned from sport at the highest level.
· Relationships are most important – they both value their friendships with teammates, road trip roommates, coaches, support staff and even opponents.
· Integrity – their values for sport, for family and for their faith guided their daily decisions in all of life.
· Competition – this is what makes them go. They can’t wait to get to game day and to compete. They are wired for sport in the truest sense.
· Privilege – they each understand the tremendous privilege that is theirs and the accompanying responsibilities of being a professional athlete.

They have both forged a wonderful life from the sports in which they have invested countless hours of practice, miles of running, and years of dreaming. Play your heart out, dream as greatly as you can, invest deeply in your sport and enjoy the benefits of honorable competition.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Significance in Sport

This is possibly the most annoying thing in sport today. The media seems fixated on adding significance to sporting events by dredging up the most obscure statistics and stories to spice up their reporting.

Every day on local and national sportscasts we’re subjected to information like, “That was the first time since 1956 that a Wildcat quarterback threw for 400 yards in a game.” Sometimes it’s even worse, “This is the first time since 1922 that a left-handed pitcher from Blue Dog, Texas named Johnny has struck out 14 batters in a 9 inning game.” All this research and effort seems to be aimed at adding significance to this day’s game or this season’s achievements.

Some of us hear these things and don’t understand the compulsion with such strained efforts to bring significance to sport. We see the inherent significance that is in every season, each competition, every possession of the ball, each at bat, each pitch and every second. Sport has significance all by itself for those who compete. The exertion of will, the concentration of mind, the spiritual energy expended and the teamwork executed brings significance to each practice, conditioning period, film session and even more to the competition itself.

That seems to be lost on certain ones who stand on the periphery of the world of sport. The significance of sport to them is found in statistics (the more remote the better) or the stories (endless “behind the scenes” stories of players or coaches).

Join me and all those who play their hearts out as we experience the real significance in sport. It’s in the daily life of sacrifice, teamwork, aches, pains, exhilaration, joy, disappointment and satisfaction. Leave the research for the media and for those outside who just don’t get it.