Start with this; What do you love, like, enjoy? Go do it, and redeem the time by inviting others into what you love to do.
Just as Paul made his walk through the Shrines and Altars of Athens, we too take our weekly strolls through the maze of suburban idols of financial freedom, weekend hobby mania, gluten-free image consciousness, and, oh ya . . . YOUTH SPORTS! Every week in our community the parks, fields, courts, and waterways are filled with the buzz of activity. People obsess over making sure their kid goes to and fro every event, competition, and recital. This can be a troubling obsession, but it’s also a huge opportunity for the gospel.
Through my work as a defensive line coach for a local varsity football team, coaching or serving in a wide variety of camps, clinics, youth leagues, and youth sport tournaments, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), I’ve collected a few “tips” I believe could set you or your MC in the right direction for engaging your community with the Gospel.
A quick warning to save yourself from frustration:
A good rule of thumb with missional living is to follow passions God has already given you. You shouldn’t feel like you need to “get into something” just to make new friends or hang out with not-yet believers. Start with this: What do you love? Like? Enjoy? Go do it, and redeem the time by inviting others into what you love to do. If you love sports, love coaching your kids, or just love being around competition, then maybe these are for you and your MC family.
No-Brainer Tip #1
Think Twice About Varsity Sports
- This is the shiny new toy everyone wants to play with in the youth sports missions world figuratively, but trust me, coming from a varsity football coach, the emotions run high and time is extremely limited and important. If a coach or parent gets the sense you’re anything but helping the team or players improve on the field, you’ll have a short plank to walk. Also, typically varsity teams are the best-funded, best-supported, and most-celebrated teams in your community so your service will likely go unappreciated and/or unnoticed. Unless you find a team that is very neglected, this is likely going to take a lot of time to develop trust and relationships, and by then the kids are off to the next sport or graduating.
No-Brainer Tip #2
- If your child is on a team, start to pray and ask the Spirit to open doors relationally with other parents of players. Invite them into opportunities to serve the team, i.e. giving out awards/recognition to players, bringing snacks & drinks, hosting a team pizza party with some separate space for parents to connect, etc. I love anyone who loves my son, and most people feel the same way about their kids. If you display love to their children, they will open the doors of their hearts and invite you into their lives.
No-Brainer Tip #3
Help The Coaches
- You can help shape the experience of players and parents by helping the coaches. How? Ask the coaches. Let them respond and be excellent in whatever way you agree to help. Be specific with your time availability so they know what they can ask of you, or just show up to practice and watch the whole time and wait for an opportunity to jump in and help. Pretty soon they’ll realize you aren’t there on your agenda, and they’ll begin to trust you. Bless them and thank them for investing in the lives of young people. Coaches generally only hear from parents when they’re upset, so your encouragement is also a huge opportunity.
No-Brainer Tip #4
- This one is easy. Bring snacks, bring drinks, bring food. To practices, games—you name it. Bring stuff for other parents too; it gets hot or cold at sporting events depending on season and part of the country, so look for ways to bless everyone involved. This is tangible gospel blessing in action, and it gets noticed and opens doors for relationships. (My wife just nudged me and said, “Make sure they bring GOOD snacks, not crummy snacks.” Clearly she has a prophetic gift.)
No-Brainer Tip #5
Become a Coach
- This might be the most important tip on here. Billy Graham said “Most coaches will impact more people in one year that most people will in a lifetime.” Coaches even at the lowest level of sports hold tremendous weight in the minds of children. This influence can be incredibly damaging or incredibly uplifting in the life of a young athlete. Even as an assistant coach, your words will carry weight and can bring life to young people. The parents will see your involvement in their students’ lives, and they’ll invite you into their family in ways that will amaze you. I’ve experienced this, and it’s incredible. When hard times come, coaches are safe, non-family relationships that students and parents feel they can come to for council. There are many opportunities to coach, and some only require two-hour-a-week commitments. This is a no-brainer and an effective use of time.
One final word on these tips is they’re just that—tips. Jesus told us in John 16 that the Spirit would come and lead us into “all truth.” The most effective missionary ever to exist is the Holy Spirit, and He is fully capable of directing you in, through, or around any of these tips I’ve noted above. That said, I hope this has encouraged you to take another look at intentional involvement in youth sports. It just might reap the benefit of watching precious lives changed and children (old and young) brought home to the Father.
What tips do you have for connecting with parents and students via coaching?
How might you connect with other parents intentionally and begin building relationships with them through coaching youth sports?
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