Friday, September 30, 2016

Serving Those Near the End of Their Careers

In the lives of every competitor and coach we serve there is one inevitable event, the end of his or her career. At some point, he or she has played the final game, run the final race, swam the last lap, hit the final shot, had the final at bat, inning, quarter, or period of his or her competitive career. While some who compete in sport may go on to be a coach, even that career will run its course and suddenly the weight of that moment is felt again.

Many of those we serve make this transition very well and rather easily. They are usually the ones who derive very little of their personal identity from their sporting life. The ones who are at most risk in this moment are those whose lives in sport fully consume all that they are. Some see the final day coming from a long way off and begin to prepare for it. Others find themselves overwhelmed by the gravity of the moment as they change clothes in the locker room immediately after the final competition.

Across twenty-three seasons of collegiate and professional sport I have witnessed a broad range of emotions in these moments. Some finish with a sigh (as Moses describes in Psalm 90), they are simply spent and are relieved at the finality of their careers. Some finish in a flood of tears as this era of their lives is over and they feel it as grief, though a part of them has died. Others become bitter and look back on their investment of time, energy, emotion, relationships, injury, and pain as a net loss rather than a gain. Still others seem to glide through the day without apparent difficulty, but a couple of weeks later they are stunned at the sudden appearance of free time and leisure.

One of our men’s swimmers from a few years ago shared his thoughts with our FCA group one evening. Although we had been talking about the end of career issues for a couple of years, he said it still hammered his heart and mind after he touched the wall for the final time at the end of his unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the USA Swimming Team for the 2012 Olympic Games. “It’s like I had been writing right handed for my whole life and then suddenly I had to start writing left handed.” That is how he described the depth of the change in lifestyle he experienced.

A coaching friend of mine recently retired due to health concerns. It was the most difficult thing he had ever done as the passion for the game and the daily process was still there, but it appeared it could also kill him. “I’ve never done anything else.” He was looking straight down the barrel of a crippling loss of identity, and wondered who he would be if he didn’t wear the title, “Coach.”

Given the power of this epoch in one’s sporting life and the fact that it will come to everyone at some point, I would like to offer some strategies to help those you serve navigate these turbulent waters safely and successfully.
  • ·        Help them see the end of career issues before they arrive. Ask questions about their plans for post-career life. Talk about family, calling, life purpose, short and long term plans.
  • ·        Encourage them to journal during the last season of their careers and to thereby capture each day’s memories, moments of significance, joy, and sorrow.
  • ·        Ask them to share their stories of career highlights, funny moments, times of joy and fulfillment. Ask about the most significant people and situations in their sporting lives.
  • ·        Discuss how their lives in sport uniquely qualify them to serve, to lead, and to make significant contributions beyond sport.
  • ·        Help them see that they are of infinite value to you, to others, and ultimately to God, in or out of sport.
  • ·        Help them to find their identity in a vibrant, living relationship with Christ Jesus. They are infinitely loved and identified with Christ, even more than as a competitor or coach.

Your presence in walking with them, your wisdom in guiding their approach, and your kindness in understanding their hearts will go a long way in assisting your sporting friends to make the painful transition from sporting life to that of “former coach or competitor.” 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Questions for Contemplation

Coach Joe Ehrmann’s influence in the coaching community of the United States cannot be overstated. Season of Life, by Jeffrey Marx is a book about Joe and his pilgrimage from an abusive past to a transformational present and future of coaching at Gilman School in Baltimore, MD. Joe’s book, InSideOut Coaching, is among the best books on coaching that I’ve ever read. I constantly share its principles and practices with coaches in my sphere of influence.

I’d like to adapt and apply some of the questions Joe uses in training coaches with us today. Joe’s questions are: “Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way that you coach? What does it feel like to be coached by you? How do you define success?” Excellent and probing questions, all.
I would like to have us consider these questions:
1.   Why do you serve as a sports chaplain or character coach?
2.   Why do you serve the way that you do?
3.   What does it feel like to be served by you?
4.   How do you define success?

Take some time to contemplate these questions and to even write down your answers. They can become defining characteristics of your further service.

