In June of 2001, my wife and I moved into an apartment in Plainfield, Indiana, eager and ready to begin our ministry at Hazelwood Christian Church. By August, just two months later, I was on a tennis court with the Fighting Quakers (no, that’s not a typo), serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the high school tennis team. After 5 years as a volunteer assistant, I was asked to come on as the head coach of the team, and I served in this role for 6 awesome years before resigning this past year to focus more on my growing family.
As I write this post, I know that many Youth Ministers are denied access to their local school, and don’t have the capability to walk into the lunchroom with their students like I do. I also know that many of you took one look at the title of this post and immediately dismissed the idea of becoming a coach for whatever reason (time, family, work, time, lack of knowledge, or time). Before you move on, let me share with you a few reasons why you should consider coaching in your local school. Some are practical and ministry-related, some are just earthly benefits, but maybe they will inspire you.
1. Unlimited access to students. As a coach, I had the ability to walk into the school at any time, opening a world of connections with students that I never had before. As an employee of the school, I could come into the school and eat lunch with students or connect with them in the hallways without raising an eyebrow. If you don’t have access to the local school, maybe coaching is a way in.
2. Increased influence and connections in the community. There are probably dozens of people that I now consider friends that I would have never met outside of coaching. Students, teachers, coaches of other sports, administrators, parents, and even opposing coaches are all dear friends thanks to coaching in the local school. I’ve even had opposing coaches / friends drive miles to hear me preach on a Sunday. What a great way to meet new people and get more involved in the community.
3. Your very own youth ministry laboratory. I jokingly called coaching tennis my “Youth Ministry Petri Dish.” Because of the similarities between coaching and Youth Ministry, I was able to try things in coaching that later became a part of my ministry model. The texting service I now use in my student ministry, for instance, was first used with my tennis team. And you can evaluate many parts of your ministry (organization, communication, and interacting with parents) OUTSIDE of your ministry.
4. An opportunity to model Christ in victory and defeat. I didn’t always hit the mark on this, but I sure tried. My first season, we were 3-10 and lost in the first round of sectionals. In 2010, we ended the season ranked #5 in the state after winning our third straight sectional title. In high school sports, you will have great victories and awful defeats. Through coaching, you will have the opportunity to show students and parents what it means to live for Christ through thick and thin, when things are great and when things are lousy. And the best part is you’re not preaching it, you’re living it! How you react to a tough loss may communicate more than any lesson you ever teach.
5. Clear and honest communication with parents. Parents of student athletes are unfiltered. If they don’t like something you are doing, they will tell you (and probably everyone else too). Talk about a great way to hone your conflict management skills (not that you will ever have conflict in the church…sarcasm intended).
6. Unlimited access to awesome facilities. This is pretty earthly, but most schools have awesome facilities, particularly for their athletic departments. Don’t want to pay $20 a month for the local gym membership? Coaching will give you free access to the amazing facilities of the school. I know I used the fitness center at Plainfield a LOT!
7. You may get PAID for sports! You’ve always wanted to get paid to play sports, right? Here’s your chance! It may not be a ton of money, but coaching provided a nice side income for my family for years.
So, maybe you think this IS a good way to partner with your local school, but you’re not sure where to start. Here’s just a few steps you should take if you want to coach.
1. Talk with your church leaders to make sure they are okay with you adding this to your schedule.
2. Recognize you don’t have to be an expert or pro to coach. Find something you CAN do, and go for it.
3. Make an appointment with the athletic director and VOLUNTEER your time to start. Be respectful of their time, and don’t keep them long.
4. Be as faithful as you can, but be honest about your ability to commit. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
5. Make the most of every opportunity and realize you are always being evaluated.
Have any of you coached as a way to partner with your school? What would you add to these lists?
Keith Parker is the Youth Minister at Hazelwood Christian Church in Clayton, IN. He began doing Youth Ministry in 1997, and has been at his current church since 2001, ministering to Middle School, High School, and College Age students. He is married to his best friend, Jill, and has 3 boys - Tyler, Zach, and Matt. Follow Keith on Twitter - @Keith_Parker1 or Instagram - kparker170