Friday, December 27, 2013

Here is Joy

The last ten days have been among the most rewarding of my nearly twenty years of serving sportspeople. The annual process of college football coaches being fired and hired included a number of my friends. For most of them, this year has been better than usual. A couple of the personnel changes have been particularly beneficial to some of my coaching friends.
A couple of weeks ago my son sent me a text message informing me that the head coach of his university’s football program had just been relieved of his duties with two years remaining on his contract. He also asked if one of my coaching friends, now a defensive coordinator at a larger program, might have interest in this head coaching position. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but that I’d pass the information along to him. Moments after sending a text message to the coach, he replied asking what I thought of the situation and what my son thought of the job. I replied and connected him with my son. They corresponded and then my son sent me a link to the school’s application site. I sent the link and another comment to my friend and he replied, “Thanks. I will apply tonight.”
A couple of days later the coach called me saying that he had received a call from the school’s athletic director and that he was very impressed. He said that if he had a real chance he’d get another call to appear on campus for an interview. The day he was expecting a call arrived, he received it and scheduled the on campus interview. On the day of the interview the coach called me in a moderate panic. His flight from one part of the USA to another had been delayed five times due to weather and his window for arriving at the campus interview was closing quickly. He asked if my son could get a proposal printed, I assured him he could, and connected them. Later in the evening, proposal in hand, he interviewed with the athletic director and knocked it out of the park. We traded text messages early the next day and he expected to hear if he got the job by the end of the week.
A couple of days later, my wife and I both received a text message from the coach’s wife informing us that he got the job, but we needed to keep things secret until the Dec. 18 press conference at the university. We were thrilled and almost burst from keeping such great news as a secret. My wife, son, and I all made arrangements to be at the press conference and were beaming with pride to see the inauguration of our friend’s next step in his coaching career. More than that, it was the next step in the fulfillment of God’s purposes for his life.
The new head coach was excellent in his press conference, his personality shining in its truest essence and he was very gracious in his remarks about those who had invested in his life. After the completion of the interview, we stayed and waited for the media to finish with him, for other friends and colleagues to visit with him, and then we spent some invaluable face to face time with the coach and his wife.
Our relationship with this coach dates back to 2001 when he arrived with a new staff at our university. The relationship hit a new gear when he asked me after practice one day, “Rog, who’s speaking at chapel tomorrow?” I replied with the person’s name and a little about him, to which the coach replied, “I’m thinking I ought to pray.” I chuckled and said, “Yeah, coach, you ought to pray,” thinking he meant to pray in general. In a couple of seconds I realized that he meant he wanted to pray during the chapel. I hurriedly amended my comments and said, “Oh, you mean tomorrow. I will set you up in a perfect spot. Watch me and I’ll call on you.” He said, “Okay,” and I began to consider the best possible moment for him to take the biggest spiritual risk of his life. I could not let him fail in this moment. Time for chapel rolled along and I queued the coach for his prayer and he nailed it. From that moment I began to nurture what I could see as a growing faith in Christ Jesus.
I began giving him books to read. I formed a Bible study for the coach and included a couple of my dearest friends who happen to be influential businessmen in our community. I encouraged him and his wife to attend an FCA Coaches Camp and they returned transformed as a couple. A few weeks after the camp I had lunch with the coach’s wife. She said, “When he and I got married seven years ago, we thought, ‘If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just get a divorce. No big deal.’ We’re not happy with that anymore.” I said, “What would you like to do?” We then began to discuss and to plan for a marriage vows renewal service for the two. In mid-January, during the recruiting season, the coach’s wife and I had arranged for a chapel just off campus with candles and music she had programmed in her iPod. The coach thought they were going out for a steak, but they came to the chapel. I was waiting in the candlelit chapel and we renewed their vows of marriage, now with the Lord Jesus intimately involved. A few weeks later I was privileged to visit them and their newborn daughter as she was arrived appropriately on Super Bowl Sunday.
We were sad when most of that staff left us in 2007 for a new opportunity, but we were excited for them. We stayed in touch as we could, though separated by 300 miles and even spent some time together at that same FCA Coaches Camp, this time with a toddler. Remarkably, they had become financial supporters of our ministry, and for that I am very thankful. At the end of the 2010 season, this dynamic staff of coaches had yet another opportunity and they took it. The coach and I talked over the phone about whether he should stay or go with the others. We both knew that his ambitions were to be a head coach and we agreed that staying and entering a new network of coaches could be the best avenue to his goals. He took the risk and stayed for another year, just long enough for his own new opportunity to be the defensive coordinator for another team in the same league. He did this excellently for two seasons and that performance made him a great candidate for this new opportunity to become a head coach.
In taking this job he opened the door for one of his long-time friends to join him and we were thrilled to see that. In recent days I also received a call from one of our former players, who played professionally for a while, and later has been coaching at the high school, Division III, and community college levels. A year ago he became the head coach at the community college where he played before joining the team at our university. We correspond often and suddenly he was being considered for the spot at the offensive coordinator for my friend, the new head coach. We discussed the pros and cons at length and I assured him of my prayers. We talked many times prior to and shortly after his on campus interview. Early the next day he called me again saying he was joining the staff with my friend. I am thrilled for the whole crew.
As all that was going on, two of our coaches were also being interviewed for the same head coaching spot at another university. I sent them each the same encouraging text messages, assuring them of God’s favor and wisdom for their careers and families. I spoke to one of them shortly after his on campus interview was completed and as he waited on a flight home. He was thankful for the prayers and assurances. Early the next day we learned of his appointment to the position and today we learned that he’s taking another of our fine, young coaches with him. We are again sad to lose them, but excited to see what the Lord has for them in their new roles.
All of these stories, situations, the excitement of new opportunity, and the grief of losing valued colleagues are testament to the value of long term relationship building and commitment across distance and time. The richness of reward in days like these make the temporary inconveniences and pain of loss seem terribly insignificant. Here is joy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Allies and Opponents to our Ministries

