Just over twelve years ago in Athens, Greece I was chatting with Andrew Wingfield Digby of the United Kingdom about sports chaplaincy and as we wrapped up our conversation, I asked, “Are there any other pointers you would share with sports chaplains?” He looked me in the eye and shook his index finger while saying, “Don’t act like a fan!” I have repeated this advice on five continents since hearing it in 2003.
As I have contemplated Andrew’s statement across the years and have sought to grasp its significance, I have arrived at one value in particular. It is to value process over results in all interactions with people of sport. No matter if it’s a twelve year old baseball player or an eighty-five year old coach, my approach and my conversation is always about process and never about results. Fans only care about results – wins, losses, championships, pay raises, being fired, new contracts, or resignations. To make matters worse, sports media members usually ask the same sorts of results oriented questions, simply broadcasting the same attitude to thousands or millions of listeners, viewers, or readers. The sportspeople are normally either defensive to such conversation or they simply answer in a string of clichés with little to no value or insight.
I prefer to engage sportspeople in terms of process. I ask questions about practice, training, rehab sessions, weight training, player development, personal development of the coaching staff, etc. I ask questions like these: “How pleased are you with this week’s practices? What does your upcoming opponent do well? How do your team match up with them? How are things going for (player’s name)? What about this team pleases you most? Who is leading well on the field/pitch/court/track? How is your team developing?”
I never ask questions like these: “Are you going to win tonight? Are we going all the way this season? Will we be better than last year? Why didn’t you win yesterday? Why are we losing so much? Should I bet on you or against you this weekend? (Obvious, I hope.) Do you think my chapel talk today will lead to a win? Are we going to be champions this season? Who is the best player in your league? Why don’t you win championships anymore? Will we beat __________ (rival team) this year? Is this year’s team as good as the ____ (great team from the past) team?”
Sports fans see everything about sport in the simplest form possible – results. Sportspeople, those engaged in the daily processes of sport, understand their lives are much better understood and experienced in terms of process. We will connect better with them, we will understand them better, we will communicate with their hearts better if we lean into chatting about process and run away from foolish discussion of results.