Saturday, April 28, 2012

“Student-athlete”…. Really?

For the last eighteen years I have been working alongside collegiate student-athletes and for many of those years I have heard that designation, “student-athlete,” being disparaged as an oxymoron. National sports media, in particular, daily speak cynically of the nature of college athletes and their scholastic discipline as being at best a total joke and at worst a cruel hoax. I have a few thoughts about their opinions and the nature of collegiate athletics and scholarship.

First, to make a blanket statement about student-athletes as if they were all the same is ludicrous. The national media tend to look at the most high profile and extreme cases and then extrapolate their situations to every student-athlete at every level of sport. This is foolish at best. The gap between the academic requirements of institutions like Duke and Stanford and many other universities, even in their own conferences, is quite broad. The NCAA sets minimum standards for eligibility for scholarships and each college sets its own requirements for admission to the school. Each requirement is meant to help ensure the student-athlete’s chances for academic success. The standards are different, but still stringent for Divisions II and III as well as NAIA institutions. The common expression by such media is that the student-athletes don’t attend class, cheat on exams, have coaches and others who enable them by doing their work or otherwise abuse the system as their gateways to professional sport.

Second, at our university and I would presume at most, the student-athletes’ cumulative grade point average and graduation rate far surpasses that of the general population of students. The caricature of the student-athlete as a lazy, stupid, class-skipping slacker simply doesn’t reflect the truth. To be sure, there are some who see collegiate sport simply as a path to their dream of professional sport. They either adjust to the rigors of the academic requirements or they find themselves out the door, as one head coach likes to say, “With an apple and a road map.”

Third, in my eighteen years of experience, I have been privileged to know a large number of conference All-Academic Team members, Academic All-Americans, 4.0 g.p.a. student-athletes, and several players who completed undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in their five years of collegiate sport. As their sport chaplain, character coach or mentor, it has been my joy to encourage their learning, to challenge their commitment and to fuel their drive for knowledge and wisdom. It has further been an enduring pleasure to witness the growth of many players’ lives in Christ, to counsel couples approaching marriage, to perform their weddings and to hold their newborn babies.

When someone cynically says, “Student-athlete. Really?” I reply with an emphatic, “Yes!”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why do competitors leave their sport?

Why do competitors leave their sports? What are the reasons for the disappearance of people who love sport and have lived in sport for most of their lifetimes? There are a number of factors which lead to the end of one’s sporting career, many of them are listed and discussed below.

One’s eligibility expires – this happens mostly in collegiate sports in the USA. A player has four years of eligibility to compete in college sports across a span of five years. Occasionally an injury or some other issue may extend that to six years but it’s the rare exception. Most competitors can see this coming for at least a year, but some don’t really grasp it until they’re about to compete in the last game or meet of their careers. This factor ends the vast majority of collegiate sportspeople’s competitive sports careers.

Loss of opportunity – this happens in many sports, even to the most talented and host highly achieving, simply due to the lack of professional sports opportunities. There is no professional swimming tour, no pro Greco-Roman wrestling league, nothing beyond the amateur ranks for field hockey, cross country and most other sports. The loss of opportunity leads to the competitor’s withdrawal from daily training, from regular competition and leads many to transition their participation to recreation or to a complete cessation of everything sport related.

Other responsibilities – Family, career and other matters suddenly consume the competitor’s time and priorities. Competitors who had previously trained dozens of hours per week have their lives of practice, conditioning and competition in sport replaced by a similar number of hours devoted to study, preparation, meetings, travel and family time. Their lifestyle in sport is squeezed out by the limited number of hours in a day and a new devotion to other priorities and responsibilities.

One is expelled from sport – this happens more than we’d like to say and for a wide number of reasons. Drug use, violence, academic failure, theft, cheating, poor performance and other matters can lead to the competitor’s ejection from their place in sport. It usually takes a string of bad decisions, many instances of foolish behavior or consistently poor athletic performances for one to be kicked to the curb. Most coaches and most sports organizations seem to give the competitor every opportunity possible to recover and to stay with the team, but in many instances it’s just not enough.

