1. Let players become friends. Invite your players and their families into your life. Let the team get to know you, add you as a friend on social media and don’t be afraid to invite them to church. I still have former players in my ministry to this day. I’m still friends with all of those families and we still keep in touch. Because of these relationships and connections through social media, I was able to help walk a family through a recent tragedy. This happened long after those practices and games, and it was only possible because we became friends.
2. Don’t make “winning” the true priority. During my days of coaching, we played and practiced to win. If they weren’t focused at practice, we ran them until they were. We practiced like champions so that we could win championships … but winning championships wasn’t the goal. My fellow coaches and our players’ parents all wanted strong, healthy young women to graduate as leaders. The only way I know how to drive people to success is through Jesus. I was never shy about my faith when coaching, and I built my motivational and instructional talks on scripture and sermons. Don’t be afraid to reach out to parents going through difficult seasons and pray with and for them. Offer spiritual counseling to those who are open to it, and God may use you to help a family get plugged into a church. Earn their trust on the field so that you can speak into their lives off the field.
3. Know who you represent. When I started coaching, I didn’t realize how many barriers people had with Christianity and church workers. Almost none of our players had ever gone to church and most held a negative or untrue opinion about Christ followers. Can you believe they thought we don’t like to have fun?! By the end of the season, the parents saw how much we loved their students and that we really wanted the best for all of them. The players saw that, as well. It’s important to know and remember your players and parents can experience the love of Jesus through you, and for some it might be the first positive interaction they’ve ever had with God’s Church.
4. Be their cheerleader. In all things, we should be modeling Jesus in our interactions with people. A coach’s encouragement is a powerful thing to a player who cares, and we cheered for our girls like there was no tomorrow. They responded to the positive reinforcement and modeled it with each other. They even started doing it for other teams! Our sportsmanship stood out in the league, and I know it’s because we let Jesus lead our team.
And I cheer YOU on, coach! I promise that God will work through you to touch the lives of people who might never have stepped through the doors of your church.
Joe Smith is a veteran of youth ministry, having served as lead youth minister in multiple churches over the past 20 years. He’s also served as a senior minister and preaching minister of churches in Florida, and currently serves on the ministry staff at Shift Church in Gainesville, Florida. To contact Joe, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.