Tuesday, December 13, 2016

For Coaches of Winter Sports: 3 Gift Challenge

Dr. Timothy J. Cook of Creighton University has written, "teaching religion is arguably both a ministry and a profession." Agreed. And might I add...so it coaching. 
Athletes and sports fans can articulate with ease what the coaching—as a profession—entails. Coaches plan practices and workouts, construct plays and strategies. They work with the talent they've been given, hoping that the sum is greater than its parts. Coaching is a demanding endeavor. It's a profession where the bottom line determines how and when you are hired and fired. But ask an athlete or fan about the ministry of coaching an odds are, you will learn about the story of their season. They are integrated, for how a coach tends to the personal, emotional and spiritual needs of their athletes is but one chapter in that narrative. Coaches pray with and for their team. They give much more than their expertise or time; coaches give themselves—strengths, limitations, and all.

I work with but a few people who coach two sports in the same academic year; most of us don't know how they do it. I know there was a time when there were a few coaches who coached three sports (as far as school sports are concerned, there are three seasons). Like the three-sport athlete, these folks are a thing of a the past...albeit legends we still like to honor. 
Every sport and every season has its unique challenges and demands. I loved coaching cross country for many reasons, but one of them was not for the weekend invitationals. Selfishly, renouncing my Saturdays in the fall—read: college football season—was a huge detractor. That being said, I have always thought those men and women who coach a winter sport are the most selfless. They give up their Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks, the days are short and the nights are long. I honestly don't know how soccer coaches bear the rain and frigid temperatures. And still, I believe with every sacrifice, something else is gained.  Therefore, I'd like to believe that the holiday season is so spirited, maybe some of that holiday cheer bleeds into practice. If not, here's one way it can.

At the conclusion of the week, my golf team participated in a prayerful ritual known as "Thanks, Help, Wow." I got the title for this weekly practice from one of my favorite spiritual authors, Anne Lamott. In her book, "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential PrayersDescription: http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=sportandspiri-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1594631298" she writes:
I do not know much about God and prayer but I have come to believe, over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. "Help. Thanks. Wow."

This exercise is a revision of the gratitude circle and “rosebud/thorn” activity, and asks student athletes to say more than a high/low or word of thanks. I ask each of my athletes to share an insight for each, and decided to re-order the sharing in this way: Thanks, Help, Wow.
Thanks: What are you grateful for this week? What happened at practice? At home? School? In your life that you want to thank God for giving you?

Help: Who is in need of our prayers? Who needs God’s help? Is your mom sick? Does your dad need a job? Are you struggling with friend this week? Offer words of supplication to God.

Wow: What amazed you with joy and gratitude today? What inspired you on or off the field. What do you want to share that even might be difficult to put into words. Give it a shot. We all need more “wow.”

For Advent, I would modify this exercise in a fun and spirited way. It still invites personal reflection and sharing, but it also asks something of the athlete...self-awareness, honesty, insight, and a little homework. Though young people will disagree, homework is not a bad thing!

It's rooted in the "Four-Gift Challenge," a way of keeping the Christ in Christmas. I'm happy that it's gaining some ground. In her great wisdom, my friend Eileen amended this exercise and told her son that "Jesus received three gifts, so you will too." The three gifts are framed around a poignant theme: something you need, something you want, and something to read. How fitting...and here's a suggestion, Sports and Spirituality style. Student athletes will need to be informed about this sharing in advance so they can adequately prepare.
Something you want: What is a skill you would like to develop this season? What is a character trait you might be lacking that your sport can help you develop? What do you want for this team? Be specific. What do you want from your teammates? What do you want to give them?

Something you need: What do you need to get better? Do you need to stay more focused in practice? Do you need more sleep? Our needs might be funny: I could use six inches and 30 pounds of muscle, but encourage your athletes to identify and share a real need....one that might even be within their grasp. This will help you as a coach or staff to help your team.

Something to read: I sincerely believe that athletes and coaches mutually benefit when they study their sport; today, there is no shortage of material readily available to share. I can easily find several articles on how to hit a down-hill lie, a fade, a draw, etc.  Also, reading is a discipline; it is different than watching a video. The critical thinking involved, the time to process, another point of view might help an athlete develop what they "want or need!"  Reading need not be limited to tactics and technique; consider an inspirational article for the entire team to read and discuss. Don't just give....get! Assign seniors or captains to find and share their own material to disseminate and require the team to read. What a wonderful gift.

I have taught theology for the past 15 years. The demands of the profession are many...of the ministry, even more...ever more. Though coaching may be a little different, the opportunities for ministry—those too are ever more. Whether you coach soccer, basketball, wrestling, indoor track, downhill skiing or weight-lifting, I hope your winter season goes well and your break, even better. Peace.

Photo Credits
Jackson and Jordan

Four Gift Challenge
Great book!
Athlete in prayer

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