Occasionally, we are able to observe directly the fruits of our labor in serving the men and women of sport. One such occasion has been mine recently as I have watched the growth and development of a young man whom I first met as a college baseball player. Nathan Emrick has grown tremendously as a man, competitor, husband, father, and as a coach over the ten years I have known him. The blog post inserted below and linked at the bottom of this page detail much of his pilgrimage and his presently tremendous influence as a coach and teacher at Cobden High School in Southern Illinois.
I hope Nathan’s story is an encouragement to you to continue to serve and to joyfully watch for God to grow your investments.
Kingdom-Minded Coaches Part 2: From Wins First to Hearts First: How Jesus Changed My Coaching Mission
Posted: August 17, 2015 in
The following is a post from Cobden High School volleyball coach, Nathan Emrick. Nathan has been extremely instrumental in shaping countless coaches’ philosophies through his leadership and captain selection programs. More importantly, however, is that he is a man with a heart for seeing the Kingdom expand!
I can remember my first year as a head coach pretty vividly. It was 2009 and I was the Head Coach of the reigning 1A Softball Champion Cobden Appleknockers. We had almost everyone back from the previous year, including our entire pitching staff and infield, as well as some new players coming in that would make us even better than the previous year. Needless to say, I was feeling an immense amount of pressure. I felt so much pressure that I was making the season that should have been so much fun and exciting miserable for my players, my coaches, and especially me. At the time, I was a very new Christian and really wasn’t sure how to deal with all this outside pressure I was feeling.
See, at the time, I was completely focused on wins, championships, and awards. As a former athlete, this is what had been ingrained in me, as it is ingrained in most athletes. You are only as good as the points you score, the batting average you have, the wins you get, and the trophies you collect. As I matured as a Christian and as a coach, I realized all those things were nice, but had no bearing on my life as a disciple of Jesus.
I realized that Jesus did not care if I won a State Championship or went 0-35 on the year. Jesus loved me and died for me because He chose to, not because He had to. I learned through scripture, teaching, prayer, and worship, that Jesus was a man of great authority, yet selfless, loving and a man of great character. He was the only person to walk the Earth without sin, yet chose to seek out those who were considered the worst sinners of his day.
As my walk with Jesus continued to grow, I began to assess myself as a coach. I looked at those I had coached with, against, or just admired what they were doing in their sport. I assessed those that had led me in my short time as a coach and as a Christian. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
I looked at guys that I had strong relationships with like Josh Franklin, Roger Lipe, Shane Garner, but also guys like Joe Ehrmann, John Wooden and Tony Dungy. I found that there is so much more in coaching the heart of your players, than just the physical bodies. I found that by coaching and focusing on the person more than just the player, both my teams and I were becoming closer by building trust, vulnerability, and love.
From this came a shift in my philosophy as a coach. I would no longer base my success on wins and losses. I would base it on the character of my players and how they selflessly respect and care for those around them including themselves. I would begin using Christian principles and values such as “love, serve, and care” as part of who our teams would be. I began focusing on simply planting seeds, knowing that I have no power to save, but I can show my players the Gospel through my actions as well as in individual conversations. I want my players to understand, as Joshua Medcalf, puts it, “their identity is not in what they do, but in who they are.”
Through this culture change, I have seen short term growth in so many of my players. I have seen girls go from being players who were self-seeking, entitled, blame shifters, and lacked all joy in life to girls who are selfless, team first, leaders, who truly love their teammates. I have had the privilege of walking along side of some of them over the last few years, praying for them both intercessory and hands-on prayer. I have been able to speak wisdom into their lives and point them to Jesus as the one who heals, saves, protects and restores.
I do not believe that I can speak to the overall success of this new culture. I feel that I will not be able to see real success in this until these young ladies that I coach are wives, mothers, and professionals in the work force. I will not know success until I see if those seeds that were planted when they were 15 or 16 years old have as Jesus says in Matthew 13:8, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty.” I can only hope and pray that the seeds I plant will help lead them to Jesus one day and he will save them. Until then, I will continue to run the race, putting my players’ hearts first by leading them, praying for them and pointing them to Jesus when the opportunity arises.
Nathan Emrick is currently entering his fourth year as the Head Volleyball Coach at Cobden High School. He was also the Head Softball Coach for five years prior to coaching volleyball.