Thursday, February 23, 2017

College Football Calendar of Ministry Opportunities

During a recent conversation with a colleague who is serving a Division I college football program (American Football), he remarked that some of the important dates, seasons, and opportunities associated with college football were a complete mystery to him. After 23 seasons, I have taken for granted much of that information and the ministry opportunities associated with them.

Below, please take a few moments to consider which of these seasonal opportunities may be yours as well as mine. These are from my perspective as a Division I FCS program, and could be moderately different if you are at a Division I FBS school, Division II, Division III, or an NAIA school. I hope these thought raise some new opportunities to serve for you.

January –
·        This is a pressure packed month for recruiting as coaches are both in players’ homes and welcoming them and their families to campus.
·        During the week of the Division I national championship, the American Football Coaches Association hosts their annual convention. This is an excellent place to connect with coaches from all across the USA and even abroad.
·        There are also some Glazier Clinics held during January, also a great place to interact with coaches. For dates and locations of clinics, see -
February –
·        The NCAA letter of intent signing date is always the first Wednesday of February. This is even better than Christmas Day for coaches as they see years of recruiting come to fruition as their fax machines buzz with completed forms.
·        This month and the weeks prior to spring football practices make for a good time to meet with coaches, to plan for the spring, summer, and even fall.
·        These weeks can also be a good time to interject a weekly discussion on leadership or a Bible study. If you offer it, this may be the perfect time to start such a ministry with the coaching staff.
·        This period may also be a good time to meet with the aspiring team leaders to help them prepare for their roles of leadership.
March –
·        At some point, Division I and II have spring football practices. Division I gets 15 practices, and I believe Division II gets a few less.
·        To be at these practices, even for just a few minutes, pays huge dividends. Everyone knows there are no games on spring Saturdays. When they see you at practice, they know it’s neither glamorous nor convenient, but it speaks to your commitment to them.
April – May -
·        Most teams will have a spring game of some sort. That may be similar to a real game with the team broken into two halves, or it could be a scripted scrimmage with lots of prescribed down and distance, game situations, and engineered stressful moments laid out ahead of time.
·        April and early May is also a time when coaches can go on the road to observe high school junior players in the recruiting process. Rules severely limit the contact they can have, but this is often when players are given invitations to summer camps on the school’s campus so the coaches can get first-hand information, reliable times and measurements, and a look into the player’s personality.
·        Being available to simply drop in on coaches and to ask them about family, travel, their summer plans, or the players’ academic performance is a solid way to build relationship in this season.
June – July –
·        This is summer camps season and most teams will host numerous camps. Camps provide a great environment for ministry, mostly as we show up, serve, and build relationships with the coaches hosting the events as well as the coaches attending with their players.
o   Individual camps – these are for assessment of players in their recruiting process.
o   Team camps – these vary from state to state, but usually allow whole teams to compete in full pads.
o   Elite camps – these will usually focus on a particular position group and are usually by invitation only.
o   7 on 7 tournaments – these are focused on the passing game of football and usually run one day.
·        Last summer, I started meeting with our five team captains at my home on Wednesday mornings to prepare them for leading their teammates.
August –
·        This is GO TIME! Months of planning and preparation have gone into the preseason process and coaches work well over 16 hours a day during this season between early August and the start of school.
·        The preseason is a wonderful environment for ministry as the players are sequestered from normal life, they spend all day and all evening together, and if you are allowed to be at practices, team meetings, or team meals, get there! Being with them in these days, even without anything programmatic happening, builds your bond with them like nothing else.
·        Over the years I have done many Sunday morning, 6:00 chapel talks on the 50 yard line prior to a team stretch. I have done team building exercises with our teams for nearly 15 years. I have eaten countless team breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with players and coaches.
·        Once school starts, things find a more normal rhythm and the NCAA twenty hour rule takes effect. The coaches are limited as to the time they can spend with the players. This also gives us opportunity as we are not limited by the rule and we can enhance the coaches’ roles by leading, encouraging, serving, and loving the players.
September through November –
·        This is the regular season of college football. Its weekly schedule is similar to this (some will vary slightly):
o   Sunday us usually an off day for the players or the coaches may have them come in to lift weights and stretch as well as watch video of the last game. The coaches grind on this day, reviewing video of the last game, grading player performances, watching video of the next opponent, and more.
o   Monday is either an off day or a return to practice. The coaches are usually now working on game plan for the next opponent on Saturday. Monday practices are often a return to fundamentals and skill enhancement drills.
o   Tuesday is normally the day to install particular elements of the upcoming game plan. They will drill these until they are in synch. There is also a lot of video review to be done by the players with their coaches.
o   Wednesday and Thursday are for practice and preparation of this week’s points of emphasis.
o   Friday is either a walk through (at home), or travel to the site of Saturday’s game, or both. Many teams hold their team chapel on Friday nights in the team hotel, before or after the team dinner.
o   Saturday – game day. The timing varies widely, depending upon time for the kickoff, but some teams will hold their team chapel prior to or following the team’s pregame meal. Some teams will hold a Protestant chapel on Friday night and a Roman Catholic mass on Saturday. This day is full of ministry opportunity simply because of the pressure it contains and the significance of each play. Everyone feels the urgency and the pressure to succeed, including the chaplain.
·        Many programs will hold a team banquet where they will wrap up the season, give team awards, and say goodbye to the senior players. This affords one opportunities to serve at the banquet, to say goodbye to senior players, and otherwise to wrap up the season.
Late November through December –
·        This begins the post-season part of the year.
o   That could mean a bowl game. If Division I FBS teams win six games they are bowl eligible and could be chosen for a bowl game. If so, that means more practices and that’s what the coaches value. It means another game, that’s what the players value. It could mean a warm weather destination, that’s what the fans value. It usually means a good amount of cash, that’s what the school administrators value.
o   If in Division I FCS, Division II, Division III, or NAIA the post-season could mean a playoff bid. These divisions play a tournament to determine a national champion. This simply extends the opportunities for the chaplain by 1, 2, 3, or even 4 weeks.
·        This is also often the most painful part of the year as coaches are fired, leave of their own volition for other opportunities, and uproot their families for their next coaching spot. Relationships are broken, feelings are bruised, loyalty is challenged, and many other relational issues bring opportunity to our door. We must be possessed of tremendous emotional intelligence to navigate these stormy waters wisely and well.
·        These months also intensify the recruiting process as coaches will be on the road making home visits, scheduling campus visits, and otherwise connecting with players for their programs’ future. Thankfully, NCAA rules require that they stop recruiting for some holiday time with family, otherwise some would surely be making calls to players on Christmas morning.

