Friday, August 27, 2010


Sixteen years ago when I started working in sports ministry, I had a pager on my belt and responded most quickly to people by using a pay telephone beside the road. My staff manual was in a massive 3-ring binder. Cellular phones were huge, bulky and of poor call quality. I had a desktop computer with a massive 30 megabyte hard drive. All my correspondence with the ministry’s national office was by snail mail or phone. How did we communicate in those days?

Today, my Blackberry is in constant use. My staff manual is 100% digital and on-line. Cell service is now international. My laptop has some ridiculous number of gigabytes for its hard drive. Most all my communication with our national support center is electronic, by web site, email, phone call or text messages. A monumental shift in sixteen years.

What are the implications of such changes for us as sport chaplains and sport mentors? From my perspective the answer is communication and the content of our correspondence is more important than ever. Let’s consider some guidelines for communicating with our colleagues and those whom we serve:

Encourage, encourage, encourage – the sports world is so full of bottom line, results oriented people that we who focus on the process and the relationships are very important.

Use every instrument of technology at your hand – at fifty-four years of age I am finding new ways to speak to the hearts of an ever-widening sphere of influence.

o Email enables one to communicate quickly with people across the world.

o SMS text messages are quick, brief and make it easy for others to respond. One can even create groups within his phone to make sending one text to dozens of people very quick and easy.

o Social networking sites (facebook, twitter, Linked In, etc…)

o Phone calls

o Blogs (many of these can be done at no charge)

o Personal web pages

o Contributions to organizational web sites, on-line magazines, blogs, etc…

o Contributions to colleagues’ web sites, blogs, etc…

Take a moment to see who is in your network (local, regional, national and international) and look for ways to encourage them.

o Coaches

o Players

o Support Personnel (administrators, physios or athletic trainers, equipment managers, office managers, etc…)

o Other sport chaplains or sport mentors

Look for the most advantageous moments for communication.

o Pre-game – I often send SMS messages to coaches and players both the day/night before they compete and a few hours prior to game time. I write so as to encourage, to challenge and to inspire.

o Post-game – I also write them after I know the results of the games in order to either congratulate or console, always to encourage, to affirm their value and being unconditionally loved.

o Randomly – As someone’s face or name runs through my mind I’ll often take it as a prompting from the Lord to send a quick email, text message or to make a call.

• Use some wisdom related to content of your communication.

o Be very careful to not divulge privileged information about players, coaches and situations. A tweet related to a player’s injury could change the betting line on a game and your information could suddenly be the subject of a gambling investigation.

o Never make critical comments on-line about the coaching staff, decisions made, players, their performance, etc…

o Don’t expose players’ spiritual lives to public scrutiny. If they want to be “public Christian sportspeople” they will give you permission and will hopefully ask your guidance.

o Keep your relationships with the sportspeople as your highest value and the measuring stick for what is appropriate for one to write, speak or text.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Open: An Autobiography

I am four chapters into the book, “Open: An Autobiography” by retired tennis professional Andre Agassi. I have been stunned by the vulnerability he has displayed about his relationships with his father and with tennis. He says that he hates tennis and has for his whole life. He shares very openly about how his father drove him toward the goal of being #1 in the world since the time he was three years old. It is gut wrenching to read.

As I am reading I’m also wondering for how many of the athletes with whom I work is their experience with sport similar? I wonder how many of the players in my acquaintance hate their sport and those who drive them to excel in it? At some youth sports events I see sports parents who remind me of Andre’s father and I am grieved for the kids.

I’m still processing all that I’m reading, but am already more aware of the potential for the highly achieving to absolutely loathe the sport which has brought them fame and fortune. I cannot imagine the depth of conflict, guilt and shame that must be experienced by such people, but I am committed to seeking Christ’s consolation and peace for their tortured souls. Let’s trust the Lord Jesus for the grace to be His ambassadors to these people in such desperate need of His loving embrace.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Team Building Process

Since 2003 I have been leading Southern Illinois University’s Football Salukis in some sessions we’ve called “Team Building.” They are primarily discussions aimed at building the culture of the program by developing community among the players and by instilling the values which we want to characterize the program. These ideas have also been employed with Saluki Women’s Basketball and Women’s Volleyball in past seasons as well as with a few high school sports teams of various sorts in my area. In addition, several other college football chaplains and coaching staffs around the USA have called to discuss how to employ these methods with their teams and many are doing them today.

Some teams elsewhere do similarly, but they use a number of activities like ropes courses, group problem solving exercises, etc. I have found these to be unnecessary as sports teams already have an activity – the sport itself. What they don’t have is something which can more directly help them to build community and to instill values. We who serve teams as sport chaplains or sport mentors are uniquely qualified to assist them through team development.
The whole process can be boiled down to a rather simple process. It follows.

Community + Values = Culture


• Build community within the team by facilitating the growth of trust and commitment.

• Build the culture of the program by communicating its core values and expectations.

Socratic Process:

• Ask questions for discussion which accomplish your goals.

• Facilitate discussion in small and large groups.

1. Community: Identity --> Trust --> Commitment


• Tell us your name, your home town, the position you play, and your uniform number.


• What is there you have yet to achieve in football that is very much a goal for this year?

• Tell us about a significant sacrifice you have made to be a Saluki Football player.


• If you could trade places for two weeks with anyone on the planet, whom would you choose and why?

• Tell us about one of the most influential people in your life. How has that person impacted your life?

• If you could have a three hour lunch with any living person, whom would you choose and why?

2. Values:

• What do you want to characterize your football program?

• What do you value most highly?
Example: Sunday August 16, 2009

Championship Teams: Develop strong leadership.

• Tell us about one of the best team leaders with whom you have played.

• What are some of the qualities you respect in team leaders?

• How would you grade your personal leadership with this team? (A – F)

• What do you see as important parts of the process of developing leaders?

Session 3 – Sophomores

• Tell us your name, your home town, the position you play, and your uniform number.

• Tell us about an instance when your leadership was instrumental in your team’s success. (Any team, any time, any sport)

• Tell us about one of the most influential people in your life. How has that person impacted your life?
We have conducted these sessions with all the players being involved (90). In order to do that in a secularized environment like our university, I have purposely led them without overtly “religious” language. While most of the values taught come directly from scriptural principles, for these sessions we don’t quote the scripture references. This removes the tension from the coaching staff and allows me to build relationships with the players within their culture. It also deepens the level of trust I have with all the players and when I later conduct team chapels I am afforded a greater level of communication with directly spiritual language because I’m “inside” the program.
Ideally, the values which shape the program and which are instilled through these sessions are genuinely held, demonstrated and communicated by the coaching staff. At times we have asked the staff to outline such values and we have built our sessions from their listed set of values. This gives us the best chance at integration of ethos and pathos within the program.

To further integrate sport and Christian values, I use the team building themes for weekly points of emphasis throughout the season. In team chapels I will speak on the theme and will illustrate from scripture. Often the scripture will be a narrative, sometimes a didactic passage or even occasionally from Psalms or Proverbs. The point is to have the players and coaches to hear the truth of scripture related through the same themes which we have discussed throughout the season. In this way they hear the Lord Jesus speaking to them in their culture of sport.
If you would like to discuss how to employ this strategy with your team I would love to talk with you about it. Please contact me via email at or call me at 618-559-2735 and we can talk about how to adapt these methods to your sport, team and coaching staff.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Prayer in the life of an Athlete

Below is a link to an audio file of the talk I did last Sunday night at Christ United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois. The subject was “Prayer in the life of an Athlete.” I pray that it is helpful to you and/or those whom you serve.

See “Perspectives on Prayer: Roger Lipe.”