Friday, December 2, 2016

"Be a Man"

A year ago our head football coach was fired and we worked with him, his staff, their families, and support staff to manage the transitions each had to make. A few weeks later, our new head coach was chosen and he began to assemble his staff, to determine the direction of the program, and to outline its values. The new head coach is only 31 years old and that presents him a particular set of challenges. His staff is also rather young, with one exception.

He and I talked after recruiting was completed about how I could serve him and we had a tremendous discussion. One of his first thoughts was to have his program defined by the statement, “Be a Man.” Rather than have a long list of rules, he would like the young men in his program to just, “be a man.” I pushed back, saying, “Coach, they don’t know what that is.” Near 80% of our players grew up with no man in the house, and probably a number of the others had poor models for what a man is. I said, “Coach, we have to define terms. Will you trust me to help them learn what it is to be a man?” He agreed and the rest of this note is related to what I told them and how I delivered the messages.

In the way that I work with our college football team, I have several different opportunities and methods to convey a message:
Preseason – Team Building sessions (4-6), senior player talks, coach talks, Sunday morning chapels (2).
In season – Pregame chapels (11), letters at pregame meals (11).

Prior to the season, during the early summer, I approached the head coach with some simple ideas to help define what a man is that we could emphasize over and over again. He agreed to this set of four statements: “A Man Loves. A Man Takes Responsibility. A Man Serves. A Man Takes Initiative.” I used these four statements as the anchor to which we tied all our communication throughout the season. At times I would deal with these by drawing sharp contrasts between what men do and what boys do. Boys are selfish, men love. Boys avoid responsibility, men take it up. Boys are self-serving, men serve others. Boys are passive, men take initiative.

For chapel talks, I majored on narrative texts that demonstrated a person acting on one of the four “A Man …..” statements. I would introduce the talk, recite all four statements, ask someone to pray, and then launch in to my talk. We would wrap up with prayer and I would be finished.

For the letters at pregame meals, I spent a good deal of time during a July study retreat writing devotional thoughts focused on the four statements. I would start with a story of a player or coach from the program’s past who was emblematic of that day’s statement. I would outline his story in one paragraph. The next paragraph would introduce a Bible passage that spoke to the statement as well.

The third paragraph would apply the ideas illuminated from scripture to the team and to the earlier player’s life, and the final paragraph would be a direct challenge to do as directed by the scripture and as modeled by the player or coach. I would insert a salutation, date, sign, and print the letter on my office stationery.  I make photocopies and have one copy at each place prior to the pregame meal, 4 hours prior to kickoff. These devotional thoughts, being in letter form, feel very personal to the reader and are well received.

During the preseason, each senior player and each coach on the staff was given time to deliver a 5-7 minute talk to the entire team. I created a set of questions to help the players gather their thoughts about how their experiences at the university had shaped the kind of men they had become. I created a separate set of questions for the coaches with more information about their childhood and their life experiences. The results of these talks was amazing. Rather than posturing or simply stringing clichés together, they opened their hearts and spoke vulnerably. This was a strong factor in building the team’s culture and its cohesion.

You may be wondering how the team did this season? We started with strong expectations, quickly discovered our weak spots, competed strongly, lost several very close games, finished well, and had a 4 win, 7 loss record. The remarkable thing was that through a losing streak, our cohesion never broke down, the coaches and players all stayed together, and we never abandoned the program values or goals.

In a text message to the head coach during the last week of the season, I said, “Coach, you are doing the right things and holding to the right values. Press on. Recruit to the culture you are building. I am proud of you.”


Our society is full of men who never love, never take responsibility, never serve, and never take initiative. I hope that our work together in Saluki Football, produces young men who do love, take responsibility, serve, and take initiative. I also pray that the introduction of scripture and prayer to their lives takes root in their hearts and comes to full fruition as they become men who love Christ Jesus.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Notes on Serving Millennial Sportspeople

For most of the coaches with whom I serve, for most of the chaplains with whom I associate, for most of the parents and employers I know, the Millennial generation is an enigma. They are not sure just how to lead them, just what they value, and otherwise just don’t get what they’re doing. At sixty years of age, an acknowledged and unrepentant Baby Boomer, I have experienced my struggles in communicating and in developing leadership among this unique group of people.

