Friday, April 21, 2017

Leading Millennial Sportspeople

Back on November 25, 2016 I wrote a reflection about serving Millennial sportspeople ( , and the issue of how to serve, to lead, and to coach this group has only intensified since then. I recently saw a Facebook link to a video about how to manage Millennials and found it to be quite insightful. Here is a link to the video featuring Simon Sinek.

Just a couple of hours after watching the video I had some time to contemplate its implications. I wrote down four coaching points that can be used by coaches and/or sports chaplains in working with Millennial sportspeople. They are below. Please consider using any or all of them with your teams.

1.   Create “phone free” spaces. Much of the reason for this group’s inability to speak with people face to face or to build relationships is that they are fixated by their mobile phones.
a.   Team meetings – require that no one bring his or her phone into team meetings. Leave them in the locker room or in your car.
b.   Team meals – if your team eats meals together, require them to not bring phones to the meals, ever.
c.   Position group meetings – require that your position group not bring their phones into the meeting space. Insist that they be 100% present to learn.
d.   Selected bus travel – I know one college basketball coach who collects all the team’s phones in a drawstring bag for bus travel on game day. It eliminates distractions and enables the players to focus on the task at hand. She returns the phones to them after the game.
2.   Create opportunities for making an “impact.” Many millennials want a sense of having made an impact on their world, and simply going to class, to practice, and to games may not scratch that itch.
a.   Provide opportunities for recurring community service - make it a regular service project in the same place with the same people so that relationships form and develop. This is where they will experience genuine impact.
b.   Mentoring of younger teammates – connect the eldest players with the youngest to learn their way around campus, to understand how the school works, to grasp the culture of the team and the community.
c.   Spotlight drill – select one player to be “spotlighted” and ask the other players to tell how the spotlighted player has made an impact on their lives, on the team, or on their community.
d.   Write thank you cards – distribute cards on which the players can write notes to thank their parents, their high school coach, their high school principal, or a donor to their sports program. Help them focus on people who helped them be where they area.
e.   Serve people who could never repay them – choose some from your community. It might be a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a women’s shelter, an animal rescue facility, or anything where they can see beyond their privilege and sense an impact upon others’ lives.
3.   Celebrate achievement, not simply participation. This generation grew up receiving participation medals. They were rewarded for simply showing up. This not only devalues the awards given, it also diminishes the true value of genuine achievement.
a.   Make a list of minimum expectations for everyone involved. These are not to be celebrated, they are the bare minimum.
b.   Make a list of achievements that will be celebrated. Celebrate these strongly.
c.   Make the two lists widely different.
4.   Help them declare independence from their parents. We’ve all heard the stories of “helicopter parents” and many of us have lived those stories. Help your players declare their independence, cut the apron strings, grow up, and find freedom. Help them compose a letter with ideas such as these:
a.   Dad and Mom, thank you for helping me to grow and to find my way to this team.
b.   Please, now allow me enough room to compete, to succeed, and to fail.
c.   Please affirm these expectations for both academic and athletic performance that come with being a part of this team.
d.   Please celebrate with me as I achieve in the classroom and on the field of competition.
e.   To simply participate is not good enough at this level. I must meet the minimum expectations and strive to really achieve.
f.     Thank you.

These are just some first thoughts from this excellent video. We must find new and creative ways to push through the counterproductive and often annoying traits of Millennials as we coach them. We must find ways to lead, to inspire, and to encourage them to be all that God created them to be.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Week - Global Perspectives

One of the joys of having traveled to various parts of the globe is to observe and learn from different Christian traditions. To see the varying cultural expressions of Christian faith enriches my own understanding of Christ’s transforming work in my life as I see it through the prism of a new culture. There are remarkably different emphases given to various parts of Holy Week. A few simple, but important areas of emphasis follow.

