Friday, November 28, 2014

Ministry in Athletics (Track and Field): an Evaluation

Over the twenty years I have been privileged to serve as a sports chaplain, I have gained greatly from my colleagues in the USA and abroad. Among those who have contributed most greatly to my service has been Stuart Weir, of Verite Sport ( in the United Kingdom. Stuart is a dear friend and a trusted colleague. His unique approach to chaplaincy in Athletics (Track and Field for the Yankees), is effective and fruitful.

Stuart recently wrote an evaluation of this ministry which is very insightful and inspirational. It is included below. I hope his ministry inspires you as it does me.

Athletics ministry: evaluation of a model Version2


I have been operating as an unofficial chaplain to track and field athletics for the past five years. In this paper I attempt to analyse what I do, partly using the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) tool. I am interested in exploring whether this is solely an individual approach or if the methodology would have wider application. I never planned to be in athletics chaplain. It started almost by accident – when someone introduced me to an athlete - and has developed gradually.


My purpose is to encourage Christians in elite athletics in their faith. I am trying to add 5% to an athlete's Christian life by a little input when I meet them at events.

What I do

In 2013 and again in 2014 I attended 14 athletics events - as well as meeting a number of athletes at their training centre on occasions. This is supplemented with emails, texts and phone calls. 

Most people who do sports chaplaincy in a single sport use a chapel or Bible Study model.  While I have led an athletes’ Bible Study and have read the Bible 1-2-1 with athletes, my model is more based on prayer.  I have prayed with far more athletes than I have read the Bible with.  In addition I pray for athletes – daily – and they know that I do.


I have led a formal chapel type service for team GB three times – twice at the World Indoor Athletics Championships which conveniently runs all day Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon – leaving Sunday morning free and the 2014 European Championships.     In 2014 the meeting was semi-official in the sense that the GB team management was aware and allowed us to use the team room. (When GB’s top athlete clearly identifies herself with the event, it certainly makes asking management a lot easier!) 

In both cases I only invited GB athletes – first time the GB athletes wanted to do it just themselves.  In 2014 I would have invited others but the logistics – athletes in 6 different hotels - ruled it out. There is also the tricky issue of whether athletes want to meet their opponents on the morning of their race.

In addition in 2014 I led Bible Studies at three Diamond League events in 2014 with 4-12 athletes attending. This is logistically difficult but seems to work.


There is no set pattern.  Sometimes athletes ask me to pray for them before a race.  One athlete always wants to meet for prayer before each race when we are both at the same event. At the World Indoors, one athlete asked me to pray with her before and after each race. Often it just happens as I chat to an athlete.  I make it known that I am there and available to pray but also try to avoid two pitfalls.  Prayer becoming a superstition – I have a prayer I will win! And prayer for my benefit, to boost my stats and justify my presence.

Target group

The target group is elite athletes - those who are good enough to get into Diamond Leagues, World Championships etc - who are Christians or who have expressed an interest - from whatever country. I am currently in touch with athletes from Britain, Croatia, Romania, USA, Jamaica, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and New Zealand. Unlike a club chaplain I am not seeking to minister to (or evangelise) everyone in the GB team or event.  I am focusing on supporting Christians.  In addition I am developing relationships with administrators.


My accreditation is normally media. By writing for the Oxford Mail and other publications I am now established as an athletics writer and am, more or less automatically, accredited for any athletics event. The accreditation gives me access to athletes in team hotels, possibly in championship villages and always in a mixed zone at the end of competition. I have never sought a chaplaincy accreditation as I feel that mixing media and chaplaincy accreditations risks confusing athletes and administrators.

While I have no official recognition of the ministry, British Athletics know what I do and are comfortable with it - at times very encouraging. Officials have said to me that they see that athletes appreciate me and therefore they feel what I do is positive.

In addition I meet UK athletes at training centres where no accreditation is needed.

Case study 1 - world Championships 2013

A major championship lasts up to 8 days. A Diamond league is normally in one evening event, although athletes may be in the hotel for three days. What I actually do varies greatly according to the nature of the event - its length, the ease of access to athletes etc

In August 2013 I attended the World Athletics Championships in Moscow where I knew 34 athletes.  This is what I did at that event; I would say that I did six different things:

1 prayed for the 34 athletes and told them that I was praying for them;
2 I do a weekly devotion - a Bible verse applied to sport. In Moscow I did a daily devotion which I emailed to the 34 athletes, or to all whose email addresses I had.
3 when appropriate I prayed with athletes.
4 I kept in touch by text and personal email.
5 because of my journalistic accreditation I have access to the mixed zone [where athletes meet press after a race] and spoke to more than 20 athletes after they finished races.
6 I spent hours sitting around in hotel lobbies for the opportunity to snatch a quick word or prayer or greeting with an athlete.