While researching the characteristics of millennials, I came across this article by a millennial and liked its approach. I have excerpted portions of the article from LinkedIn by Lydia Abbott and have inserted some thoughts re: serving millennial sportspeople. I hope these thoughts are of value to you as you serve them.

My contributions will be bold italics.

8 Millennials' Traits You Should Know About Before You Hire Them

https://content.linkedin.com/content/dam/business/talent-solutions/global/en_us/blog/2016/10/Lydia-Abbot.jpg Lydia Abbot

December 4, 2013

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“Millennials,” “Generation Y,” “Generation WE,” “The Boomerang Generation,” “The Peter Pan Generation,” – we go by many names and were born roughly between 1980 and 2000. Born in 1990, I fall right smack in the middle of this generation and there is no denying that we are the subject of a heated debate: are we a blessing or a curse?
A lot of people seem to think that we are, well, a pain. The week I graduated from college, Time Magazine released an article titled “Millennials: the Me Me Me Generation,” which called us lazy, entitled, self-obsessed narcissists. Ouch! On the other hand, we’ve been called open-minded, liberal, self-expressive, upbeat, and overtly passionate about equality. Naturally, I’d prefer to believe this description over the former (how Millennial of me). But, the truth is both arguments hold some grounds for belief. The reality must fall somewhere in between.
The interest in and the controversy surrounding my generation resulted in a packed audience and lengthy Q&A at LinkedIn Talent Connect’s session: “Millennials: How to Attract, Hire, & Retain Today’s Workforce.” Lead by Sondra Dryer of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Barry Sylvia of TripAdvisor, and Melissa Hooven of Cornerstone OnDemand, the talk covered the do’s and don’ts of working with Millennials as well as our overall characteristics and desires.
I walked away from the session with a clear understanding of how recruiting Millennials is different and the key points every recruiter should emphasize when talking to this new generation. To help out those of you that weren’t there, I put together the following list of key takeaways from the session with a view of my own observations thrown in.

