Thursday, May 28, 2009


Ambition is a word which evokes strong reactions from people. Some see it as a powerful tool for accomplishment while others see it as a terrible vice to be avoided at any cost.

Which are you? Does ambition seem to be an insidious evil or a genuine virtue to be developed? The real issue may be toward what ends is the ambition aimed? Are we ambitious for selfish gain or for the good of others? Are we ambitious toward superficial fame or lasting significance?

This quality, like many others, is given its moral weight by its object. If I’m only ambitious toward power, fame, money, and personal pleasure, my ambition will bring out many of the worst parts of my nature. However, if I am ambitious toward matters like altruism, service, philanthropy, building community among my teammates, the development of others and a legacy of truth and love, the best of my heart will be fully engaged.

Toward what are you most ambitious? What characterizes your highest priorities and most lofty goals? When realized, do they most fully serve your interests or would they benefit others? Do you compete your heart out to win MVP awards or team championships? Are you more ambitious for individual recognition or for team achievement?

May I challenge you to check you ambitions and to purposefully direct them toward your teammates and friends? You can then play your heart out with no pangs of conscience due to latent selfishness or personal ambition. You will have directed ambition wisely and properly toward the betterment of those you love and respect, your teammates.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with one of our university baseball players. He is a junior pitcher from a local small town. He is very unremarkable to look at, 5’-11” in height and about 165 pounds with a boyish face, but he can throw a baseball 95 miles per hour. He is the team’s closer and has rewritten the team’s record book for that position with a perfect record this year and he has tremendous prospects for the future.

He’s young in his Christian faith, has made some mistakes and now his young fiancé is pregnant. We have been meeting together periodically to discuss baseball, being a father and husband and how to grow one’s faith. I count this as a great privilege.

On this particular day we were discussing some wedding plans and the likely results of the professional baseball draft due to arrive on June 9. I asked him what his chances were for being drafted and he said that others tell him that he would probably go between the 3rd and 5th rounds and that he would probably be offered a signing bonus between $100,000.00 and $300,000.00. I about choked. How can a 21 year old handle that kind of money and responsibility when he has struggled with simpler matters? It was rather an intimidating situation to him.

I offered the help of an acquaintance who had played 12 years in the Major Leagues who also grew up in our area and maintained his “Southern Illinois” identity and values, even with millions of dollars in annual salary. I was thrilled to connect these two by phone and they enjoyed a 30 minute conversation about the whole process of the draft, agents, coaches, team management, maintaining one’s identity and more.

This is often our role in ministry when subjects are outside our areas of expertise. Let’s be humble and wise enough to connect our friends with others who can serve them with their particular knowledge or experience. This in no way diminishes our value to the player or coach, rather it enhances it and further builds trust. Let’s first and foremost serve the needs and opportunities given us with those around us and we’ll watch them become all the Lord has purposed for them to become.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Building Team Unity

Last week a friend and colleague of mine, Johnny Shelton from Virginia Tech University, called me and we discussed the problem of division among players on certain teams. There were apparent divisions between the white and black players on a team and we were looking for solutions, how to develop unity where division exists.

As we talked I reflected on how we have done that with Saluki Football and how I’ve heard others attempting to do it. A brief summary follows.

For our football program, we approached it relationally. We reasoned that for a championship team we needed players to be committed to each other, but people won’t commit to those whom they do not trust and they certainly don’t trust people they don’t know. We knew we must start at the “who are you?” level and work our way up. Our process looks like this:

Facilitate a discussion with the whole team, broken into small groups of around 8, introducing about 1/8 of the team per session.
Ask questions of the player about facts – name, uniform number, home town, field of study, etc…
Ask questions of the player about the sport – anything which can evoke the player’s passion for the sport.
Ask questions of the player about his or her heart – anything which can reveal the person’s core values, most important influences, etc…

The fact questions help us know who the player is – Who are you?
The sport questions help us begin to trust the player on the field of competition – Can I trust you?
The heart oriented questions help us begin to commit to the player – Can I commit to you?

This sort of relational “team building” activities have helped us bridge wide gulfs of division related to race, socio-economic barriers, class, region, etc… They have helped us reach unparalleled success on and off the field of competition. We’ll discuss in the future some other strategies employed by other coaching staffs for overcoming division and for building team unity.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Satisfaction would seem to be one of the most elusive commodities on the planet. In the world of sport it is not uncommon for a sideline reporter in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to ask a player or coach for his thoughts and to hear, “We’re going to win it again next year!” The game isn’t even over yet, but the player is already thinking of next year.

Sadly, this is often due to the inability of the highly achieving to simply be satisfied with their achievements. There is the constant push for more, bigger, greater and higher.

I recall from my youth the story of a championship player who had just experienced the highest achievement attainable in his sport, only to lie on his hotel room bed and stare at the ceiling thinking, “Is that it? Is this all there is to the championship experience?” The whole thing was hollow and without meaning to him. It was wholly unsatisfying.

Is there a way to experience real satisfaction as we play our hearts out in sport? I believe there is and I would challenge you to give it a try. When you next take the field or court, pay close attention to the people with whom you compete; teammates, opponents, officials and support personnel. Think about your relationships with them. Surely some are characterized by love and genuine fondness. Others may be respected rivals and some may even be contentious or worse. Take a moment to reflect upon your relationship with the sport itself. Do you love it, hate it, respect it, need it, obsess over it, or all the above?

If we can cultivate healthy relationships with the sport and those with whom it is played, we have a real shot at finding satisfaction in it. Whether we win at the highest level of the sport or languish at its lowest end, we can be satisfied with our performance and even more with our life in it. Satisfaction is to be found in relationships of love and respect more than accomplishment and rewards. Compete your heart out and give your heart completely to the significant relationships in sport.