One is injured – the sports landscape is littered with the torn cartilage and strained ligaments of sportspeople. I’ve occasionally been a part of conversations with competitors who have been confronted with the grim reality that their bodies will no longer support their love for the sport and the knowledge that continuing to train and to compete likely jeopardizes their long-term health and mobility. These are painful talks as their passion for the sport and their desire to compete is seldom worn out before their bodies are.

Conflicts with a Coach – sadly this happens all too often. Competitors and their coaches often disagree about playing time, training issues, team rules and even culture issues within a team, organization or club. Occasionally these matters can’t be resolved and a power struggle ensues. More often than not, the coach wins and the competitor finds himself with nowhere to compete. Suddenly, she’s on the outside of sport looking in.

Loss of interest – in eighteen years of working with collegiate athletes in various sports, this happens often among junior and senior sportspeople. After two or three years in the sport at this level, one can see if he or she is able to compete strongly. If so, he or she stays engaged, trains hard and remains committed to the sport, to goals and to the team. If not, it’s very common for the competitor to lose interest, to become more lax related to training, diet, sleep and other disciplines. In some cases the player feels trapped because his or her tuition is covered by a scholarship and to withdraw means the loss of financial aid. Their loss of interest comes at a high price, both emotionally and financially. The loss of interest leads to sport becoming very mundane, passionless and even painful.

Retirement - Whether at age fifteen or fifty, many sportspeople reach the end of their sports careers and finish with joy and satisfaction. This is the best case scenario. Any of the factors listed above can lead to one’s retirement from sport, but if one has the presence of mind and the freedom of heart, he or she can embrace the end of a sporting career with a smile. If one understands that he is not defined solely by his role on the team or his participation in the sport, he can release the sport and move into the next chapter of his life with a clear mind and a contented heart.

As we serve the men and women of sport, we must help them realize that their identity is not to be found solely in their sporting lives. Sport itself and society in general will drive them toward that, but we are responsible to remind them of their identity in Christ Jesus. Before the foundation of the world, He chose them to be His. From the day their birth He was seeking relationship with them. In every moment of their lives, on and off the field of competition, He has been speaking to their hearts. Upon their passing from this life, He will receive them into His presence. The sportsperson’s identity is in Christ, from their earliest experiences with the sport and certainly on the day of their exit from the sporting life. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s be faithful to walk beside those who leave sport, for whatever reason, to love extravagantly, to serve selflessly, to counsel and to remind them of their infinite value in the eyes of our Lord.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pursuing Our Life’s Purpose as Sportspeople

Below is a series of discussions I just completed with student-athletes at our university. They engaged deeply in these discussions and seemed to be genuinely challenged and encouraged. I hope it is of value to you and your ministry.

Pursuing Our Life’s Purpose as Sportspeople

Inductive Bible Study + Discussion of Applications to Life in Sport

Life Purpose and Identity 1 and 2

Pursuing God’s Will – 1 and 2

Pursuing God-Honoring Relationships

Pursuing Fulfillment and Joy

Pursuing God’s Will in Life Transitions

Pursuing Wise Choices

Life Purpose and Identity - 1

Ephesians 1:3-6

 Chosen

 Adopted

 By His will and grace

Ephesians 1:7-14

 Redeemed and forgiven

 Obtained an inheritance

 Believed the Gospel – salvation - sealed

Ephesians 2:1-10

 Were dead in sin

 God mercifully saved us

 We are His workmanship


 Which of the truths above are diminished by our sport performances?

 Which of these truths are enhanced by our sport performances?

 How would a firm grasp on these change your mindset as you train and compete?

Life Purpose and Identity - 2

Romans 5:1

 Justified by faith (declared righteous)

 Have peace with God

 Through Christ

Romans 5:8-9

 God demonstrates His love

 While we were rebellious toward Him

 Christ died for us


 How would knowing that you are “declared righteous” by God affect your self-image following a poor performance?

 How about after a stellar, best-of-your-career performance?

 When do you really feel the peace with God mentioned in Romans 5:1?

 What could happen that would destroy that peace and produce fear, doubt or confusion in your heart?

Pursuing God’s Will – 1 (It’s Real!)

