Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Few Thoughts About Christian Coaching

I have been involved in athletics ever since I began playing Little League baseball at the age of eleven. As an athlete, I was no world-beater. I was mediocre at best, but I certainly enjoyed my experiences with baseball, football, track, and basketball. Winning was never a habit of any of my teams, and losing became a reality I learned to accept as part of the game. I was never made to feel guilty over a loss. Instead, my coaches encouraged my teammates and me to continue to try hard and to do our best. On those occasions we were able to experience victory, it was a great thrill.

It was never my goal to become a coach. Rather, it was one of those things which seemingly just sort of happened, although there is no doubt the Lord had His hand in it. I began with flag football and also coached basketball and softball. Where I ultimately ended up was as coach of the junior high girls’ basketball team for a few years before taking over the varsity program when we added our high school grades. Since those early days as a coach, I have come to love the sport of basketball a great deal, and I count it a great privilege to have been a coach.

There are several truths which I, as a Christian coach, have come to understand. They are as follows:

1. One does not have to buy into the "win at all costs" philosophy in order to succeed as a coach. One very famous coach said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This is utter nonsense. Winning is not everything, nor is it the only thing. I do not have to win on the scoreboard to be successful, to feel good about my team, or to believe that the Lord is faithful to me and to my team. Games are, after all, played for fun, and when the fun goes out of it, there is no point in continuing to play.

2. I have been entrusted with the care and instruction of a group of players who look to me for leadership and Godly example. It is my responsibility to treat my players as what they are — my brothers or sisters in the Lord. Even though I have authority over them and may even have to discipline them, I have absolutely no right to treat them with disrespect. It is wrong — yes, it is sin — to do anything or say anything to make them feel sub-human, when in reality, they are the objects of God’s love and grace. They are not dirt under my feet, and they deserve better than to be treated like it. If I do not treat them with respect, then I do not deserve their respect, nor do I deserve to be a coach.

3. As a Christian, I have an absolute responsibility to live a Godly life. This applies to me wherever I go and whatever I do. This includes the time I spend coaching. The Christian life is not something which can or should be left outside the gym when it comes time for a game. To attempt to do so is to be an utter hypocrite and to essentially deny the faith for a time. Practicing behavior which is unbecoming a Christian during the course of a game is nothing but sin. God cannot be pleased with such an inconsistency.

4. It is my duty to view officials as the God-appointed authorities over the game, since the Bible is very clear that all authority comes from God. If I am rebellious and argumentative toward them, I am, whether intentionally or not, teaching my players to rebel against authority and to gripe and complain when things in their lives do not go as they would have them go. This type of rebellion is ultimately nothing other than rebellion against God Himself, since to rebel against those He has placed in authority is to rebel against His right to do so. I have always taught my players two rules concerning officials: Rule #1 — The referee is always right. Rule #2 — If the referee is ever wrong, see Rule #1.

5. I need to see opposing coaches, players, and fans, not as my enemies, but merely as my opponents in a game. They are either my brothers and sisters in the Lord and should be treated as such, or they are lost sinners in need of the Savior, which necessitates a positive testimony on my part. Either way, irreparable harm can be done if I allow myself the luxury of acting foolishly as I coach a game.

The bottom line on all this is that coaching and playing athletics are to be done in such a manner as to bring glory to God. To do otherwise is to be disobedient to the Scriptures. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, NASB).

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