A good coach will always
seek ways to make their runners successful. Doing everything in
their power to have athletes reach their potential becomes paramount
to the most competent coaches. Where do they look to accomplish
this altruistic goal?
All coaches will not
argue about the importance of proper physical training meaning
portions of distance, strength, and interval/speed integrated
into their regimen. Most coaches will even buy into the idea of
developing certain mental aspects of their athletes that include
academics (grades), socialization (relationships), and mental
toughness (personal focus and discipline). However, few coaches
dare to venture deeper into their athletes' personal development.
This area seems to be neglected for various reasons. Ironically,
it could make a huge difference in the level at which they compete
and live. I'm talking about the area of the spiritual development.
I know you say "We
can't do that because of the separation of church and state".
Then I ask, why is our national motto "In
God We Trust"? Why does our pledge of allegiance state
that we are "one nation under God"?
Why do we have chaplains in the armed forces? Why does our government
annually declare a National Day of Prayer? Or didn't you know
the concept of "separation of church and state" is a very recent
interpretation by our Supreme Court that has developed within
the last 40 years. I happen to agree with President Clinton when
on May 30, 1998 he contended that "Schools do more than train
children's minds." They also help to nurture their souls by reinforcing
the values they learn at home and in their communities. I believe
that one of the best ways we can help schools do this is by supporting
students' rights to voluntarily practice their religious beliefs,
including prayer in school. For more than 200 years, the first
Amendment has protected our religious freedom and allowed many
faiths to "flourish in our homes, in our work place and in our
schools". As coaches, I am not saying we have to be God pushers,
but I do think that assisting our athletes in the physical and
mental areas of their development and neglecting the spiritual
is short changing the people that come to us.
So before I explain
what I mean by spiritual let me tell you what it is not. It is
not a method to aid one's focus or concentration like meditation.
It is not a visualization routine to deal with an unknown future
or unsettling realities. It is not some metaphysical concept to
explain what you can't understand. It is not family loyalty or
When defining spiritual
we need to understand this term consists of some of the most essential
needs known to man: the meaning of life, security, and love. I
believe God is the best answer to perhaps the greatest human need:
The meaning of one's existence. Who am I? What am I doing here?
Why do I exist? Ken Hamm in his book, The Lie Evolution, put it
this way: "Whatever you believe about your origin does affect
your whole world view, the meaning of life, etc. If there is no
God, and we are the result of chance random process, it means
that there is no absolute authority and if there is no one who
sets the rules then everyone can do whatever he hopes or he can
get away with". Ken Hamm continues, "God created everything, therefore,
he has absolute authority because humans are created beings. They
are under total obligation to the one who has absolute authority
over them. Our absolute authority has a right to set the rules.
It is in our own best interest to obey because he is the creator.
Thus what is right and what is wrong is not a matter of anyone's
opinion, but must be in accord with the principles found in the
Word of God who has authority over us. Just as a car designer
provides a manual for correct maintenance of what he has designed
and made, so, too, does our creator supply his creation with all
the instructions that are necessary to live a full, free and an
abundant life. God has provided his set of instructions not out
of some spiteful or killjoy design, but because he loves us and
knows what is best for us."
Eric Liddell, the 400
meter gold medalist at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, was also known
as the athlete who refused to run on Sundays because it was the
Sabbath. He was characterized in the Academy award winning film
"Chariots of Fire". Liddell was quoted during the movie saying
"when I run I feel God's pleasure". Eric Liddell understood that
what he did it for was a higher reason than his own name, or school
or family or country. He did it for the noblest reason of all--pleasing
his eternal creator. The one who gave Liddell his ability should
naturally get the credit for the accomplishment just as the Ford
Motor Company should be credit for its award winning features
instead of the particular model themselves.
The Bible says "For
by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers
or authorities, all things have been created through him and for
him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together".
(Colossians 1:16-17). Everyone, not just our athletes, search
for true meaning to their life. I believe God is that answer.
Another subject included
in our term spiritual is what I call security or feeling safe.
Fear and anxiety are a fact of life; no ones escapes those emotions.
A spiritual tack will determine how one copes with those feelings.
Any coach would agree that all of their athletes bring one degree
or another of insecurities, fears or personal battles that cause
a loss of personal peace. These detract from the athlete's ability
to prepare and compete at their potential. The God says "For
this reason I say to you do not be anxious for your life as to
what you shall eat or what you shall drink nor for your body as
to what you should put on. Is not life more than food and the
body clothing? But seek first his Kingdom, and his righteousness
and all these things shall be added to you". (Matthew
6: 31-33). I believe the personal peace that everyone seeks is
found in a relationship with God. God promises a happy ending
even in adversity "and we know that God
causes all things to work together for good to those who love
God, to those who are called according to his purpose".
Logic tells us that
greater peace can enhance not only athletic performance but also
coping mechanisms for the arena of life. When our athletes learn
more than what's in it for me they also realize the bigger picture
of where they fit in the scheme of things beyond themselves. Motivation
changes. Perspective changes. A higher purpose and meaning appears.
Eric Liddell was one of the first to discover this within the
athletic world. Thousands have realized it since, including this
writer. How many interviews on TV have you seen where the athlete
and coach ascribe their accomplishment to God?
The spiritual needs
of purpose and security are not so obvious as the third: Love.
Much has been said in books, movies, and media in regard to the
human need to give and receive love. The problem is that love
in the purest sense is perhaps the greatest force in all human
experience. However, in human experience, love has been reduced
to a sexual act or conditional favors. "Very
rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good
man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates his own
love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died
for us". (Romans 5:7-8). "Who
shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,
or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril,
or sword? But in all these things, we are overwhelmingly conquerors
through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death,
nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any
created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord". (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
Most psychologists would have to agree when a person experiences
that kind of unconditional love that positive behavioral qualities
would follow. Confidence and focus are perhaps among a few of
the many positive results.
I believe every athlete
who comes to us deserves our best. But sometimes our best is not
good enough. Can we give purpose and meaning to life? Only God,
the creator can. Can we protect them sufficiently so they feel
safe? Only God, the omnipotent can. Can we love unconditionally?
Only God is Love.
In the attempt to meet
the needs of our athletes, wouldn't it be wise to use all the
resources available to enable them to be successful? My point
is this. Even with our best effort in the physical and mental,
I feel most coaches fall tragically short in meeting the spiritual
needs. I also believe those integrated spiritual components along
with the mental and physical into our coaching allows our athletes
to become the complete, total athlete that God has created them
Jim Elliot, ex-wrestler
in college eventually served as a Christian missionary to the
Auca's Indians in South America. The Auca's along with four other
missionaries massacred him. Years later Jim's wife returned to
the same tribe and converted the very same men that murdered her
husband. Before Jim Elliot left for South America he made this
statement "He is no fool who gives what
he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose". Jim Elliot
understood that giving up his earthly life to attain eternal life
is a wise goal. Sharing it with our athletes would enhance their
performance and enrich the rest of their lives. Are we giving
to our athletes just part of the puzzle or all of the pieces?