Romans 8:26-32

 How does God lead us toward His will?

 What is stated as being His will for us?

 Who is the primary agent in the fulfillment of His will?

Philippians 1:6

 What is the good work which has begun in us?

 When is it fully accomplished?

Acts 13:36

 When did King David die?

 What was accomplished before his death?

 What was accomplished before his death?

 What could be God’s purposes for our lives?

I Thessalonians 5:24

 Who is faithful?

 Who does the calling?

 Who brings it to pass?


 How much progress do you perceive that you’ve made toward conforming to the image of Christ?

 How is sport involved in the fulfillment of God’s purposes in your life?

 How have you seen God’s faithfulness in His calling on your life in sport?

Pursuing God’s Will – 2 (The Process of Pursuit)

Psalm 37:3-6

 Delight yourself

 Commit yourself

 He does it

Psalm 32:8

 Who instructs and guides?

 Who guides?

 What is our role?

Proverbs 16:3, 16:9, 20:24

 Commit – plans fulfilled

 Plan – direction given

 Direction given – understanding not guaranteed

Jeremiah 29:11

 God’s plans are for: _________?

Jeremiah 33:3

 Call to God and He will ____________?


 What have we discovered as being parts of the process in pursuing God’s will?

 What and who can be helpful in our pursuit of God’s will?

Pursuing God-Honoring Relationships

The Great Commandment - Mark 12:30-31

 Love God – how?

 Love people – how?

 Why not the same standard?

Relationship with God –

John 15:1-5

 Remain (abide) in Christ. How?

John 15:12-15

 What is our relationship to Jesus?


 What does the Spirit do?

John 17:20-23

 For whom is Jesus praying? Where is He?

Relationship with the Church –

Ephesians 4:1-6

 What is Paul’s primary emphasis in these verses?

Ephesians 4:25-29

 What words here describe how we should relate to each other in the Church?

Ephesians 4:30-32

 What are some characteristics listed here for God-honoring relationships in the Church?

Relationship with One’s Family (Parents, Spouse, Children) –

Ephesians 5:21-24

 What does it mean to be subject to one another? (To place oneself in rank under another.)

Ephesians 5:25-33

 Why is the charge given to husbands different from the charge given to wives?

Ephesians 6:1-4

 Have you experienced the promised reward from honoring your father and mother? Tell us about it, either way.

 What do parents do which exasperates their children?

Relationships with Teammates and Friends –

John 13:34-35

 What does Jesus say is the identifying mark of His followers?

I John 4:7-11

 From where do we obtain the ability to love our teammates and friends?

I John 4:19-21

 Tell us about someone who said he or she loved God, but didn’t love his teammates and friends, thus invalidating his or her supposed faith.


 What are the main ideas which characterize all these relationships?

 Which of these relationships do you find to be the easiest in honoring God? Why?

 Which do you find most difficult? Why?

Pursuing Fulfillment and Joy

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

• What are some of the ways the author tried to find fulfillment?

• How successful was he? Why?

Acts 13:36

 What was the nature of fulfillment in King David’s life?

 How is this similar to or different from today’s concept of personal fulfillment?

II Timothy 4:5

 What was the nature of fulfillment which Paul emphasized for Timothy?

 How is this similar to or different from today’s concept of personal fulfillment?

Psalm 16:11

 Where is joy to be found?

 Where is pleasure to be found?

John 15:9-11

 In what are we called to remain?

 How do we remain in Christ’s love?

 How do we obtain His joy and how does our joy become complete?


 What parts of your life in sport provide you with a sense of fulfillment and/or joy?

 How enduring is that sense of fulfillment and/or joy? What limits it?

 What in your life in Christ provides joy and fulfillment?

 How enduring is that sense of fulfillment and joy?

 Is there a way to integrate your life in sport with your life in Christ so as to find joy and fulfillment in both simultaneously? If so, how?

Pursuing God’s Will in Life Transitions

What sorts of transitions have you experienced to date?

