Thursday, March 16, 2023

Prayer in the Locker Room

 Prayer in sporting contexts is widely varied, often treated superstitiously, usually dripping with churchy cliches, and is occasionally risky.

I prefer the last item in the list. I much prefer to communicate within the culture of sport, using its vernacular (not vulgar or profane), in a way that both communicates intimately with our Lord and engages the coaches and players with whom I am praying. Thus it can seem a little risky.

To be clear, I never pray that we win any particular contest, but I always pray that we compete well. I never pray that we win the championship, but I always pray that we compete like champions. I always pray about the process and never the outcome. I believe the Lord never engineers outcomes of sporting contests, but I believe He is always interested in how we behave in them.

Case in point (slightly risky). After the Saluki Men's Basketball team won its first round game in the Missouri Valley Tournament on Friday night March 3rd, I was awake early Saturday morning with thoughts about how to pray prior to the semifinal game on Saturday evening. I contemplated the idea, calculated the risks, and decided to do exactly what was on my heart. I spent the bulk of the morning and early afternoon composing a prayer (I know, very much contrary to my Southern Baptist upbringing).

In the locker room as the first semifinal was in its last five minutes, I was in the locker room with our coaches and players hearing the final items in the scouting report for our game. My moment to pray arrived, we all gathered in a circle, arms around each others' shoulders, and I launched in to this prayer.

I thanked our Lord for giving us the privilege to compete again in this game we love. I then prayed, "May we compete powerfully & be…

Precise like Foster,

Versatile like Marcus,

Explosive like Scottie,

Gutsy like Dalton,

Gritty like Clarence,

Sudden like Lance, 

Tenacious like Xavier,

Enthusiastic like JD,

Selfless like Chris,

Smooth like Juwan,

A great teammate like AJ,

Committed like JR,

May we communicate like Cade,

Having huge stones like Troy,

and be poised like Trent.

May we compete like champions, right here and right now? I pray in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen."

The players and coaches responded well, and we lost by 13. No matter how good or bad your prayer is, it never has a strong impact upon the outcome. Sorry to break it to you. My aim in that prayer was to affirm character qualities I observed in each player on the roster. My aim was to both inspire and to build relationships, vertically and horizontally. 

If you are given the privilege to pray with your team, anywhere, but especially in the rarified air of a locker room, communicate in their language, appeal to your Father for their best, and engage their hearts relationally. It's always worth the risk.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Zoominar - Name, Image, and Likeness $$$$$

We recently hosted a Zoominar for character coaches and sports chaplains focused on an issue that emerged on 1 July, 2021. The era of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) finances in collegiate sport in the USA began. What had been "under the table" inducements to star athletes to sign with a particular university, $1,000.00 handshakes, and other ways to illegally influence a competitor's choice of school, was suddenly totally legal and legitimate.

Our guests included Athletes in Action staff, Fellowship of Christian Athletes staff, Nations of Coaches staff and volunteers, as well as many others from multiple sports backgrounds. Featured were: Chauncey Franks - FCA and team chaplain for TCU Football, Tim Carter - Nations of Coaches Regional Director, and Scott Brewer - Character Coach for Baylor Men's Basketball.

Our discussion focused on three primary questions: 1. What are the most common and most powerful effects of NIL on the collegiate sports world? 2. How do you see coaches and athletic departments working to deal with it? 3. What are the ministry opportunities arising for us in light of this situation? It's a fast moving 52 minute conversation.

Here is a link to the recording, I hope it is of value to you -

Friday, November 25, 2022

Scott Brewer on Team Culture

During our recent Nations of Coaches Character Coach training in Dallas, Texas, Scott Brewer - Character Coach for Baylor Men's Basketball, shared some thoughts about culture in college basketball. That word gets thrown about as a buzzword, but often without clear definition or understanding.

Some of Scott's comments included, "You have to examine your own, personal culture before you can pretend to have much of an effect upon the team's culture." One must know what he values, and to what he is most committed.

Scott said, "You have to constantly cultivate culture or it will die. It is a living, organic thing." A team's culture will not be embraced or acted upon if it's simply words written on the locker room wall or emblazoned on the team's practice jerseys. Culture must be cultivated like the most valuable plant in one's garden, otherwise it will not produce its intended fruit.

Scott also challenged us with this thought. "Celebrate your culture when you see it happen. Celebrate it specifically." When you catch people embodying your culture's values, call it out in specific terms, and celebrate its demonstration. For example, if a team's culture includes selflessness, recognize when it's demonstrated, take time to comment on it, and be sure everyone sees it. "Sam just took another charge! Attaboy, Sam. That selfless play gets us another possession." "Joe dove onto the floor to gather 3 loose balls tonight. That selflessness was a big factor in tonight's win!"

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Real Heroes of Business

Last weekend, during the Nations of Coaches Character Coach training in Dallas, Texas, one of our trainees, John Corley of Louisiana Tech University Men's Basketball shared a set of questions he has used in business settings that Character Coaches can modify to engage coaches and players in trust-building conversations.

The list of questions and the title of the book from which they come are below. I hope, even a few, can be of value to you and your ministry.

