Saturday, May 28, 2011

Expressions of Thanks

Every once in a while we receive a note, an email, a text message, a facebook message or even a face to face expression of thanks that touches our hearts and fuels our souls for the next weeks, months or even years of ministry. I received such a note this week and it has made a deep impact on me. We certainly endure enough self-doubt and criticism to shipwreck even the most committed among us. One note like this one can counteract months of feelings of inadequacy, failure and insecurity.

Please read this note and maybe even insert your name in the greeting line. It’s like a balm for your soul. Take some, it’s quite potent.

Just wanted to take some time to say a few words to you. I don't think it can be expressed enough to you how thankful and appreciative my teammates and I are to have you in our lives. You truly do fuel our drive and hunger for our sport and love for one another as teammates.

On a personal level, I am also very thankful to have you as a Role Model in my life. Your genuine care for me as an individual and a Man has helped mold me into the person I am today. The importance of mentors like you, have been crucial in the growth and maturing of me throughout high school and college. I write to you with endless THANKS as well as a sense of encouragement. I realize there may be times where you wonder if any of us are actually listening or even care.... well we do. More than you know. Thank you for everything Roger and keep doing what you are doing. I only hope that one day I can be a man of your stature.

We are most privileged of our Lord to have access to the hearts of men and women in sport. If we will love without reserve and will serve without protecting pride, we will occasionally be blessed with such notes of grace and mercy. I am ready to serve another decade after this one. Let’s honor the Lord Jesus with extravagant love and trust Him with the results.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reality Check

Every year I observe parents, coaches, school athletic directors and even sport chaplains as they relentlessly drive young athletes toward the goal of becoming a “Division I student-athlete.” Their rationale is overly simple, “If you work hard enough, you can earn a Division I full-ride scholarship to college.” They’ve bought the foolish end of the American dream, “You can be anything you want to be.”

The reality is much the opposite and one simple statistic bears this out. Only 3% of all high school student-athletes ultimately receive any measure of scholarship to compete in college sports. Three out of one hundred receive anything. If the goal of the endless hours of practices, private lessons, thousands of miles driven to out of state games, tens of thousands of dollars spent to be a part of “travel teams,” and the untold measure of grief, anxiety, pressure and emotional trauma endured by the family is a total loss on 97% of those involved. If the acquisition of a college scholarship is the goal, almost everyone fails.

If, however, the goal is something other, one’s chance of success is much greater. If we can simply focus on the athlete’s experience with the sport, with his or her teammates, with the coaches, officials and opponents, the athlete is suddenly free to experience the sport without the artificial pressure to perform for an elusive and probably unrealistic goal several years in the future.

More simply said, the goal of earning a scholarship must not be the goal. It is simply too remote and results in failure for almost everyone concerned. Let’s focus on this game, this practice, this day and an attitude which helps the players, coaches, parents and everyone else to experience the best parts of sport. Hear Jesus’ words from Mark chapter 6 and verse 34, "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Bottom line – Mom and Dad, back off! Give your child a break! Coach, stop it. Your quixotic drive to get your player a D-I scholarship will not be the validation of your coaching. Chaplain, cut it out. Your attempts to manipulate your relationships in sport will not enhance your ministry even if the student-athlete becomes All-American and ultimately a pro All-Star. Let’s help those we lovingly lead to experience the best of sport in the moment. Let’s help them cultivate a growing sense of the Lord’s presence and pleasure in the activity of sport. That is an enduring joy which does not require a scholarship.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Communication with Sportspeople

We who serve the Lord’s purposes in the lives of the people of sport are in the communication business. We are constantly challenged by the nuances of communication with men and women within a wide array of subcultures, accents, colloquialisms, gestures, facial expressions, postures and more. To communicate wisely and well is of greatest importance because we’re charged with sharing Christ Jesus’ heart with these people.

In my years of serving in this role I’ve observed and participated in at least three levels of communication with sportspeople. Please review these ideas and analyze the level of your communication with those whom you serve.

Level 1 – Surface Level Communication

Usually this consists of tossing clichés at each other. “How’s it going?” “I’m doing great.” “What’s up?” “Nothing.” Plenty of language, but little communication. The clichés being tossed could be sporting in nature “We’re just taking it one game at a time,” or religious in nature “Brother, I’m blessed.” Coaches and other leaders seek correction of behavior at this level. It’s simply pitch and catch played with phrases having little impact.