About a week ago I asked you a couple of questions about your greatest allies and opponents in serving sportspeople. The responses from several of you are listed below. I hope they both inform and encourage us as we serve.
1.  Who are among your strongest allies in serving sportspeople?

2.  Who are among your strongest opponents in serving sportspeople?

From Ken Cross of the Sports Chaplains Network - USA

Presently, I am the chaplain for 2 teams so I have two answers, Team A & Team B.

Strongest Allies:

A. Players, after a coaching change, wife

B. Coach, supports staff

Strongest Opponents:

A. Asst. Coaches, a Christian of any kind makes them uncomfortable.

B. a few players that I believe God is wooing.


From Stuart Weir of Verite’ Sport – United Kingdom


1. Athletes
2. Family
3. Administrators
4. Church
No opponents really.

From Richard Gamble of Sports Chaplaincy UK – United Kingdom


·        Competitors (players/athletes) - With Christian athletes we find it very helpful working together as a team in the club environment.

·        Support staff (physios/athletic trainers/equipment mgrs., etc.) - Physios are always a great gatekeeper and can flag up players that are in need.

·        Families of coaches or competitors - I have found building good relationships with an athlete’s family often then causes the athlete to open up to you also.


·        Administrators – I have found these to be the most negative, perhaps because they come from a different generation or that they struggle with the access you have to elite players.

From Russ Talley – chaplain to Northern Illinois University Football – USA


·        Coaches - Very important.  It is the head coach's program.  Without his placing value on the ministry, there would be none.  I have been blessed to serve two head coaches who both have granted unlimited access to the team.

·        Competitors (players/athletes) - Crucial.  These are the focus of the ministry.  The athletes are influenced by their peers, so the reputation here is important.

·        Pastors - Very important for prayer and advice.

·        Your family - The most important!  My wife and children support me with prayer.  This ministry takes precious time away from them.  Their understanding and support for all the time spent ministering to the team is crucial.


·        None listed

From Kevin Anundson at Southwest Minnesota State University - USA


·        Our strongest allies are coaches, administrators and the athletes.  From the University president to the janitors, we’re made to feel welcome and appreciated.

·        It’s a wonderful season that we have enjoyed, but do not take for granted and praise God for the doors he has opened and continued to keep open.

·        Our church this year chose to give us financial support (we feed a crowd weekly) just like they do for 4 international missionaries.  We’re also regularly prayed for at our church’s Wednesday night prayer meetings and our two elders recognize and extend appreciation to Karla and me.

From Edgardo Gamboa - Sport Ministry-Score Int. Costa Rica


Coaches are my strongest allies because they open the doors to the Sport program where they Coach and this allows you to access their players and facilities.

The strongest opponents sometimes are not people but lack of materials and human resources.  We need materials to give to the Coaches and players and many times funding to invest in the lives of Coaches. For example to invite them for a coffee or lunch, where you may present the Gospel or disciple them.  The human resources are very important because you cannot follow up everyone and to reach everyone; therefore you need a team of co-workers and volunteers to help you in the task to serve Sport people.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reprise - "I got fired yesterday."

In light of the now sixty-four Head Coaching changes in college football (American Football) in the USA, sixty-four to date with possibly more to come, below is a reprise of an article which I ran a couple of years ago in this space. I hope it informs our hearts as to the issues related to the scores of coaches who suddenly find themselves looking for jobs and the families whose security has been compromised.

I recently received a phone call from a coaching friend who had just been fired. Our lengthy conversation was full of pain, disappointment, frustration and feelings of betrayal. I was helpless to do anything except to listen, to care and to assure him that God knew and cared about his situation.

