Put Me In, Coach!

Coaching and sports have always been a part of my life. I started with hockey in the driveway, played a sport every season in elementary and middle school, and then became a manager after I transferred to a 4A high school in Maryland.

Last decade, I was the assistant basketball coach for the four middle school teams where I taught in New Mexico. We ran practices three days per week opposite study hall. One group of scholar-athletes worked out for 45 minutes before hitting the books or meeting with teachers. Then a second group that started the afternoon in study hall would practice. My day didn’t end until the activity bus arrived or parents picked up their kids.

Road games sometimes required us to travel over an hour away, which meant coming home late at night. Since the head coach had a later start to his school day than I did, I didn’t attend some of those games. That gave me incentive to run the practices for those games the very best that I could. I needed to ensure that my players understood the importance of working hard, being kind, and following the ball.

I’ve spent time lately thinking about how God coaches us in our lives. When we need Him most, He is a quiet voice as opposed to one screaming at us. Trying to live our lives according to His will is something that requires effort from all of us at all times. God gives us people to follow, saints as models for our behavior, and friends and family to help us sort out the rest.

St. Ignatius of Loyola is one of my favorite models. His spiritual exercises and rules for discernment give us plenty of direction when it comes to making decisions. In particular, those rules force us to ask ourselves about the decisions in front of us.

- How would God want us to make this decision?
- Is the choice we’re making the proper one?
- Does this decision truly belong to God?
- Does this choice profit our soul?
- Is the decision we’re making proper to Satan?
- Does this choice bring good thoughts?
- Does the decision-making process give you peace?
- Does the choice come with deception?

As he recovered from a cannonball injury, St. Ignatius believed God would not make the decision for us, but only enlighten us through the process of discernment to make the best decision. He lends us people to help and then asks us to pray upon the decision itself.

You may not watch much hockey, but you may have seen the iconic photo of Jim Craig draped in the American flag following the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s gold medal-winning victory in Lake Placid in 1980. Perhaps this quote from Craig about his “Miracle on Ice” coach will provide perspective:

“Herb Brooks, God rest his soul, wasn’t coaching a Dream Team. He was coaching a team full of dreamers.”

God has put a dream in your heart and the stirrings of plans in place. Embrace each of your desires, but also be attentive to His word.

Sometimes the coach will yell from the sidelines, and sometimes the coach makes you watch film so you can see what could have gone differently. Every once in a while, the coach will replace you during the game to give you time to think, breathe, and regroup before putting you back into the lineup. More often than not, coaches will see the tweaks we need to make in order to succeed.

God speaks through prophets as He coaches us in the Old Testament. Think of Micah 6:8:

“You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness and walk humbly with your God.”

God’s message of being a humble leader and being coachable also pops up in one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  See Titus 3:4-5:

“But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

At this point, Jesus is portrayed as what some people would call a true professional. He is a completely coachable individual. Like most coaches, God wants you to listen, try, and finish the play.

John Wooden led the men’s basketball program at UCLA to 10 national titles. If these words worked for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton on the court, then they would work for us on the road to heaven: 

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

As a player on God’s team, we need to listen to the instructions of the greatest coach of all time. Joe Gibbs led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl titles, and he greatly reinforced God’s coaching with this brief speech he once gave his players:

“You and I are the players, God’s our head coach, and we’re playing the biggest game of all. We have a loving God that made us. We need to get on his team. It says in His word, there’s only one way to Him and that is through Jesus Christ.”

Players should remember that coaching is a dialogue, not a monologue. We need to interact with our Coach in heaven to know that our decisions on Earth are consistent with His will.

Also remember that coaching exists beyond athletics. From professional certified coach Keith E. Webb:

“Coaching is an ongoing intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.”

This conversation is just that, a speaking and listening of two people. Sometimes you need to be the listener and not say a word. Take the time to pray and listen to what God is telling you. Just like at practice, take the time to make sure the ball moves on the court as it should.

Finally, advice from Babe Ruth: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

Written by the Holy Rukus