I would like to make some direct and challenging comments about each question.
1.   Why do you serve as a sports chaplain or character coach? If you are serving as a way of obtaining access to the team, to gain privilege, or to enhance your public profile, you are doing it badly.
2.   Why do you serve the way that you do? If you are serving thoughtlessly, without considering the needs and the preferences of those being served, you can do much better.
3.   What does it feel like to be served by you? If those you serve are feeling manipulated, condemned, or simply annoyed, you should consider changing your approach.
4.   How do you define success? If your measurement for success is attendance at meetings, you may be terribly disappointed. If your measurement is conversions or baptisms, you may become quite manipulative. If your definition of success is more about long term faithfulness than immediate results, you are on the right track.

Please join Coach Ehrmann and me in asking some difficult, probing questions of yourself. Contemplate these ideas to analyze and adjust your service of the men and women of sport toward life transformation and faithful service of Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Earlier this summer I turned sixty years of age. The summer also marked fifty years of my being a disciple of Christ Jesus. On August 1, I began my twenty-third year of serving sportspeople with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Milestones like these make old guys nostalgic, but they also make us reflect upon the changes we have experienced and the development of our lives, in particular, our lives of faith.

One facet of my discipleship that has undergone lots of change is how I pray. From my earliest days of seeing the Lord like a mail carrier picking up requests, to later days of massive prayer lists, to years of emphasis on form or passion, to the more recent days of listening and asking questions, my prayer life has undergone constant change.

Most recently, my prayer life is full of questions like these: What are you saying today? To whom shall I speak today? Where are You leading me? Who are You calling to Yourself? Where are new opportunities to serve? What would please You most? What scripture is most appropriate for this moment?

Whether on the field, court, track, mat, pitch, or the pool deck, pray. At practice, training, on the sideline, in the cheap seats, in the changing room, in the training (physio) room, on the bus, on the plane, in the car, or watching via television or computer, pray. Strongly or weakly, wisely or foolishly, profoundly or mundanely, pray. Get your heart engaged with the Lord Jesus’ heart for the men and women of sport and your capacity to care for them will grow, your understanding of them will be enhanced, and your ability to speak the very words of God to them will be magnified. Pray. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Report from the Inaugural Global Congress on Sport and Christianity

From 24 through 28 August, I participated in the Inaugural Global Congress on Sport and Christianity at York St. John University of York, England. It was an outstanding four days of presentations, discussions, and fellowship among academic professionals, sports ministry practitioners, and others.

Sports Chaplaincy was one of twelve thematic strands in the congress. The sports chaplaincy strand was comprised of four sessions that included: Sports Chaplaincy Trends, Issues, and Debates led by Dr. Andrew Parker. I then made a presentation titled, Global Sports Chaplaincy: A review of the online training program created for basic, yet comprehensive chaplaincy training. Dr. Steven Waller of the University of Tennessee made a presentation titled, Globalization and the credentialing of sports chaplains: Divergent perspectives. Lastly, Anthony Maranise of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee presented, 6 Degrees of Commonality Uniting Sports Chaplains of all Christian Traditions. Each of the presentations were well delivered and received by the large group of men and women in attendance.

There were sports chaplains from the worlds of horse racing, motor racing, rugby, football (soccer), American football, baseball, athletics, basketball, Paralympic sports, and probably a number of others with which I am unfamiliar.

Our sports chaplaincy colleagues were Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, liberal, and conservative, with backgrounds in sport, coaching, psychology, sociology, recreation, theology, and probably other ologies I cannot even spell.

We were among sports ministry colleagues from Athletes in Action, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Christians in Sport, the Vatican, Sports Chaplaincy UK, Sports Ambassadors, and others.

Friday evening’s highlight was a sport themed service in York Minster, a medieval cathedral built across the years of 1220 to 1472. It is a remarkably beautiful structure and the service was very inspirational for all attendees.

My primary interest in this congress was to further the connections between academics who research and write about matters of faith and sport, and practitioners of sports chaplaincy, like us. I believe that we each stand to enhance the others’ work if we simply, regularly, and respectfully work together. I hope to contribute to the work of many of my new colleagues in the world of academia, and I hope to continue to learn from their insightful work, analysis, and contemplative writing. I expect that the implications from this congress will ripple across the years, and its impact with be felt around the globe.

Save the date for the next Global Congress, to be held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan October 23-27, 2019.