Case study 2 – Olympics 2012

In 2012 I served as the Togo Olympic Attaché – at their invitation.  I did odd jobs for the Togo Olympic Committee in exchange for which I got an accreditation with gave me access to the Olympic Village, athlete dining and athlete transport plus the athletics warm-up area.

Because there were official chaplains and chapel services, I did not offer any Bible Studies during the Olympics but prayed with over 20 different athletes, on several occasions with certain athletes.  Occasionally these were pre-arranged but mainly chance meetings because I had access to where the athletes were.

This was a really productive time for two reasons: I knew a significant number of athletes in advance and I had easy access to where they were.

Model evaluation (SWOT)


The strength of what I do is that I attend enough events to be an accepted part of the entourage.  I know enough athletes that I always have someone to talk to.  Sufficient athletes seem to appreciate my presence to make it work. The advantage of a media accreditation is that it gives me a reason to be at an event and access to athletes. There is always media accreditation at an event, while there is not always chaplaincy – nor Olympic Attaches.

While my priority is to minister to athletes, I do the journalism with integrity. In 2014 I wrote for Oxford Mail at seven events and interviewed athletes or worked for 2K+ radio at most of the others.  Thus I could not really be accused of using a media accreditation as a flag of convenience.

The positive attitude of British Athletics to me is a great help.


I am not sure I see any weaknesses but there are certainly challenges.  The challenges may relate more to the nature of the ministry than the model.

The nature of the ministry makes it hard to evaluate what one is achieving.  If you go an event to do a chapel/Bible Study then if it happens and athletes come, you have achieved your goal.  So much of my work is a prayer here, a word of encouragement there, that it is easy to feel that you have been there all day and achieved nothing.

It can be a very lonely existence as you are at the events but not part of it.  You are always at outsider, occasionally allowed in briefly. 

Much of my time is spent sitting in hotel lobbies.  There is the challenge of knowing when to stay and when to go. Am I in danger of outstaying my welcome?  Even appearing like a groupie?


It is an immense privilege to be allowed into someone’s life and to be part of their support team as they represent Jesus in elite sport.  Being at a lot of events creates a consistency of ministry.  People expect me to be there.


I see three possible threats.  There is certainly a potential conflict of interest between being a journalist and being in a pastoral/chaplaincy role. I feel that I manage that well. As long as athletes understand who I am and what I do, there isn’t a problem.  I say to athletes as I get to know them, if I have my recorder in hand, anything they say may be used but otherwise anything said to me is confidential. Athletes seem to understand and be comfortable with that distinction. I could honestly say that in my five years of doing this I have only once made a significant error in this area.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Christian athletes are female represents a certain challenge but as I meet people in public places and am not seeking to conduct a deep pastoral discipleship ministry, it seems to work OK.  Because of my age, I am seen as an “uncle” or perhaps grandfather! I am developing a partnership with Julia Wilkinson at Christians in Sport which helps significantly in this area.

Because the work is lonely and because one may be anxious to feel that one is doing enough to justify being there, there is the danger of wanting to minister to athletes for one’s own benefit, not theirs.  That is the need to do a Bible study or pray with athletes to boost my statistics - so that the athletes are effectively ministering to me.


It is an obvious question – what happens when I become more senile. Some have suggested that I look for a possible successor to mentor into the role.  Just not sure that is feasible.  The partnership with Julia Wilkinson certainly helps. Because my primary accreditation is media, anyone working with me would need to have to media accreditation too.  That is they would need to need to have a media outlet in order to get the accreditation as well as the desire to serve the athletes.  Just can’t see how I could make that happen


I recognize that this is very individualistic model which would only work for someone with journalistic skills as well as a desire to serve pastorally.  In my first draft I wrote “it is not a very reproducible model.  However, it is one which works for me”. People who commented on the first draft suggested that it might be more reproducible than I was recognizing. I know of one person who is taking a coaching qualification, partly as a means of being with athletes.  One of European golf tour “chaplains” has a job on the tour which involves standing for hours in the area which players practise.

26 November 2014

Version 2

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