Millennials are…

Multitaskers

·         Millennials are multitasking pros and can juggle many responsibilities at once. This also means that we are easily distracted and find social media and texting hard to resist.
·         This means that coaches, chaplains, and anyone who hopes to connect with them has to deal with their distractedness. We either have to take away the distractions, as some coaches have, or find ways to engage them deeply enough to push through the distractions. You can either be annoyed with their distraction or develop a way to deal with it. It will be there.
Connected
·         Millennials know everything there is to know about social media because we are living it. We are constantly perusing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  - it’s how we share and get information.
·         This means that we can either join them in their connectedness or become quickly irrelevant. This group connects immediately with people from all across the planet. That is both good and bad. The issue is with whom they connect. If we will provide good content, even godly content, through various social media platforms, we stand to be the ones shaping their thoughts and values. Don’t fear or war against their connectedness, find a way to transform it via Biblical truth.
Tech-Savvy
·         There’s no doubt that the majority of Millennials are more tech-savvy than other generations, although Generation Z may soon surpass us (yikes!).
·         This surely means that we must become tech-savvy as well. At least have tech-savvy people on your team who can put your content and wisdom into the stream of information in which the millennials daily swim. This is an ever-changing landscape. Don’t let it pass you by.
Millennials want…
Instant Gratification & Recognition
·         Millennials need to feel like what they are doing is important and that they are on the right track.  Yes, it sounds a little needy…and it is. But, many Millennials grew up with constant praise from their Baby Boomer parents. It’s what they know.
·         This is likely the greatest source of frustration and annoyance for the Baby Boomers and even Gen Xers. Sadly, it’s our fault. We were the ones who invented participation trophies and sheltered our kids from any possible pain or injury. We decided everyone should be winners, no one should be a loser, and we are reaping the whirlwind in this generation of needy and over-sensitive people. We can either be constantly offended or find ways to deal with their desire to be recognized and have immediate feedback. My suggestion is to give instant feedback, especially praise, in public, face to face, in text messages, via tweets, and to regularly praise the matters you value with their teammates present. Praise what you want and you’ll get more. Ignore or discourage what you don’t want, and you’ll get less of it.
Work-Life Balance & Flexibility
·         Millennials aren’t as willing as former generations to sacrifice their personal life in order to advance their careers. They like to “work hard – play hard” and want to be at a company that appreciates this desire for balance. They also expect a more flexible work environment than previous generations and want to work for a company that supports various causes.
·         We should expect this group to have a strong sense of how many hours they invest in training, practice, film study, team meetings and such vs. how much time they have for social activities, academic work, etc… They will be quick to complain if they think this is out of balance. Don’t just call them soft or chide them about commitment, discuss the balance with them and help them understand your values, the necessity of diligence, and arrive at a wise and appropriate balance. When you do, you’ll have their full commitment.
Collaboration
·         Millennials are extremely team-oriented and enjoy collaborating and building friendships with colleagues.
·         This is a quality that should work in our favor. Encourage and reward their teamwork. Enable them to build friendships among their teammates with social events, fun team activities, meals together, etc… This group will love it.
Transparency
·         Millennials want to feel like they have an open and honest relationship with their manager and co-workers and that there won’t be any nasty surprises when they join a company. Once they’ve signed on, they want assurance that their opinion is valued and both give and receive a good deal of feedback.
·         I watched this in action this August during our college football team’s pre-season. We had each senior player share a few minutes about his experience at the university and with this team. They were remarkably vulnerable and shared their hearts with their teammates. Further, we had our coaching staff each share the life stories and situations that made them into the men they are today. Wow, when they bared their souls to their players, the bonding was deep and permanent. The transparency shown by these players and coaches, resulted in a remarkable sense of team unity.
Career Advancement
·         Millennials want to know that they will have the opportunity to advance and develop their careers within the company they choose to join.

·         This is another point of contention for most older coaches who deal with millennial competitors, especially as the competition gets stronger and the starting positions become fewer. “I feel like I should be the starting quarterback.” “I work harder than anyone.” “I think I should start. I was the best player on my 5-A high school and AAU teams.” “When is it my turn to be the #1?” “Why can’t I have the jersey number I prefer?” Most of these kids grew up with their preference, with a strong sense of entitlement, with mom or dad carrying their hundreds of dollars of gear to the ballpark. Most of their families have engineered ways for their kids to be the first, the best, the #1 player, from infancy. When they arrive at a level where everyone has also been there, it’s a stark reality. We have to lead them to value “we” over “me” and to understand that sport is a meritocracy where the one who bests serves the team’s best interests will play more than the one who has the best gear, the best post-game snacks, or the wealthiest parents.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reprise: Notes on Coaching Staff Transitions

This time of year always brings the resignations, firings, new hirings, and other coaching staff transitions. This is primarily true in college football, but also applies to the high school level, and other fall sports as well. Below is a post from late November, 2007 during the third transition I had experienced with our football staff. I hope its values and insights are of value to you as transitions come your way.


At this time of year in college football, there are dozens of changes among head coaching positions, multiplied by their staff’s transitions. This displaces hundreds of coaches and their families each year. We can serve them by understanding the situation and positioning ourselves for effective ministry.

Related to the outgoing staff: 
· If the staff was fired, understand that this feels like failure and a lot like death to them. 
· Help the coaches to see this situation within the sovereignty of God. The Lord is not surprised by this. 
· Understand that the transition is probably harder on the coach’s family than on the coach. 
· Be available to them. They may not want much company, but if they welcome your presence, be there. 
· Be prepared for the termination of some relationships. Some relationships will live beyond their tenure with your team, but others will cut off all ties to this place and you could be cut off as well. 
· Communicate respect and thankfulness for their time with your team as well as hope for their future. 
· Assure them of your prayers and availability to serve. 
· Written communication is very good and can be an enduring encouragement to them. Send a card, an email and/or periodic text messages to stay in touch with them. 