At the time of this writing, it is Thursday of Holy Week, Maundy (Commandment) Thursday. I had never even heard that term until the late 1980s. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and everything was focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was a joy to welcome a new point of emphasis during Holy Week as we celebrated with the remarkably rich scriptures which occurred on Thursday of that week in Jesus’ life. We found new significance for communion as we celebrated with the apostles and saints across the ages. We spent more time in quiet contemplation, in reflection, in confession and in repentance. After this experience, each Maundy Thursday rings with Jesus’ words,  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 My sporting friends who embrace Maundy Thursday find its benefit as they build deeper relationships with their coaching colleagues, with their players, and among their teammates.

In the Western Church, the normal focus of Holy Week is Good Friday. The atonement for sin is the major emphasis. We heartily sing, “The Old Rugged Cross” and other cross themed hymns and focus on Jesus’ sacrificial death in our place. The ministry with which I serve gives us Good Friday as a paid holiday. For that I am thankful. The university where I serve the sporting community is very secularized, but when I stand in a conspicuous place on campus on Good Friday with a twelve foot tall cross, hand out nails with a card attached, or simply read scripture and pray, it is received well because it’s Good Friday. The Christian sporting community that emphasizes Good Friday will focus on the grace of God in Jesus as experienced when their sin is exposed by the passions of sport. We find the mercy of God sufficient as we remember that Jesus has covered our sin and shame, and has restored us to right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

I was in my late thirties and reading Phillip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, before I had any grasp of how other cultures viewed Jesus. Further study revealed the fact that the Eastern Church, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and others, places more emphasis on the resurrection, Easter Sunday, than on Good Friday. For them, the emphasis is on Jesus having risen from the dead, His victory over sin and death. The obvious implication is that we are in Christ and therefore free from the power of sin. Rather than simply living in a cycle of sin, confession, repentance, returning to sin, and repeating the cycle. The Eastern Church emphasizes victory over sin through Jesus’ power over sin because of the resurrection. My sporting friends who embrace Easter Sunday find that they live in sport with joy, freedom, and shameless enjoyment of their lives.

Regardless of your faith tradition, please embrace the beauty, the pain, the passion, the silence, and the glorious victory of Holy Week. Please also welcome the sportspeople you serve into your experience of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy. This weekend is the perfect time.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Job, Career, or Calling?

Once again this week I am sharing an insight from the FCA Coaches Ministry event in Springfield, Illinois (USA) back on March 11. It pays to hang out with insightful people.

A statement made in passing by that day’s featured presenter, Dr. Jeff Duke, was that some people who work in sport do it as a job, a way to make money. Others have sport as their career, demonstrating sustained excellence across time. Still others treat sport as a calling, having a strong sense of purpose for life. I’d like to develop those thoughts, one at a time.

We all know people for whom sport is their job, nothing more. This surely applies to the player who tolerates practice, travel and all that sport requires. We probably know coaches whose primary interest in sport is the paycheck. This even fits the administrator, vendor, equipment manager, or physio who has a job in sport like they would have a job in a bank, a restaurant, or driving a truck. They measure things like hours, money, and maybe productivity, but nothing deeper than that.

It is likely we know people for whom sport is their career. They have excelled in at least one facet of sport and have found it to be more than just a job. They find it to be fulfilling and more rewarding than just their paycheck. These people tend to work longer hours with less complaint that those who just have jobs. They tend to commit more deeply to the people and to the institutions they serve. They tend to stay longer in the service of one university, high school, club, or team than others. These people measure achievement, long-term relationships, terms of service, and value continuity.

Many of us know, and more of us are, people who live in sport as a calling. We are vocational about sport. We have heard God’s calling to the sporting world and to sporting people. We believe we were uniquely chosen, equipped, placed, and are sustained for life in sport. We trust God with situations and relationships that are beyond what career or job oriented people would ever engage. We measure things like conversations, discipleship relationships, hours of investment in players, teams, coaches, and families. We think in terms of decades, and even generations.

If you have a job in sport, good. Be great at it and it could become a career. If you have a sporting career, I hope it brings you rich fulfillment and reward. If you find your heart desiring even more, you may have a calling. If your calling is to live in sport, you are divinely ruined. Nothing else will satisfy your soul or engage your mind. One can quit a job or make a career change at almost any time. But one cannot quit his or her calling. God will protect His divine investment in your heart until it is fulfilled.