 High School to college sport and academics

 Living at home with parents to living more independently in a dorm or an apartment

 Playing for fun to playing to perform

1. What are the transitions in life you anticipate to encounter in the next year or two?

 Competitive sport to retired from sport

 Single to engaged

 Engaged to formerly engaged

 Engaged to married

 Married couple to parents

 College student to career person

 Collegiate sport to professional sport

2. Life transitions in the Bible.

 Jesus’ life transitions:

 Luke 2:46-52

 Luke 3:21-23a

 Luke 4:1-2, 13-15

 Luke 22:14-23

 Luke 23:33-43

 Life transitions in the Song of Solomon:

 Song of Solomon 2:16

 Song of Solomon 6:3

 Song of Solomon 7:10

 Life transitions for the Apostle Paul:

 Acts 20:17-38

 II Timothy 4:6-22

Application: Among the answers shared in our group were these:

 These people did not panic.

 They were not focused on themselves.

 They were mindful to care for others.

Pursuing Wise Choices (You are Free!)

As a percentage, 0 being absolutely petrified and 100 being absolutely liberated, how free do you feel to make decisions?

• Big life decisions re: school, career, relationships, purchases, etc…

• Day to day decisions re: purchases, friends, activities, etc…

• Galatians 5:1 and 13

 You are free from what?

 You are free to what?

• Westminster Shorter Cathecism – “Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

 How would one use this simple idea to assist decision making?

• Romans 8:1-2

 How much condemnation is appropriate for those in Christ?

 If He does not condemn us, who will?

 What’s the difference between condemnation and conviction?

 Who is the author of any condemnation you experience?

 Who is the author of conviction in your heart?

• Romans 6:12-15

 How does our freedom in Christ express itself in our bodies?

 What is the difference between freedom and license?

 Which do we have, absolute license or responsible freedom? What does that look like in your daily life?

• Romans 8:6-17

 How do you hear Christ’s voice in the process of making decisions?

 How do you perceive His guidance? Make a list of ways He leads.

 Which of these do you trust most strongly?

 How do they work together to give our lives guidance?


 Seek God’s will.

 Use your mind. “Jesus died to take away your sins, not your brains.” Cliffe Knectle

 Choose wisely and freely.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pursuing God's Will in Life Transitions

Partners in Ministry,

Earlier this week I led a discussion with a set of collegiate student-athletes regarding “Pursuing God’s Will in Life Transitions.” This is the latest in a series of discussions we’ve been doing related to pursuing God’s will, joy and fulfillment in our lives as sportspeople. After incubating thought on this matter for weeks, I finally arrived at a form for this discussion which was different than all the others. Below is the outline for our discussion. I hope it can be of value to you as you share with competitors or coaches in your circle.

1. What sorts of transitions have you experienced to date?

• Answers included:

 High School to college sport and academics

 Living at home with parents to living more independently in a dorm or an apartment

 Playing for fun to playing to perform

2. What are the transitions in life you anticipate to encounter in the next year or two?

• Answers included:

 Competitive sport to retired from sport

 Single to engaged

 Engaged to formerly engaged

 Engaged to married

 Married couple to parents

 College student to career person

 Collegiate sport to professional sport

3. We read several passages of scripture which demonstrated lives in transition. One set was from the gospel of Luke, another was from Song of Solomon and the last was from The Acts of the Apostles and II Timothy. After reading each set of scriptures, we simply asked them what they perceived to be of importance to the principle figures in each passage. Their answers were insightful and perceptive.

 Jesus’ life transitions:

 Luke 2:46-52

 Luke 3:21-23a

 Luke 4:1-2, 13-15

 Luke 22:14-23

 Luke 23:33-43

 Life transitions in the Song of Solomon:

 Song of Solomon 2:16

 Song of Solomon 6:3

 Song of Solomon 7:10

 Life transitions for the Apostle Paul:

 Acts 20:17-38

 II Timothy 4:6-22

4. Among the answers they shared with our group were these:

 These people did not panic.

 They were not focused on themselves.

 They were mindful to care for others.

Summary: After leading these sorts of studies for decades I continue to be amazed at the transformative power of the Scripture to search the hearts and to inform the minds of people when we simply read it aloud and then ask probing questions of it and of each other. Please join me in my commitment to help the men and women of sport to engage the Scripture, its Author and each other.