This week marks the end of my career. Not the end of my pastoral ministry or of my work in other gospel endeavors, but the end of my coaching “career.” Seventeen of the last 20 years have found me spending most of my November–March Tuesday and Thursday afternoons coaching the Lee County Home School (LCHS) Lady Ambassadors high school basketball team. It has been a great privilege to have had this opportunity.
I have met some wonderful young ladies and parents, experienced most of the joys and sorrows that inevitably come with sports, had my heart exposed by bad bad calls (at least, at the time, I was convinced they were bad!) and have been given a court-side seat to watch the athletic, personal and spiritual development of dozens of student athletes. I have had the amazing privilege of coaching all five of my daughters, the last of which is a senior post player on the current team. In addition, I have been able to coach with my four oldest daughters as they have increasingly taken over the lion’s share of the work in the past several years.
The way that I got involved in coaching is rather humorous (I recount part of the story here). In an effort to remediate the gap in my children’s cultural education, Donna and I signed up our two oldest to play basketball in the newly formed LCHS athletic association. Their request to play was met by my one requirement—once they started, they could not quit.
The first practice found more than 20 girls, at least a dozen moms & me gathered at the outdoors Stars Complex in Ft. Myers. Two uberly-competent lady coaches tried to evaluate the girls and separate them into potential varsity and junior varsity teams. There were lots of squeals & giggles that day. But what most stood out to me were the tears. Lots of tears.
I came home and told Donna privately that I could never coach a girls sports team. After a few weeks of being a very
loud enthusiastic fan at practices & games, the coaches asked me to join their staff. Their exact words, as I recall, were, “Since you are shouting so many instructions to our girls anyway, you might as well do it from the bench.” Over time I moved from the end of the bench, to second-chair and then finally to the position of Head Coach.
From the outset I have tried to help parents and athletes see that basketball is found in the Bible—specifically in what became our team’s verse: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Playing basketball is embedded in that phrase, “whatever you do.” This verse presses us to two things: 1) to understand what glorifies God and 2) to figure out how to do that while doing something as relatively unimportant as playing basketball.
It has been encouraging to watch girls grapple with that idea over the years and very rewarding when several of them really got it. That is one of the ways that basketball—or any sport—can help prepare young people for life. Success, failure, joy, heartbreak, disappointment, injustice, accomplishment, self-discipline, teamwork, adversity and hard work are among the many experiences that go with participating in a sport. Often, when walking through them, God’s glory gets easily forgotten, which in turn provides an opportunity to recognize how weak we are and how much we need the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus.
I believe and have taught that basketball is one of the good things that God has given to us to enjoy in this life (1 Timothy 6:17). It’s only a game. But it is a great game! And if followers of Christ are going to play it, we must learn to play it to the glory of our God.
Yesterday I conducted my last practice. Tomorrow I will start coaching in my last Florida Christian Activities Association state tournament. If we play well and the ball bounces our way I may even get to coach in my final championship game on Friday.
Whether that happens or not, I am walking away with a deep sense of gratitude to God for the great privilege that has been afforded me over the last two decades of coaching the Lady Ambassadors.
Please pray that no matter what happens on the court our team will honor Christ by how we conduct ourselves and by conscientiously pursuing God’s glory as we play. If we are able to do that, then, win or lose, I will retire with a fresh sense of God’s blessing in this activity.
Soli Deo Gloria