There it is, a thumbnail sketch of a college football calendar with some notes for ministry opportunities. Please take time to study your program’s schedule, feel its pulse, smell its culture, live in its rhythm. Your heart will awaken you to the opportunities to serve as you hear the Savior whisper in your ear, “This is the way, walk in it.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Former Coach" or "Former Competitor"

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.” 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Swimmer's Reflection

Occasionally we are privileged to be allowed inside the minds and hearts of those we serve. Many of our friends in the sporting community are quite reserved with their thoughts, their feelings of insecurity, their worries, and especially with their fears. That’s why it is so remarkable when we come across a candid and even vulnerable expression of the heart. I recently was able to get a glimpse into the heart of a twenty year old young lady who is a swimmer at our university. Her excellence in the pool, in the classroom, and in the community is evident to all, but I have been watching her faith grow over the last year or so.

The paragraphs below are from a social media post she made just a few days ago. It is in expressions like this one that the significance of our ministry is seen. More than with celebratory selfies after winning a championship that simply allow us to revel in the reflected light of athletes’ success. These moments unveil the normally hidden hearts of sportspeople and point to the significance to be found in quiet, behind the scenes conversations, study, prayer, and community. I hope this young lady’s faithful reflection on her life in sport is both a challenge and an encouragement to you.

In the past few months I've had some life changing events occur. I'm not really sure why I am sharing it on social media but something is willing me to do so. 

Maybe it's my way of "talking it out". I'll warn you there is religious references in there. That is not to push my faith on anyone but as I am telling my story from my viewpoint this is how I best see it. This is pretty lengthy and I apologize, I've never really been good at summarizing ha-ha. Anyways, enjoy! 

