Across my twenty seasons of serving the men and women of sport at our university, in area high schools, and with a minor league baseball team, I have noticed the relatively brief tenures of others who have served in similar roles. I believe there are a number of factors that have led to the brevity of their service. Some of those are listed below as challenges to long-term success as a sport chaplain, character coach, or sport mentors.
Undue urgency – some of us, especially those who are gifted as evangelists or are driven by numerical expectations, may let our sense of urgency for the Gospel override the depth of our relationships with those we serve. When that happens, coaches and competitors begin to avoid us, actively resist us, or find a way for us to leave the team. Beware an overly urgent approach with people, they will feel manipulated and will believe you’re simply using them to accomplish your personal goals.
A utilitarian attitude – this attitude is exemplified by the sport chaplain who tolerates the process of sport; practice, training, study, travel, relationships, and competition, but is committed to delivering his talk. Coaches and competitors smell this attitude like a road kill skunk. They readily perceive that the character coach so motivated is simply using them and it fosters distrust and a superficial relationship. We must move beyond tolerance and fully embrace the whole process of sport if we’re to ever win the trust and the hearts of those we serve.
Personnel changes – in most every sport there is a continual process of change. The coaching staff, the player roster, even the administrative and support staff seems to change constantly. If we fail to build relationships with the newest members of the team or become too nostalgic about those from past years, we stand to find ourselves relationally adrift with no connection to those presently at hand to be served. Ride the occasionally rough surf of personnel changes among your teams and connect as quickly and deeply as possible, even when your friends get fired, traded or waived.
Inflexibility – some of us find ourselves on the outside looking in simply because we will not adapt to new situations. This happens all the time as one coaching staff goes out and another comes in. While we may have had a great relationship with the previous coaching staff, the new one doesn’t even know our name and may not even like our ministry. If we’re too tightly committed to our way of serving with the previous staff and communicate an inflexibility related to changing methods or strategies, it could alienate the new staff and we have no avenue of service at all. Rather than committing to methods and strategies, let’s commit to principles of service and to people.
Entitlement – this pervasive attitude in our culture (especially in the USA) is a blight upon Christian ministry. If we project the attitude that we are owed something, are due a title, deserve a position with a team, or are entitled to privileges with a sports team, we will find ourselves becoming repulsive to the very ones we seek to serve. Rather that acting like we deserve something, let’s seek to earn the trust and develop the relationships which lead to privileges properly received.
I am sure that if we each deal wisely with these challenges to long-term success, we can develop wise, dynamic, and powerful ministries with men and women in sport for years and even decades.