Across these last twenty years of ministry in sport, I have had opportunities to serve both men and women. While there are many similarities in my approach, there are some major distinctions as well. I have had over twenty seasons of serving a men’s college football (American Football) team, college and professional Baseball for several seasons, and less formal relationships with individual male competitors. I have also served a Women’s Basketball team for almost twenty seasons, a Women’s Volleyball team, and individual female competitors in Swimming, Diving, and Softball. Let’s think together about some ways of serving well across gender lines.
Set wise parameters for your ministry across gender lines. In my ministry with men, as I am granted access to offices, changing (locker) rooms, and such, I feel free to go with few restrictions and no anxiety. In my ministry with women’s teams, I am much more conscious of boundaries. When invited into a female coach’s office to talk, I do not close the door. I don’t walk into the locker rooms, when invited, until someone tells me everyone is dressed. I do not give young women rides home from ministry meetings. I keep our interactions from becoming overly familiar. As relationships build, I am sometimes greeted with a hug, but I am sure to keep them from becoming too intimate. I am careful about the nature of our discussions. I meet with female coaches in public places, never at my home or my office. Setting wise parameters can help keep the relationships on the proper plane and avoid foolish affections.
Wisely define relationships with those you are serving. In the first season of serving a Women’s Basketball team, twenty years ago, I was very confused at first. I did not know how to properly to relate to the coaches or the players. I grew up with no sisters, my only child is my son, and I had been married to my wife for nineteen years at that point. I knew how to flirt with women, but was pretty sure that wasn’t the right thing to do. I had to figure out how to relate to these people. In reading I and II Timothy I understood the instruction he was given to treat the older women as mothers and the younger ones as sisters. I began to see the coaching staff as sisters and the players like daughters. I had to learn from my friends about how to relate to sisters and daughters, but figured it out. This resulted in a great deal of freedom and a greater sense of ease among them. Defining these relationships in this way helped me to view them properly and to care for them appropriately. It also enabled me to be a “surrogate father” to young women who are often competing in sport, being primarily motivated to please their fathers.
While many in our profession will insist there is no proper way to serve across gender lines, I have found that it is possible to serve well, if one sets proper parameters and wisely defines relationships with those he or she is serving. Whether serving men or women, within your gender or with the opposite gender, let’s commit to serve selflessly and to love extravagantly. It’s really hard to fail when those are our guiding principles.