It’s 11:48...p.m. I have a very overwhelming lab practical tomorrow at 9a.m. You know the kind where you feel you will walk in and forget everything because there’s too much to remember. So why am I still up? I have this shooting pain that goes from my hip all the way down to my toes. The kind that makes your eyelids scrunch up even when they are closed. I guess this was kind of my fault. I stood on it for the past 3 hours pretty much. Sad isn’t it? I can’t cheer on our basketball team with my swim team, get all crazy, dressed half naked and chanting, showing school spirit without being in agonizing pain after. Sorry, let me explain, I feel like I’ve told my story to so many people, I don’t want to tell it anymore, but here is the shortened version. 

On New Year’s Eve, I was diagnosed with a DVT which is a blood clot that takes up ⅔ of my right leg as well as a few superficial clots. They found this through an MRI that was to figure out what a lump on the back of my knee was.[Okay, side note, I was admitted into the hospital and they gave me an IV. Now, I am not a fan of needles. They are always associated with some sort of pain. To calm my nerves the nurse administering the IV comforted me by saying, this is the only stick. Just one and the IV is basically a one stop shop so they can do everything through there. If they need to take blood they won’t have to re stick you. Let me tell you, that IV HURT. I thought though, it’s over no need to worry. So when another nurse came to my room to draw blood for some tests, I raised up my arm with the IV to give it to her and her response? “Oh good you're IV is on that arm I need your other arm please.” Are you kidding, another needle? Not to mention I was getting injections of blood thinners through my abdomen. So then morning comes and they need to take more blood. I expected it this time and sure enough they’re stick me. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. The nurse comes back in about 5 minutes later and says, “I’m sorry, we forgot one. I’ll need to stick you again.” REALLY? Of course you forgot one! It was literally a needle haters worse nightmare.] Okay, back to my story,  

New Year’s marked the day that the sport I loved was taken away from me. I can’t swim until the clot is gone. They estimated that will take around 3 months. I will not get to swim in my Junior Year Conference Meet. I will not get the opportunity to score for my team. I will not get the opportunity to defend my 200 freestyle record. I will not get the chance to defend the 800 freestyle relay, or try and take back the 400 freestyle relay if I were chosen to be a part of it. The chance to walk out through the tunnel of athletes and get to my team and feel their support as I go to battle for them. I will not get to stand next to my teammates with water running down my very tight suit that hurts my shoulders, face beat red, uncontrollable breathing, knowing I had just given my all for them. I won’t get the chance to fight to defend our Championship title, to deal with other teams willing to do anything even if immoral to take us down and smiling and rising to the occasion. (Ahhhh, that’s the best feeling.)

This might sound dramatic especially when there are a lot of problems in our world today. I might agree with you on some level. I realize it is a privilege that many do not have to be able to compete in a sport, go to school, or even have medical resources. Some might say, “It’s only three months, ”so let me explain my viewpoint since not many can understand. 

Every day I deal with guilt. I realize there was nothing I could have done to stop this situation from occurring, but it doesn’t take from the fact that my teammates are working their butts off and I sit. Yes, I go to every practice. I sit there and cheer my teammates on. While this is torture for me, this is where I’d be had nothing happened. To me, it is where I belong. It’s ‘where my friends are, my team I call family, the pool is home. So that is why I show up to 6 a.m. practice. Not only because I’d feel bad if I got to sleep in while my team didn’t, but also so I can keep some normal part of my life. Meets are the worst. I get there and I am hungry. I sometimes have to sit away from the pool so I don’t throw myself in and start swimming. I just want to be able to help my team out and be a part of the fun atmosphere. Instead I have to take breaks from cheering and sit down, I can’t get up and dance because that would increase my blood flow too much, heck I can’t even do the warm up dance. 

This may seem all doom and gloom, you’d be right. The above information could destroy me. It could make me hate my life, wonder why me? Engulf myself in misery and jealousy to my healthy teammates. I could be mad at God for letting something like this happen. To wonder why it seems he never gives me a break. (Earlier in the season I had problems with asthma and my lower back.) However, as easy as that path would be I have chosen a different one. 

You see, I now have a new appreciation for life. To know a few more days and the clot could have traveled to my heart or lungs kind of teaches you that life is precious.  It’s a weird feeling for sure. To go through everyday knowing you have something inside you that could potentially kill you. While it is very unlikely it would travel there are no guarantees. So every slight chest pain, every leg pain, every time my leg swells, every time I get out of breath, it’s all very unnerving. I am happy to still have the ability to feel pain. 