Related to the incoming staff: 
· Pray for favor with the athletic administration and the new head coach. 
· When a new head coach is announced, send a letter of congratulations immediately (keep it to one page). 
· When the coach is settled into the office, get an appointment to welcome him/her and to offer your assistance. 
· Bring a gift (a book) that is reflective of your desired relationship with the coaching staff and team. 
· A wise attitude is reflected in offering to do, “as much or as little as the head coach believes appropriate.” 
· When discussing a role with the team one can reference his/her role with past coaching staffs, but don’t lock into those methods or activities exclusively. 
· Let the coach paint the parameters for your role and work to build trust and credibility from there. 
· It is always wise to offer to serve with no strings attached. Guard your attitude from presumption. 
· Come prepared to discern the coach’s perception of his/her, the staff and the team’s needs.

Friday, November 11, 2016

PowerUp Sports Ministry Conferences

On Wednesday of this week, we participated in the PowerUp Sports Ministry Conference in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Bill Houston and his team from Our Daily Bread Ministries (odb.org) hosted and organized this excellent event.

The program featured presentations by LaMorris Crawford, chaplain to the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL, Dorothy Caldwell, chaplain to the WNBA Chicago Sky, my son Jason Lipe and I, and a panel discussion facilitated by Tom Rust of Face-2-Face Radio, and populated by Derick Grant, formerly with the Harlem Globetrotters, David Wildman of Fully Packed Adventure Sports Ministries, David Storvick, chaplain to the Indy Racing League, Cameron Mills, former basketball player at Kentucky, and Tom Roy of Unlimited Potential, Inc.

LaMorris Crawford delivered two excellent and inspiring talks. Dorothy Caldwell did a very good job of sharing about her service with WNBA players. Jason and I talked about growing up in sports chaplaincy, how we have both learned as we served.

The panel did a tremendous job of sharing about their respective ministries, their challenges, and their successes.

Our Daily Bread provided each of the attendees a set of their resources, refreshments, and an excellent lunch. The presentations were each recorded on video and will soon be available on line at – ourdailybread.org/powerup.

Four PowerUp Sports Ministry Conferences are scheduled for 2016-2017:

November 29, 2016 in Lansing, Michigan at South Church
March 1, 2017 in Knoxville, TN at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church
April 26, 2017 in Houston, TX at Crosspoint Church
October 3, 2017 in Grand Rapids, Michigan at Our Daily Bread Ministries

For more information and to register, please visit: ourdailybread.org/powerup


As good as the presentations are, as inspiring as the speakers are, as delicious as the lunch is, I believe the greatest asset of these events is the gathering of like-minded, committed, but often isolated sports chaplains. The fellowship we enjoy, the networking in which we engage, the sharing of our lives together is of powerful effect, encouraging, and enlightening. Please join us and many of your colleagues at a PowerUp Sports Ministry Conference very soon.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Monthly Conference Calls for Sports Chaplains and Character Coaches

One of the more impactful, available, and practical ways we have used to serve the sports chaplaincy community in the United States is the conference call. Just over two years ago, I began an experiment in sport chaplaincy development by hosting a monthly conference call. From August through May we simply interviewed one of our sports chaplaincy colleagues from around the country for anywhere from 35 to 60 minutes. The calls never fail to inform, inspire, encourage, and challenge each one who calls in.

Those interviewed have included both men and women, people from collegiate, high school, and professional sports. Many of those interviewed have been volunteers, others have been sports ministry professionals working for FCA or other sports ministries. The conference calls have been promoted via email, via social media, and via text messages.

We would invite you to join us. We now have two times slots for these calls. One call is on the first Sunday evening each month at 8:00 pm Central time. That call is primarily aimed at volunteers whose work schedules will not allow them to be on the other call, which is usually on the first Tuesday of each month at 10:30 am Central time. This second call is aimed at ministry professionals like pastors, FCA or other sports ministry staff people.

