Rector's Ramblings September 20, 2017
In my adult years people have tended to assume that I am athletic. I have done some running, but I’m not a runner. I like to be active, but I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete. I didn’t play any organized sports as a child. I ran Cross Country and one year of Track and Field in high school, and I briefly played in a bowling league. I was late in learning the basics of most sports like baseball, basketball, football; no one in my family watched or played sports. As a result, I never played organized field or ball sports. I took up golf in seminary, but never played much, and rarely do now because of my schedule. Sports have not been a large part of my life and never have been.
Despite all that I am now a soccer coach. Calleigh is playing rec-league soccer this fall and the Parks Department put out a call for coaches. I responded to ask some questions about what it might involve, and the response was, “thank you for volunteering!” This week I was given the league rules and a team roster and given suggestions about a practice schedule. I guess I’m a soccer coach after all, which is a little intimidating because I never played organized soccer. Until this week, I could not have told you how many players take the field for a game, and I still can’t explain all the rules. I realize that’s hardly the point at this stage. I have some work to do, nonetheless.
In my typical fashion, I’ve become a quick study. I already have two books on coaching kids’ soccer and some basic equipment on their way from Amazon. I have done online training to become a certified Youth Sports Coach (I have a membership card and everything!), which wasn’t required, but seemed to me to be a good idea. I’m going to need all the help I can get. The training was basic, and yet very helpful. Although it was always a bit intimidating, the part of the training that got my attention is when the presenter said something to the effect of, “Remember, these kids will remember you for the rest of their lives!”
At first I thought that was a bit over the top, but as I considered it, I realized they were correct. Although I only had one coach that I knew well, (I ran for the same man for my four years in high school), I recognize that I remember most of the adults who had some kind of ongoing relationship with me. In fact, as I’ve written about before, my cross-country coach’s coaching has stayed with me into adulthood. That puts a level of responsibility on this soccer thing that I hadn’t originally envisioned when I thought I was just helping out to make sure there were enough adults to coach all the kids who wanted to play. I’m not just going to tell them how to run around the field, I’m going to get the opportunity to help shape them in ways that might stick with them for the rest of their lives.
Now, you would think that a person in my vocation would be used to that. I plant seeds all the time. I am aware that I say and do things that have an impact from time to time, and yet, my ministry has rarely been geared towards children. Adults are my main targets. I tend to think that the people I minister to are largely formed and simply evolving a bit. Kids seem a much more malleable medium in that regard, and the stakes seem a bit higher. I’ve always been in awe of teachers, for example, because I’ve witnessed first hand how they change lives of kids. I never thought I would be in that vocation, which coaching certainly falls into, and yet here I am.
As I think back on my only coach, trying to remember how he made such an impact, I realize that it was not his technical teaching about the sport of cross-country that stayed with me, as much as the intangible things that applied to life in ways that went well beyond the minutes between the starting pistol and the finish line. It was the way in which he made a kid like me, who was never fast enough to score in a varsity race, feel like a valuable part of the team. Heck, he asked me to be co-captain my senior year, which floored me. Captains were typically fast runners, so I never saw it coming. But again, the lesson wasn’t about the technical aspects of running, it was about something bigger.
This is where I begin to feel a bit slow on the uptake. I know kids’ sports aren’t about winning, (or at least they shouldn’t be – I knew that before my on-line training drilled that into me), and with me as their coach, wins will probably not be as likely as they might with another coach. Some of these kids may know more than me about the sport, and have certainly played more soccer than I have! Don’t miss-hear me. I’m quickly learning the ins and outs of the sport and I will teach what I learn to the kids. But at the end of the day, my “calling” to be a coach will not be based on the soccer skills I bestow, but on the way that I love and support them each as individuals and as a team.
Again, this is a belated “aha” moment. Because that’s the large part of most of what we do as followers of Jesus. It’s not the technical stuff; it’s not the right theology or the proper profession; it’s not the number of times we go to church or the amount of money we give. It’s ultimately about the other things, the things that stick with people and shape them in ways that are pleasing to God. It’s about love and support more than anything else. If we all saw and understood our efforts in this regard, the world would be a very different place. Some of us may feel like we aren’t spiritual “athletes”; perhaps we don’t think we have the gifts or experience necessary to be a Christian, a teacher, an evangelist, or whatever we think our faith is calling us to be. In fact, we have everything we need, if we will remember to keep it simple. Love people and build them up, and the rest will take care of itself.
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world; Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.