When they say life could be over in a split second, live it to the fullest, it never really hit home with me until it could have so easily been taken from me. (Talk about learning a lesson the hard way.) You see, for all that I explained went wrong I never said what went right. Let’s start with my team staying in Carbondale instead of flying somewhere for a training trip. (Flying is deadly with a blood clot.) I had to have the athletic trainer want to take a look at that bump, then have our team doctor take a look. Instead of brushing it over and waiting to see if it’d get better in a week or so he wanted an MRI as soon as possible. For those non-medical people out there, MRIs aren’t good at picking up blood clots, they sometimes go undetected in them. The doctor that read mine was thorough enough to find signs of a blood clot and called me right away to get to the hospital. (This wasn’t even what they were looking at)  

As scary and heart breaking as this process has been, it has shown me that God is always, ALWAYS with you. Take a second and think about the last few sentences. If any one of those had not gone just so, this could have been a very different story being told. Probably not by me. It’s super scary when you think about it. However, I know God was there because he guided all of these people to the right answer. 

You see Faith is not measured on a good day. Of course it’s always good to thank God for those happy times, but faith is measured when it seems all is taken from you and you look to him and say God I trust you. It’s one thing to say God has a plan for me and then to be able to say that in dark times and truly mean it. It’s pretty funny actually. Only a couple miles before this situation arose, I posted a status on Facebook that my Nonnie had told me. It read, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I had a point to prove in the pool this year. I had a plan to have a great conference meet. I had a plan to train really hard over Christmas break. However, God has a different plan. I’d be lying if I said I was happy with this process. Although, I know that while I can’t see it now and I have no idea what it is, something good will come from this, and it will make me a better human being. 

So here I am saying it, GOD IS GOOD. I AM ALIVE. I love my family, I love my dogs, I love my friends, I love my team, I am one blessed individual. There is always a better tomorrow and a brighter side of looking at every situation. 

It is now 12:16 and I should probably get some sleep so I don’t fail out of college tomorrow morning. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit.) Anyway, these are my words for thought. I hope I have helped someone understand or made someone smile. Remember you are loved and as my family always says, YOU MATTER.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Global Sports Chaplaincy Summit

A number of the leaders in Sports Chaplaincy from around the world were gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for discussions on a number of topics and to coalesce their efforts toward continuing growth of this form of ministry across the globe. We were gathered by Richard Gamble of Cede Network (@CedeNetwork), formerly of Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom. We were very graciously hosted by Bob Dyar of Cede Network ( in conjunction with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The august list of attendees included these men:
Brad Barts  - Athletes in Action
Cameron Butler  - Sports Chaplaincy Australia
George Dansey – Hillsong Church – Sydney, Australia
Bob Dyar  - CedeNetwork
Warren Evans  - Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom
Richard Gamble - CedeNetwork
Ross Georgiou - Sports Chaplaincy New Zealand
Landon Huffman - Johnson University - Knoxville, Tennessee
Brad Kenney - Cross Training - USA
Reid Lamphere - Athletes in Action
Roger Lipe - Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Larry Thompson - Athletes in Action
Stephen Waller – University of Tennessee - Knoxville Tennessee

Our discussions included such matters as: defining sports chaplaincy, outlining characteristics for the quality delivery of sports chaplaincy, and naming various models of sports chaplaincy service. The aim was to find agreement in such matters and to provide clarity as to what sports chaplaincy is. Many forms of ministry in and around sport are being called chaplaincy, but are far from these agreed to standards of sports chaplaincy.

Because of the global nature of our group and the presence of men from the academic community, we also discussed strategies and alliances for encouraging and growing sports chaplaincy as a form of ministry in non-Anglo regions of the world. We were most thrilled with the collegiality experienced by all of us.

One of the consistently strongest felt needs listed by sports chaplains is that of isolation. Most of us feel terribly remote from our colleagues. One of the ways we aim to address this issue is through a global registry of sports chaplains. Our teammates from Cede Network have the technical expertise to develop, to manage, and to lead such a network with state of the art security features to protect the data and identities of all concerned.

We left Charlotte for our respective homes with a great deal of momentum for the growth and development of sports chaplaincy around the globe and with a strong brotherhood between us. Please join us in praying for wisdom, favor, and vision as we pursue the Lord’s purposes for this form of ministry in the world of sport.