There are few professions that provide the opportunity to build relationships with young people like the profession of coaching. I have always considered coaching my ministry. It is not just my job. It is a mission field unlike any other. As Christ-followers, we are all called to spread the gospel, and as a coach, I get the privilege of doing this in a unique way.
I grew up a coach’s son. My dad received the blessing of having a very successful forty-plus-year coaching career. He saw many winning seasons and championships. The lessons that I and many others learned from him went well beyond the field. There were life lessons taught but it was the eternal lessons that are most valued. My dad is not only one of the best coaches I have ever been around but he is also the godliest. And it was his example that has had the most influence on my coaching career.
A Day I’ll Never Forget
The most impactful lesson under his influence came during my ninth-grade year in high school. My dad had been the head coach for two seasons. They were two of the most successful seasons the school had ever experienced. Small town politics got involved and the superintendent and the school board decided to let him go. You can only imagine how angry that made his ninth-grade son. I just could not understand how that could possibly happen to someone with such stellar character and success on the field.
The day after my dad was released, he had a team meeting. I was in that team meeting, bitter and angry. As the meeting began, my dad thanked the players for allowing him to coach them. He thanked them for the effort they had given. What happened next would change not only my life but countless others.
Light In the Dark
Right there in the locker room during what I considered one of the darker days of my life, my dad began to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the team. I was torn with emotions. I was so bitter and angry at what they had done to my dad. And I was overwhelmed that my dad had such strength and courage in that situation to share Jesus. That one moment taught me more about following Christ and the influence of ministry in coaching than any other. It has had the most impact on my life and coaching career.
The coaching profession has given me the opportunity to be a light of hope for some that may not have ever seen or even heard of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I have the opportunity on a daily basis to show the love of Jesus by the way I love the kids that not only play for me but also walk the halls of my school. I have the opportunity to show the compassion of Jesus by the compassion I show to them. And I have the opportunity to show the righteousness of God by the way I hold them accountable each day. For many of the kids a coach comes in contact with, we may be the only example of Jesus they see. It is an incredible opportunity. The responsibility can be overwhelming without the courage, strength, and protection of the Holy Spirit.
Learning from Tragedy
In October of 2017, it was a tragedy that reminded me of this great responsibility God has given me to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the early morning hours of October 26, I received a phone call letting me know that one of our junior high football players had died overnight in a house fire. I was devastated.
My youngest son was on the team with the young man. I had just seen him Tuesday night after their game. I had even joked around with the kid. But the most devastating part of the news to me was that I was not sure if he had ever heard of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I have always found ways to have the gospel shared with our team. I had not been sure it had been shared with this team. The death of the young man was a very hard reminder of how fleeting life is. It was a good reminder of the importance and reality of eternity for all of us, coaches and players.
That following Friday night in the locker room after our high school game, we had a ministry opportunity. Many players made decisions to follow Jesus. Although there were lives positively changed as a result of this tragedy, I still have to live with the fact that our junior high player may have died without hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. As a coach, as well as a Christ-follower, I must be sure that all the players I come in contact with hear the gospel.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: many of these kids will not step into a church but they will walk into a locker room and onto a field where we can minister to them. We have such an opportunity to share the most important thing in life with them through the avenue of sports. That is more important than winning. Sports give coaches the perfect opportunity to build relationships with young men and women that they will not get anywhere else. It is a wonderful responsibility and opportunity coaches have been blessed with when it comes to having an eternal impact on our players. I thank God every day for it.