In our final post of the “Are We Doing It Right Series” we are going to take a look at how our athletic departments at Christian schools should reflect the community of believers that we find in the local church. The whole purpose of this multi-part series is to help us to think through how athletics at the Christian school can be more philosophically aligned with the mission and make-up of the local church. The importance of making sure that we operate our athletic departments in this way is key in helping to train our athletes to continue to grow and serve after they have left our programs.
Community is a buzzword in Christianity today; and rightfully so. Many churches lack true authentic community among their members. While there are doubtless a myriad of causes to this problem, we’d like to look at how we can contribute to the solution in our Christian school athletic departments.
This article will dovetail nicely off part two of this series about forging deeper relationships with fellow Christians.
Christianity exists on earth as a community. Obviously, the most important thing is our relationship with God, but close after that is our relationship with our fellow believers. The local church was designed not only to provide a place for corporate worship but to provide a network of encouragement and edification as we anticipate Christ’s return.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
Christians have been instructed to participate in this community. Failure to do so can lead to a lack of spiritual growth.
We do our athletes a great disservice if we do not model Christian community in our athletic departments.
Community Flourishes in Transparency
One of the best ways to create a close-knit environment is to develop a family-like trust. This type of trust comes from honesty: opening our hearts and lives to other around us. In other words: being transparent.
Too many times coaches can be guilty of showing up at practices and games, doing their business, and going home. This isn’t to say that they aren’t cordial or caring in regards to their players. However, there a wall built up that keeps everything at a distance.
Coaches aren’t the only ones guilty of this, though. Players can be just as distant when participating in team sports.
The best way to break down these types of barriers is to be transparent oneself and then to also encourage that transparency from your assistants, managers, and players.
We don’t have to share our deepest darkest secrets and sing “Kumbaya,” but we should look to open our lives to those that we serve and vice versa.
Professionalism is important as a coach. Failure to maintain a professional standards can result in confusion about authority or worse even inappropriate behavior. However, one can still be transparent while being professional.
Accountability is Enhanced by Community
Coaches love the idea of athletes being accountable to one another. Accountability to teammates allows for one to make unselfish decisions. It opens a door to one of the greatest things about sports: teamwork.
Unfortunately, we as Christians miss out on the opportunity to use the accountability found on our sports teams in a way to foster Christian growth.
Lots of times we teach accountability in a way that produces guilt trips. Teammates perform for each other out of fear of the group being punished for their shortcomings.
Christian community enhances accountability in a more positive way. Coaches and players hold each other accountable because they care about the lives of their teammates. Accountability isn’t a guilt trip to keep others from being punished; it’s an expression of a concern for the growth of all around them.
This accountability can come in a myriad of ways. The key is for the leaders to show the athletes how to hold one another accountable in love. Members of a Christian community should be concerned for the spiritual well-being of their brothers and sisters.
Knowing that there are others, not just authority, that genuinely care about their spiritual growth is empowering. Community and togetherness help to make that happen.
A Community Strives Together
It’s easy for individual teams to develop community. Practicing and competing together forms a bond that is different than just mere friendship. It engenders trust, care, and enjoyment.
Operating an athletic department in which all teams and coaches actually strive together can be a different matter. Even within the community of the athletic department, groups and cliques can begin to form. Coaches compete for the attention of athletes. Less successful teams can become jealous or resentful of the success of others.
If we’re not careful the athletic department can mirror a divided church or a dysfunctional family.
… that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;” – Philippians 1:27
Just as the different departments of a healthy church strive together for the furtherance of the gospel, our athletic departments must strive together to honor Christ. There should be a genuine joy and excitement over the success of the community as a whole.
As the athletic director, you must set the tone with your coaches and they with their players. It’s more than just a unified front; it’s training those in the athletic department to be the best members of the Christian community that they can be.
Practical Thoughts on Developing Community
How can you develop community in your athletic department? While every situation is different in the obstacles and challenges that it faces, there are some general themes that the athletic director can follow. Here are a few suggestions:
- develop a yearly theme
- implement systems to create relationships outside the immediate team (Southampton FC has the first team premier league members clean the cleats of different members of the youth squads)
- educate coaches in matters concerning this topic
- highlight the spiritual growth of your athletes
- athletic department prayer list and partners
- service projects
Hopefully this series has been a help to you as you lead your athletic department. Let’s all strive together to make sure that our athletic departments are an accurate reflection of Biblical Christianity.