Surface Level Communication bears these characteristics:

• Little risk

• Little impact

• Shared in public

• Has an external appeal

• Seeks correction

• Motivates at the sensory level (physical and emotional)

Level 2 – Below the Surface Communication

This sort of communication is often engaged when one leaves level 1 by asking probing questions in an effort to understand better. “How did you feel about practice today.” “How are things with your family?” “How can I help you to become the player you want to be?” It happens when one ceases simply telling and starts listening. This level of communication evokes passions and takes more risks with emotion and relationship. Coaches and other leaders who communicate at this level are seeking reformation of attitudes in those being led, not simply correction of behavior.

Below the Surface Communication is marked by these traits:

• It risks emotional responses

• Is more impactful with both parties

• It is much more intimate, requiring more privacy

• Has an internal appeal

• Seeks reformation

• Motivates rationally (shaping thought processes)

Level 3 – Heart to Heart Communication

Communication which penetrates to the heart of a matter and to the very core of people’s lives is radically different than the previous levels discussed. It is much more dangerous to wade into, but its effects are of infinitely greater value. “I believe in you and will not quit on you.” “I am proud of you.” “You are a gift to our team.” “I am committed to seeking your best in every situation.” “I am disappointed by your behavior, how can we work together to do better?” This sort of communication is rare among people in sport. Most of us move too quickly and will risk too little to even approach it. Coaches and other leaders, those who will venture into this arena, are redemptive in their approach. They will risk personal loss for the benefit of those with whom they’re communicating.

Heart to Heart Communication carries these qualities:

• Is much more emotionally risky

• Has a deep, long lasting impact (good or bad)

• Is vulnerable, requiring confidentiality

• Appeals to the heart (core values)

• Seeks transformation (inside out change)

• Motivates spiritually

A reading of the Gospel of John would display for the reader Jesus’ use of all three levels of communication. In chapter 4, His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well contains all three in itself. Thus, as in His model, all three levels are appropriate at various times and for various purposes. Let’s be both wise and conscious about how we communicate. If we only communicate at level 1, our impact will seldom move beyond the level of cliché tossing. If we aim for level 3 with everyone we know, we’ll probably alienate most people and will find ourselves to be having similarly limited effect. However if we’re diligent in building relationships, taking appropriate communication risks and seeking proper settings we will be able to have tremendous impact and long-term effect with our hearers.

Let’s move beyond the surface level, take the risk to cut below the surface and ultimately aim for the hearts of the men and women of sport as we seek to communicate the love of Christ Jesus with these marvelous people.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Your Micromovement – more from “Tribes – We Need You to Lead Us..”

This section of Seth Godin’s book has some insight for us as we lead others in the world of sport. We who are engaged in Sports Ministries are creating movements of the spiritual sort. Let’s gather some wisdom from Godin’s thoughts about micromovements.

“This is the heart of the matter: every leader cares for and supports a movement.” That’s us. We care for and support the movement of God’s Spirit in the lives of men and women of the sports world.

“Today, you can have a narrow movement, a tiny movement, a movement in a silo. Your movement can be known by ten or twenty people, by people in your community of people around the world.” Our teams vary in size and composition, but this principle is very encouraging. We don’t need a group of thousands of followers to effect change and to create movement. We don’t need hundreds of followers for our twitter account or a minimum number of friends on facebook to have deep, significant leverage within a community and to lead a genuine movement.

“The key elements in creating a micromovement consist of five things to do and six principles:

1. Publish a manifesto.

2. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.

3. Make it easy for your followers to connect with each other.

4. Realize that money is not the point of a movement.

5. Track your progress.


1. Transparency is really your only option.

2. Your movement needs to be bigger than you.

3. Movements that grow, thrive.

4. Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push the other direction.

5. Exclude outsiders.

6. Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up.”

Let’s now consider these items one at a time with application to our spiritual micromovements within sports clubs, teams and organizations.

“Publish a manifesto.” Many teams and clubs do this and do it effectively through stating their purpose statements, team values, goals, etc… Many do not. We may be among those most qualified to help our teams to crystalize their values and goals into a clear statement and to express it well. This sort of action leads to unification of the individuals around powerful ideas.

“Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.” For most teams this is what happens at practice, during team meetings, watching videotape and other activities; they connect with their leaders, the coaching staff. In our role as sport chaplains, sport mentors or character coaches, we must be intentional about creating moments and situations which the players and coaches can effectively connect with us. That certainly happens face to face, but it can also be via email, phone calls, SMS text messages, facebook, twitter and other things I’m just not aware of yet.

“Make it easy for your followers to connect with each other.” This is where a lot of teams break down. They can connect the coaches and the players well, but getting the connection between players is much more difficult. We have found good success in this regard with what we term “team building exercises.” Our way of doing this with sports teams doesn’t involve activities like ropes courses, rather it engages the players in conversation, creating connections between them through interaction related to passion for the game, core values, family, and more. If you’d like to discuss how this process could work with your teams, send me an email and we can talk it over. I’d be pleased to contribute to your success in connecting people.

“Realize that money is not the point of a movement.” Resources (monetary or otherwise) simply help to fuel the movement, they are not the real goal. The best coaches know this. The best sport chaplains also know this. In the same moment as we decide to “cash in” on the movement, we’ll probably kill it also. Beware the ever-present sin of greed. If we should sacrifice our movement’s integrity in order to “get paid” we lose and so do all those whose hearts we lead.

“Track your progress.” Sports teams do this even without thinking, they track the progress of everyone and everything. What they measure tells us a lot about what they value. It’s the same in sports ministries. What we measure and track re: progress reveals a lot about what we really value. What looks like progress to you? What do you measure? What do you really value? Answer these hard questions and then track your progress as your movement grows.

“Transparency is really your only option.” The more we hide, the less we’re trusted. Keep things transparent and simple in your ministries, especially financial things. The all too regular public failures of ministry and sports leaders illustrates this principle very well.

“Your movement needs to be bigger than you.” Some coaches get this, others don’t. Some think they’re bigger than the game or their institution, others understand that the sport will continue long after they’re fired, retired or dead. Some of us in sports ministry also lose track of our place in the larger process. We would be well served to cultivate an attitude that sees our movement, our team, our ministry and certainly the Lord’s purposes for each person in our movement as much larger than us. This can be accomplished by wise partnership with other trusted colleagues, mentors and leaders we’re developing.

“Movements that grow, thrive.” The point here is to focus on steady growth over instant, explosive expansion. Good sports coaches call this being process oriented rather than simply results oriented. They focus on player development over the long haul is more effective than a utilitarian attitude which uses the player for what he can give and then discards him in favor of a new one. Sport ministry leaders should learn from this principle by staying focused on principle driven, relational development of individuals and micromovements rather than organizational, pragmatic and global movements which are more impressive to donors.

“Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push the other direction.” Coaches do this with their teams by making comparisons with other teams, other programs, other systems or even the past coaching staffs. They use statistics and their core values to draw contrasts between their program and their rivals. Sadly, some sports ministries draw similar distinctions in the competition for donor dollars and volunteers. Wiser comparisons can be made related to the status quo in terms of the core values, goals and personal development of those in their care.

“Exclude outsiders.” Most of us probably had an immediately repulsive reaction to this statement, but it’s really insightful. Teams do this most simply. No one not on the team has access to the changing room, to team meetings, to wearing uniforms, to riding the team bus, etc… If you’re not on the team, you’re excluded, it’s normal. As we serve sports teams and individuals, exclusivity is also not just proper, but even mandatory. We are often in possession of private and privileged information which if handled improperly could be hurtful or embarrassing to many people. We must exclude outsiders (media, fans, other teams and sometimes even family) from information and settings which are reserved for those directly associated with the team.

“Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up.” Again, the wisest coaches don’t spend much time tearing down their opponents, rather they work to build up their teams. We who serve in sports ministries can learn from this note. Sometimes in explaining the distinctive advantages of our particular brand of ministry, we fall into the trap of sharing the distinctive flaws in the others. Suddenly we’re comparing our ministry with Brand X. “We’re better than them because…” Such marketing strategies are unwise and worse, childish and dishonorable to our Lord. Let’s commit ourselves to the building up of those who are running in our lane. Let’s focus our minds toward the building up of those in our micromovement. With a wise, altruistic attitude toward everyone in ministry, we stand with our Lord who said, “Other sheep have I which are not of this fold.”

As you develop your own micromovement, do these five things and mind these six principles. In doing so, you’ll discover new ways to lead and to engage the hearts of those in your silo movement of ten, your miniature movement of a hundred, your community or even the whole world.