My friend felt the pain of loss. His team had won only four games on the season. He had invested hundreds of working hours and thousands of miles of driving to practices and games for a meager annual salary. He felt the pain of loss in his wallet and in his heart.

He had a sense of betrayal in that the administrators had earlier assured him that he was doing the right things to build the program and that he was on the right track. To now hear that they “want to go in another direction” left him feeling abandoned and betrayed. The fact that a couple of players had accused him of intimidating them, without ever expressing anything like that to him, led to further feelings of betrayal.

He felt deeply disappointed that he had failed to accomplish the turnaround in the program he had envisioned. He was disappointed that the values he had been building into the program were not valued as much as the winning percentage.

The coach felt shame because he was losing his job and had no immediate prospects for a new one. The administration also asked him to have no contact with the players and that led to a greater sense of shame because he values the relationships and investment of years in the players. The dismissal struck him directly in the heart.

He was indignant that the team’s accomplishments in academics, recruiting, and individual achievement were undervalued. He was angry with the cavalier attitudes of those in power over him, the program and the players. All of them seemed to be treated unjustly by the administration.

Lastly, he was shocked by the firing. He had no indications that anything like this was likely to occur. He had just done post-season interviews with each player and heard nothing to indicate their feelings of intimidation. The administrators had been positive and encouraging in their most recent conversations with the coach.

Feelings of shock, anger, shame, disappointment, betrayal and pain all mixed together made for a tough phone conversation. He said that he had been trying to pray about the situation, but felt paralyzed. He couldn’t even pray. He wondered if the Lord cared about any of these things. I assured him that these things did not happen behind the Lord’s back and that He surely cared deeply about him, his players and his work. We prayed together on the phone and we asked the Lord for His grace to deal with all this situation has brought about. We prayed for the future and for the Lord’s purposes to be accomplished in the coach’s life as well in the lives of the players he’s leaving as well as in the administrators who made the decision.

It is in moments like these that I most often feel terribly inadequate as a Sport Chaplain. Everything in me wants to fix the problem. I cannot. My inadequacy leads me to turn to the ever-listening ear of the Savior for comfort and counsel. Let’s take the risk to be woefully inadequate and carry our friends’ cares, pain and frustration to the One who cares for us. (I Peter 5:7)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Reprise - Coaching Staff Transitions

During this time of year there is an onslaught of coaching changes, primarily in college football (American Football). As of this morning, there have been twenty-one changes in head coaching positions, just at Division I. Multiply each of those by 10 to 12 to reflect the impact upon their staffs and multiply those numbers by the members of their families and one suddenly has a feel of the impact of such changes.
Below is an article I first wrote in 2007 related to coaching staff changes and how we can best navigate these turbulent waters while seeking to serve wisely and in ways that reflect Christ Jesus’ heart. I hope it is of value to you.
Coaching Staff Transitions

Through my many years of service as a sport chaplain with college football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and other teams, I’ve endured several staff transitions.  Some were due to resignations to take new opportunities and some due to firings.  Either way, they’re not easy do deal with for the staff or the chaplain.  Below are some simple thoughts on how to make the transition and to maintain your relationship with the new coaching staff, the support staff and the players.

Related to the outgoing staff:

·        If the staff was fired, understand that this feels like failure and a lot like death to them.

·        Help the coaches to see this situation within the sovereignty of God.  The Lord is not surprised by this.

·        Understand that the transition is probably harder on the coach’s family than on the coach.

·        Be available to them.  They may not want much company, but if they welcome your presence, be there.

·        Be prepared for the termination of some relationships.  Some relationships will live beyond their tenure with your team, but others will cut off all ties to this place and you could be cut off as well.  

·        Communicate respect and thankfulness for their time with your team as well as hope for their future. 

·        Assure them of your prayers and availability to serve.

·        Written communication is very good and can be an enduring encouragement to them.  Send a card, an email and/or periodic text messages to stay in touch with them.

Related to the incoming staff:

·        Pray for favor with the athletic administration and the new head coach.

·        When a new head coach is announced, send a letter of congratulations immediately (keep it to one page).

·        When the coach is settled into the office, get an appointment to welcome him/her and to offer your assistance. 

·        Bring a gift (a book) that is reflective of your desired relationship with the coaching staff and team.

·        A wise attitude is reflected in offering to do, “as much or as little as the head coach believes appropriate.”

·        When discussing a role with the team one can reference his/her role with past coaching staffs, but don’t lock into those methods or activities exclusively.  

·        Let the coach paint the parameters for your role and work to build trust and credibility from there.

·        It is always wise to offer to serve with no strings attached.  Guard your attitude from presumption.

·        Come prepared to discern the coach’s perception of his/her, the staff and the team’s needs.