During a recent conversation with a colleague who is serving a Division I college football program (American Football), he remarked that some of the important dates, seasons, and opportunities associated with college football were a complete mystery to him. After 23 seasons, I have taken for granted much of that information and the ministry opportunities associated with them.
Below, please take a few moments to consider which of these seasonal opportunities may be yours as well as mine. These are from my perspective as a Division I FCS program, and could be moderately different if you are at a Division I FBS school, Division II, Division III, or an NAIA school. I hope these thought raise some new opportunities to serve for you.
· This is a pressure packed month for recruiting as coaches are both in players’ homes and welcoming them and their families to campus.
· During the week of the Division I national championship, the American Football Coaches Association hosts their annual convention. This is an excellent place to connect with coaches from all across the USA and even abroad. http://www.afca.com/article/article.php?id=Convention_News
· There are also some Glazier Clinics held during January, also a great place to interact with coaches. For dates and locations of clinics, see - http://www.glazierclinics.com/coaching_clinics/cities_and_dates
· The NCAA letter of intent signing date is always the first Wednesday of February. This is even better than Christmas Day for coaches as they see years of recruiting come to fruition as their fax machines buzz with completed forms.
· This month and the weeks prior to spring football practices make for a good time to meet with coaches, to plan for the spring, summer, and even fall.
· These weeks can also be a good time to interject a weekly discussion on leadership or a Bible study. If you offer it, this may be the perfect time to start such a ministry with the coaching staff.
· This period may also be a good time to meet with the aspiring team leaders to help them prepare for their roles of leadership.
· At some point, Division I and II have spring football practices. Division I gets 15 practices, and I believe Division II gets a few less.
· To be at these practices, even for just a few minutes, pays huge dividends. Everyone knows there are no games on spring Saturdays. When they see you at practice, they know it’s neither glamorous nor convenient, but it speaks to your commitment to them.
April – May -
· Most teams will have a spring game of some sort. That may be similar to a real game with the team broken into two halves, or it could be a scripted scrimmage with lots of prescribed down and distance, game situations, and engineered stressful moments laid out ahead of time.
· April and early May is also a time when coaches can go on the road to observe high school junior players in the recruiting process. Rules severely limit the contact they can have, but this is often when players are given invitations to summer camps on the school’s campus so the coaches can get first-hand information, reliable times and measurements, and a look into the player’s personality.
· Being available to simply drop in on coaches and to ask them about family, travel, their summer plans, or the players’ academic performance is a solid way to build relationship in this season.
June – July –
· This is summer camps season and most teams will host numerous camps. Camps provide a great environment for ministry, mostly as we show up, serve, and build relationships with the coaches hosting the events as well as the coaches attending with their players.
o Individual camps – these are for assessment of players in their recruiting process.
o Team camps – these vary from state to state, but usually allow whole teams to compete in full pads.
o Elite camps – these will usually focus on a particular position group and are usually by invitation only.
o 7 on 7 tournaments – these are focused on the passing game of football and usually run one day.
· Last summer, I started meeting with our five team captains at my home on Wednesday mornings to prepare them for leading their teammates.
· This is GO TIME! Months of planning and preparation have gone into the preseason process and coaches work well over 16 hours a day during this season between early August and the start of school.
· The preseason is a wonderful environment for ministry as the players are sequestered from normal life, they spend all day and all evening together, and if you are allowed to be at practices, team meetings, or team meals, get there! Being with them in these days, even without anything programmatic happening, builds your bond with them like nothing else.
· Over the years I have done many Sunday morning, 6:00 chapel talks on the 50 yard line prior to a team stretch. I have done team building exercises with our teams for nearly 15 years. I have eaten countless team breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with players and coaches.
· Once school starts, things find a more normal rhythm and the NCAA twenty hour rule takes effect. The coaches are limited as to the time they can spend with the players. This also gives us opportunity as we are not limited by the rule and we can enhance the coaches’ roles by leading, encouraging, serving, and loving the players.
September through November –
· This is the regular season of college football. Its weekly schedule is similar to this (some will vary slightly):
o Sunday us usually an off day for the players or the coaches may have them come in to lift weights and stretch as well as watch video of the last game. The coaches grind on this day, reviewing video of the last game, grading player performances, watching video of the next opponent, and more.
o Monday is either an off day or a return to practice. The coaches are usually now working on game plan for the next opponent on Saturday. Monday practices are often a return to fundamentals and skill enhancement drills.
o Tuesday is normally the day to install particular elements of the upcoming game plan. They will drill these until they are in synch. There is also a lot of video review to be done by the players with their coaches.
o Wednesday and Thursday are for practice and preparation of this week’s points of emphasis.
o Friday is either a walk through (at home), or travel to the site of Saturday’s game, or both. Many teams hold their team chapel on Friday nights in the team hotel, before or after the team dinner.
o Saturday – game day. The timing varies widely, depending upon time for the kickoff, but some teams will hold their team chapel prior to or following the team’s pregame meal. Some teams will hold a Protestant chapel on Friday night and a Roman Catholic mass on Saturday. This day is full of ministry opportunity simply because of the pressure it contains and the significance of each play. Everyone feels the urgency and the pressure to succeed, including the chaplain.
· Many programs will hold a team banquet where they will wrap up the season, give team awards, and say goodbye to the senior players. This affords one opportunities to serve at the banquet, to say goodbye to senior players, and otherwise to wrap up the season.
Late November through December –
· This begins the post-season part of the year.
o That could mean a bowl game. If Division I FBS teams win six games they are bowl eligible and could be chosen for a bowl game. If so, that means more practices and that’s what the coaches value. It means another game, that’s what the players value. It could mean a warm weather destination, that’s what the fans value. It usually means a good amount of cash, that’s what the school administrators value.
o If in Division I FCS, Division II, Division III, or NAIA the post-season could mean a playoff bid. These divisions play a tournament to determine a national champion. This simply extends the opportunities for the chaplain by 1, 2, 3, or even 4 weeks.
· This is also often the most painful part of the year as coaches are fired, leave of their own volition for other opportunities, and uproot their families for their next coaching spot. Relationships are broken, feelings are bruised, loyalty is challenged, and many other relational issues bring opportunity to our door. We must be possessed of tremendous emotional intelligence to navigate these stormy waters wisely and well.
· These months also intensify the recruiting process as coaches will be on the road making home visits, scheduling campus visits, and otherwise connecting with players for their programs’ future. Thankfully, NCAA rules require that they stop recruiting for some holiday time with family, otherwise some would surely be making calls to players on Christmas morning.
There it is, a thumbnail sketch of a college football calendar with some notes for ministry opportunities. Please take time to study your program’s schedule, feel its pulse, smell its culture, live in its rhythm. Your heart will awaken you to the opportunities to serve as you hear the Savior whisper in your ear, “This is the way, walk in it.”