In last week’s post we posed the question, “Are we doing it right?” By “it” we’re talking about whether or not our athletic departments accurately reflect Biblical teaching and actual Christian life principles. So many times authorities and leaders say and believe all the right things, but then in practice they do the opposite or contradictory thing. Could this inconsistency be what disenchants so many or our athletes about Christianity? How can we help them connect the dots? Here’s the first of three (four? we’ll see) posts on how to make our athletic departments more spiritually engaging.
Many of us are watching March Madness right now. We see during time outs the “highly-respected,” “championship caliber,” “really-cares-about-his-young-men” coach berate and scream and yell at his players. You don’t need closed-captions to see what he’s saying either.
I’ve never coached at a high level, and I’ve certainly been guilty of losing my cool with my players (minus the colorful language). However, this type of coaching is not an accurate reflection of Christianity.
Too often though Christian school athletic departments appoint and uphold coaches or practices that subscribe to this method of coaching. Many times the athletic director himself is this type of personality.
This isn’t a post on coaching styles. There are many different personalities and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with a leader raising his intensity to get a point across.
However, when we encourage a my-way or the highway atmosphere we don’t show an accurate view of what discipleship or Christian living is truly like.
Think about it, why should someone stick around a church if they are openly (and angrily) confronted for even the slightest mistake?
Why should someone stick around the church when they are yanked from activity because they don’t have the skills required to get results?
Why should someone stick around a church if they see little playing time (ministry opportunity)?
You may think that we’re really stretching this concept. However, we believe that more Christian school students make this unfortunate connection than we’re willing to recognize.
Their experience with Christians in authority sometimes leaves them feeling like a “cog in a system” instead of like a valued member of the family/community.
If sports build character, then Christian school sports need to focus on building true Christian character. If sports reveal character, then Christian school sports need to re-evaluate what Christian character is.
Are we doing it right?
Unfortunately, it seems that many Christian school athletic departments are either souring kids on Christianity or they are contributing to an environment of don’t-do-anything-you’re-not-told-to-do-or-else-you’ll-fail-or-get-in-trouble. The former doesn’t go to church and the latter just sits in a pew.
So where does the rubber meet the road here? We think it comes down to one word: EMPOWERMENT.
Kill the Bobby Knights and Bear Bryants
Ok, sorry. Kill was very strong. Maybe a better thought would be to retire the idea of them as good coaching examples. Sure they got results, but at what cost? Usually the cost was the physical and mental well being of their players.
The players who play for the Knights and Bryants of the world are usually more scared of failure than they are excited by success.
Christians can’t be scared of failure. Especially when the victory is already ours. Our young people need to see that. Our athletic departments need to nourish that concept in action.
Athletic directors need to seek to establish an atmosphere, a culture, of empowerment.
The coaches in our athletic departments need to seek to empower athletes to not only excel at their sport but to seek to grow as people.
God is an Empowerment Coach
Don’t believe me. Check his words:
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” John 1:12
God gives the power to live for him to every believer. The young people who grasp this tend to serve him more faithfully. We’re not saying our schools and athletic departments don’t teach or believe this to be true. We are saying, though, that we don’t model this concept very well.
If God gave us the power to have a new life, shouldn’t we give our athletes the power to grow?
Law, Grace, and Sports
God gave the law in the Old Testament to show how much we need the grace that He gave in the New Testament. Living under grace and not under the law is pretty much the very nature of empowerment.
We’re not saying to abolish all rules in your department or making all your coaches get rid of all their rules as well. Rules are necessary. Even under grace, the Bible is pretty clear about a few rules in the New Testament.
Encourage your coaches to set boundaries when they’re dealing with their teams. These boundaries could apply to team strategy, conduct, projects, or whatever else. The coach then has the opportunity to give athletes the freedom to make the right decisions within these boundaries.
This is a great example of the Christian life. We always say that the Bible is not just a rulebook, but then we turn around and govern things by rules that limit decision making.
Giving athletes the freedom to make the right choices inside of set boundaries trains them to be proactive. Just merely requiring them to follow the rules will either create legalists, reactive Christians, or alienated young people.
We would all agree that we would rather train proactive Christians seeking for opportunities to serve God rather than reactive legalists that just fill a spot in the pew on Sunday morning.
How can we expect people to make the right choices and serve God if we never teach them how or give them the opportunity to try.
So Empower Your Athletic Department
As the athletic director you set the tone for the department.
Encourage your coaches to focus more on empowerment. They don’t have to give up authority, but they will have to change the way they get their results.
Hopefully, everyone will agree that operating in such a way will improve the chances of producing athletes with a better understanding of the Christian life.
So, are we doing it right?