The Real Heroes of Business by Fromm and Schlesinger

Interview Questions:
1) Tell me about your 1st job. Or, for salespeople, “Tell me about the 1st thing you ever sold!”
2) What did you learn about work and about customers from that 1 st experience?
3) Who has had the greatest influence on your adult personality and/or attitude about work?
Explain how this influence affected you.
4) Why are you applying for this job? Specify the job!
5) How did you get interested in this job? Again, specify the job!
6) Have you ever had any experience as a customer of a business like ours? Describe that
7) What struck you as important to doing this job well when you were the customer?
8) What do you think businesses like this do well? What do they do poorly?
9) Have you ever had a bad experience as a customer of a business like ours? Describe that
10) Tell me in some detail about the last job you had—or the one you currently have!
11) What were the customers like in that last job?
12) Have you ever had any customers that became regular clients, or even friends?
13) What was your goal as an employee in your last job?
14) If you could have changed or improved anything about that last job (or the one you have now)
or the way your previous employer went about his work, what would you have changed?
15) Who was the best boss you ever had? What made him/her such a good supervisor?
16) Who was the worst boss you ever had? What made him/her such a poor supervisor?
17) In the case where the person is applying for a job that is very similar to the one they currently
have, don’t hesitate to walk them through the plant, shop, or office on a tour and then ask them
what is different about your operation compared to their prior or current job.
18) When you have a job you really like, what is it about that job that makes you like it so much?
19) What do you get from work that you really enjoy?
20) What do you think you will “get” from working here?
21) What do you think you will “bring” to this job?
22) What do you like to do when you’re not working?
23) What would you like to be doing five years from now?
24) Is there anything else about yourself that I haven’t asked you about that you feel is important
for me to know as I consider whether to hire you?
25) Ask me some questions that you must have about our company or business!

Friday, November 11, 2022

Team Culture Development

During a recent meeting with several of my Nations of Coaches colleagues, Coach Dale Clayton made a tremendous statement about team culture.

Coach Clayton said, "A team's culture is:
  • determined by the head coach,
  • defended by the assistant coaches,
  • demonstrated by the players."
That is remarkably simple and tremendously clear. I quickly wrote it down because lots of coaches and lots of others talk about team culture, but few can define it, and fewer can develop it. Coach Clayton's statement adds verbs to the discussion. Each of the three have well defined roles in the development of the team's culture:
  • The culture is defined by the head coach, usually in terms of clearly stated values, in single words or in phrases.
  • The culture is defended by the assistant coaches, in terms of affirming those stated values in the way they coach.
  • The culture is demonstrated by the players, in terms of how they conduct themselves, on and off the floor.
Let's take some coaching from Coach Dale Clayton as we talk with coaches about developing their team's culture. Let's help them define their values, interpret them into daily practices, and see them demonstrated in their players.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Life Map

During a recent Nations of Coaches Character Coach Connection Zoom meeting, our Character Coach for Auburn University Basketball, Jeremy Napier, shared a resource called a Life Map.

One of the highlights of the Map is the process of having each team member tell their stories. Here's an excerpt from the top of the one-page document.

A Life Map is an autobiography – the story of your life. It is not, however, a comprehensive biography. A Life Map should focus on 6 main areas. The goal is to share meaningful information with your peers.

1) Heritage/History

2) Heroes

3) High Times

4) Hard Times

5) Hand of God

6) Honeys

Few things do more to help develop a team's sense of community better than giving them permission and direction to share their personal experiences with each other. Please consider using this or a similar tool in serving your teams.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Five Questions to Build Trust

This is always an exciting time of the year in college basketball. It's preseason, official practices have just begun, and every team in the nation is undefeated! Everyone is full of anticipation and high expectations. In the midst of this ramp up to the season, we have begun weekly discussions with our coaching staff. We're all reading Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and I lead a roughly 20-minute discussion of a section of the book during a staff meeting. At the conclusion of the discussion, I pray, and then leave as the staff meeting continues.

As we were walking through the discussions, last week we observed the team in the book participating in some team development exercises. As the discussion was winding down, I suggested we use one of those exercises among our team. The coaches agreed and yesterday we did it. Below are the five questions we asked each staff person to answer and some insights from the exercise follow the questions.

1. What is your hometown?
2. How many siblings do you have?
3. Tell us about any unique childhood hobbies you had.
4. What was your greatest challenge growing up?
5. What was your first job?

The staff room was full of a wide variety of young men. I am by far the eldest (66), the youngest being a 23-year-old grad assistant, with most of the full-time coaches being between 35 and 40. The group included our strength and conditioning coach and the athletic trainer (physio). Our group is varied in hometown regions of the USA, in ethnicity, and socio-economic background.

One of the younger full-time coaches asked to share first, and he set the tone with remarkable vulnerability, offering many more details than anyone expected, and speaking about family dysfunction very openly. Most others followed in kind, a few being less open with details, but with all sharing freely. This process took 50 minutes, but I never saw any signal of annoyance, anyone looking anxiously at his watch, or any other sign of being less than engaged.

We all learned things about our coaching colleagues, and I learned a great many things that will serve as open doors to further discussions with individuals. One such conversation happened just three hours later on the practice floor as one of the grad assistant coaches spoke openly about his broken relationship with his father and siblings. We had a remarkably vulnerable conversation for several minutes, ending with some encouragement for him and his respectful, honorable attitude.

I would encourage you to use this or a similar tool to invite people to open their hearts to each other. This builds trust and bonds teams. It's worth the time, it's worth the risk, it's worth the effort.

Prayer in the Locker Room