Thursday, April 20, 2017

Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes

One of my favorite authors, Elie Wiesel wrote, "I believe that books, just like people, have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both." 

As far as I can see, "Pray and Practice with Purpose, A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" a book I am proud to call my first...and my own, had the simple, but important destiny of being born. Considering that it was three years in the making, that is not a destiny I take for granted. Its fate, however, is to be determined by the hands of those who read it and try out what I suggest and believe to be true: a team can achieve success, real success, should they make time and space for prayer and service to one another and the larger school community. 

Indeed the most important hands that can open Pray and Practice with Purpose" are coaches and athletic directors. I say that because (as written on my publisher's website, NCEA), 
This book equips athletes, coaches and teams with the resources to achieve success in spiritual formation. Through prayer and practice with purpose, sports and spirituality can become a valuable component of a team's culture and routine.
Though I do not anticipate a New York Times bestseller, my sincere hope and wish are that a coach will look over the 30 ways to pray with your team, for your team or with other coaches and commit to that spiritual exercise. Furthermore, I hope they will take a risk—not in developing a trick play or moving a young athlete up to varsity, but risk practice time for building community, serving others, strengthening tradition and creating new ones. I have over 30 different examples of how to do that. Jesus talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed. In that same spirit, I sincerely believe a little goes a long way. 

Cardinal Bernardin said, "no one can do everything, but everyone can do something." Amen. No coach needs to be master and messiah, genius and god. They have their own unique gifts and talents, priorities and problems. I hope they get in touch with their own spiritual gifts and share those with their athletes. I liken this urging to what I find in the radio booth at an MLB baseball game. One announcer is in charge of the play by play, the other offers color commentary. A coaching staff might think with this framework in mind: the head coach oversees the "play by play." Perhaps an assistant can be "color." This book offers a whole lot of color...and it should. Why?
Giants fans love our announcers: Kruk and Kuip. A lot of play and color
Every sport is different: what works for football might not resonate with the swim team. Boys and girls teams make take to different activities. Every squad has its own personality. Not a single one of the prayers or practices listed has gone untested; every example in this text has already been used by a school community or team—past and present. In some cases, I deepened and developed the idea. With others, I simply retold a team's story and why it works. "Pray and Practice with Purpose" was not born from this blog, but certainly made it possible. 

Some authors have but one book in them. Others have thirty. I have a sense of how both can be true. "Pray and Practice with Purposes's" destiny was made possible by what I consider the first of two understatements. One: I love sports and talking about sports and Two: some of my favorite people to talk to are other coaches. I enjoy picking their brain and deconstructing how they think and approach their craft. I always want to know more about their athletes. Their attention to detail is remarkable, commitment to their athletes impressive, and the sacrifices they make is undeniable. 
Trust me when I tell you there is not one high school or middle school coach who does what he or she does for the money. When a coach is in season, life is manic, making it tough to seek out new or different ways to pray. We want to do something more than just drills, review game tape or plan for our next match but realistically, it's hard to think out of the book. In my conversations with coaches from my alma maters: the University of Notre Dame and Carondelet, as well as De La Salle, Bellarmine, Brophy, Georgetown Prep and more,  I learned what coaches were already doing. I was fired up to learn what worked and the effect it had a team...on a season...on their story. "Pray and Practice with Purpose" puts all of those ideas in one central place. My hope is that a coach will flip through this manual and an entry will speak to them and the needs of their team. That's a wonderful destiny.

Ask anyone who has written a book about the process of writing and their response is akin to playing the game of golf. You know your strengths and can't let go of your weaknesses. Not too much about it is easy, but it still an endeavor worth pursuing. Writing is demanding and exacting. Quite often it is a lonely pursuit—too lonely. And yet, writing doesn't have to fact, it cannot be. And so I suppose it is appropriate that the only time I shed a tear in meeting my book for the first time is when I looked at the dedication: To my parents: the givers of so many wonderful gifts—including Sports and Spirituality. Thank you. My heart swelled with gratitude when I reviewed the acknowledgments, or as I wrote, "the assists." I have already seen edits I wish I had made, a quote I could I? Eric Liddell's words have nearly defined my experience of Sports and Spirituality. I didn't get a chance to thank some people, and there were prayers and practices I learned about later.

I am so grateful that "Pray and Practice with Purpose, A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" was made public during Easter week. The joy of these 50 days manifests itself in new and surprising ways. To offer a tool for others to know the Risen Lord, His power, and majesty through something totally unexpected—through sports—is not. Sounds like Easter to me. 

If you would like to order a copy, "Pray and Practice with Purpose, A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" is available on the NCEA website. If you would like a signed copy, contact the author directly ( I will send it to you, mailing included.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. A book. That is a major accomplishment. Congratulations!