One of the values I learned from my mentor, Fred Bishop, is to maintain long-term relationships, even across the globe and for decades. He did it by making long trips by car and by writing post cards by hand. He has since graduated to email and social media. I have marveled at the way he was able to stay in touch with people, to pray for them, to encourage them, and to be encouraged by their development as men and women who love Christ Jesus. Below are the ways I have found to do this and the results I receive.
I maintain relationships with former players (college football, basketball, baseball, softball, professional baseball) via a number of channels:
· Email – I have near 900 people on my weekly devotion list and send them out each Monday morning.
· Text messages – I send a daily verse from the Proverbs to baseball players who have come through our club.
· Social media – I employ both Twitter and Facebook, with a strategic approach, in maintaining contact with players from the past. On Twitter, I post links to our daily devotional site, in English and in Spanish. I also tweet or retweet items I believe could be of interest to those in my Twitter network of 1,300+.
· Face to face meetings – Collegiate sports programs have occasional events like homecoming that welcome former players back to the university and these are perfect for reconnecting with players from past years. These face to face meetings deepen the relationships that can be further maintained at a distance.
I stay connected with coaches in similar ways:
· Email – many coaches who have come through our university are also on my Monday devotion list.
· Text messages – During the college football season, I send messages to dozens of coaches for whom I have numbers. I send a prayer, an encouragement, a scripture, a congratulatory note for a big win, or a conciliatory note after a bitter defeat. I always aim to encourage and to inspire.
· Social media – A number of the coaches from our network also follow us on social media.
· Face to face meetings – The American Football Coaches Association holds an annual convention and I have attended it each year since 2005. I attend not because I am a football coach, but because thousands of them are there. Rather than chasing all over the USA to see them, I can meet them at this event and reconnect very well. There is a similar event in Champaign, Illinois for high school football coaches and there are doubtless similar events for coaches of most other sports. Find a way to get there and to engage the coaches.
I stay in touch with sports chaplains around the nation and the world as well:
· Email – this weekly email is my primary attempt to share what I am learning and often the excellent strategies, methods, and ideas of others.
· Text messages – I have a group of numbers in my phone that are for college and high school football chaplains. I text message these weekly with scripture, prayer, and/or encouragement. I will also send individuals a text message related to particular situations, crises, or opportunities. I also use text messages to promote monthly conference calls for sports chaplains and character coaches.
· Social media – I promote the monthly sports chaplain conference calls via Twitter, and each one is automatically repeated on Facebook.
· Face to face meetings – Events like the PowerUp Sports Ministry conferences, FCA’s annual Sports Chaplains Conference, the AFCA convention (for American Football), and other events are excellent opportunities to see a number of our colleagues, to share a cup of coffee, a meal, and to compare notes.
I firmly believe that the Lord puts people in our lives for specific purposes and that our responsibility to Him for them does not end simply because their career paths have led them away from our communities. Especially now, when our communities can be held in our hands, electronically, via our smart phones. We can maintain influential, redemptive relationships with countless individuals by very simple and time efficient methods. Please join me in extending the Lord Jesus’ love, encouragement, challenge, and instruction by any and every means at your hand.