These calls are connected via Freeconferencecall.com and that makes it really simple for anyone to join us from most anywhere. To stay updated on the day and time for upcoming calls, simply follow me on Twitter - @SalukiChaplain, friend me on Facebook, or send me a text message to be put on my text list for sports chaplains – 618.559.2735.

The next Sunday night call is coming up Sunday November 6.



The next Tuesday morning call is set for December 13.



The calls are very beneficial as they accomplish much of FCA’s approach to developing sports chaplains – 1) Training 2) Networking and 3) Mentoring. We all learn best when we hear ideas and best practices from our colleagues.

Please join us and encourage those whom you lead to join us if they are engaged in or even interested in service as a sports chaplain or character coach. 


The process is very simple. Call 712.432.1500, then enter code 991788#, and then enter 1 when prompted. That’s it. It’s perfect for busy people calling in from a mobile phone. Thanks.

Monday, October 31, 2016

How "Spiritual" or "Religious" should my service be?

It is amazing to observe the wide variety of styles that we employ in our service of the people of sport. Some of us approach our service like a member of the coaching staff. Others seem more like a pastor who roams the dugouts, sidelines, and locker rooms. Still others are evangelists, without apology, seeking opportunities to share Jesus in any moment. There is certainly room for one to develop his or her personal style of service, but just how “spiritual” or “religious” should our service be?

While speaking with our university’s play by play radio announcer earlier this year, he remarked, “I have never heard your work described as religious.” I replied that I was glad, rather than being religious I would prefer to be faithful to my calling from God. I think what he meant was that I don’t communicate in religious clichés, nor do I imply that going to church services with me is the height of Christian devotion. My way of serving people in sport is to speak in the language of their cultures, rather than importing church culture into their worlds. It is not heard as religious, but it communicates clearly and respectfully.

Some of our colleagues employ the super-spiritual language that fits their church environment as they are on the practice field. While that makes the chaplain stand out as distinctively different, it also creates some distance that many will not even try to cross to connect with him or her.

We may do better to think about our service of sportspeople by focusing on the core of our message, rather than the language in which it is wrapped. Rather than simply spouting the clichés, buzzwords, and illustrations we hear on the latest preacher’s podcast, let’s find ways to communicate that truly transform the hearts of those we serve. More than religious, such communication is truly spiritual and speaks life into the lives of sportspeople.


How “spiritual” should our service be? Very. How “religious” should it be? That’s up to you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Wise, Thoughtful, and Biblical Devotional Reflection

Our friend and colleague, Stuart Weir of Verité Sport, shared this devotional thought earlier today. It is emblematic of what I believe to be a wise, thoughtful, and Biblical view of sport and faith. Please take a moment to read Stuart’s thoughtful reflection from I Timothy 4:8.

Important but not All-Important

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8.

Sport is legitimate. It is part of God’s creation and it brings pleasure to many. It is as worthwhile a part of human activity as any other. Through sport people can glorify God and it can provide opportunities to talk about Jesus. However, at the end of the day, sport is transient. It, like all other human activity, is going to pass away. In the light of eternity it is of limited value.

While there is a danger of sport becoming an idol if it is put ahead of Christ, sport is important because it is the arena in which we serve Christ.

Helmfried Riecker expresses it thus in his book Warm Up: “The New Testament writers are unanimous, not only about the hope of eternal life after death, but also that the goal of that eternal life is to be with Christ in the presence of God the Father… It is great to set sports goals and to gain a real part of your meaning in life through the fulfilment of these goals. However, the short-term goals will appear in a different perspective when you see again the real goal of your life. If winning a final is an exciting thing, how much greater will be the celebration of the ultimate goal of your life?”

South African, cricketer, Peter Pollock would agree with that: ‘As Christian sportsmen our task is to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into applying the gifts God has given us in the arena he has prepared for us, realizing always that the final victory isn’t the World Cup’ (‘The myth of success’).


Wanting to compete at the Olympics and wanting to win a gold medal are totally appropriate aspirations for an athlete. At the same time we need to remember God’s big picture.