Why Do I Coach?

by | May 21, 2019

If you look back over the course of your life, there are often patterns of recurring events. Repeated opportunities that keep showing up. For me it has
been coaching basketball. As a high school player, I was offered the opportunity to coach a 4th through 6th grade boys basketball team. I cut my teeth coming up with practice plans and teaching basketball fundamentals and skills with these elementary kids. I coached two seasons before heading off to
college.

During my freshman year of college, one of my roommates asked for my help. He needed a basketball coach for a junior high church ministry to inner-
city boys but he knew nothing about basketball. I jumped at the chance. The catch was that each player had to attend the Junior High Sunday School class or they were ineligible to play in the game the following Saturday morning. I wanted to win so I filled my 1969 Pontiac Firebird with kids so they could play. I remember spending extra time after practice with a couple of them and then dropping them off at their house as it was getting dark. I failed to notice what kind of neighborhood I was in but quickly became aware when one of the mothers said to me at her front door, “Boy, what are you doing around here at this time of night? You best be going home right now, son!”  I obeyed. I really enjoyed coaching for two seasons but thought my coaching days were over as I headed into ministry. I was wrong.

I started my first Youth Pastor ministry in Vancouver, WA in 1986. I worked full-time at a startup mission church making $100 a month. Big money, I know! I also worked other side jobs as often as I could. One day, I received a phone call from a local middle school teacher who had recently and briefly crossed paths with me. He told me that he was just assigned to coach the boys basketball team but he knew nothing about the sport. He asked if I could coach alongside him. Now I found myself coaching at a public middle school. It was a blast. The stipend they gave me helped purchase a much-needed sound system for my youth group that lasted over 15 years. When the season was over and life got busier I thought my coaching days were once again over. And once again, I was wrong.

Fast forward 14 years. I was now living in southern California with my wife and three girls. My oldest wanted to play Upwards Basketball but guess what the team needed? Yes, a coach. So, I jumped back in and coached for three seasons. Several years later we moved back to Kitsap County. Now my two youngest were starting to play basketball. They had coaches but the league needed refs, so I refereed their games. But I couldn’t help but coach on the floor with the whistle in my mouth: “Drive. Shoot now! The girl is open on the left, pass it!” When my daughter Holly was in seventh grade her school team had a coach who didn’t know what to do. He just let the players do whatever they wanted on the court. This drove me crazy. My wife was consistently squeezing my knee to remind me to be quiet. So, I coached Holly and Kailey at home on our own basketball court. Fundamentals, along with shooting and dribbling, were our primary focus.

Prior to the next season, Coach Bryan Hanley, Holly’s new basketball coach at Crosspoint, approached me. He could tell my girls had been taught fundamentals and invited me to help out now and then at practices. I jumped at the chance. One, it was something I could do with my girls and two, I love the game of basketball. I helped out that season and was then invited by Bryan to move up with him to the High School as his assistant. I was honored and blessed to coach Holly for all of her high school seasons and two seasons with Kailey, along with some amazing teenage players. My primary emphases as an assistant coach were shooting and helping players with skill development. It was fulfilling to see each player improve and we became a good shooting team. The climax of coaching at Crosspoint was finishing 5th at the WA State tournament in Spokane in Holly’s senior year. At the season’s end, Coach Hanley retired. I was offered the Head Coach position but declined. More on that later.

When Kailey moved schools, a door opened and it was exciting to be an assistant coach at Central Kitsap High. I enjoyed coaching Kailey but also enjoyed
meeting the other amazing players and their families. They were so welcoming and appreciative for the help and encouragement I was able to give. The players quickly improved their shooting form and could hear Coach B in their heads, “Quick feet, elbow in, up, snap, point at the rim!”  When my time ended there and Kailey graduated, it hit me that my coaching days were now probably over. It was a sad thought.

A few months later, I received a surprise phone call from Coach Hanley. He was coming out of retirement and had just accepted the girls basketball head coaching position at Olympic High School. He asked if I would join his coaching staff. I was thrilled to say, “YES” and these last two seasons I’ve enjoyed helping many new “adopted daughters” at Oly. It is a lot of work but worth the effort.

So, Why Do I Coach?

Being a Lead Pastor at a thriving church requires a great deal of my time and energy. So, why do I coach? One word: investment.

  • Investing into teenagers. While some of my players over the years have positive and engaged fathers or father figures in their life, too many don’t. Some of my players don’t really know their fathers at all or haven’t seen them in years. While I enjoy teaching the game of basketball, I get greater enjoyment from encouraging teenagers and speaking positively into their lives. Encouragement is oxygen to our souls. Knowing someone loves you and believes in you is priceless. Besides helping my players improve their outside jump shot, my main goal is for every player to know that Coach B loves them and is there to encourage them on and off the court. Working with teenagers for 20 years as a youth pastor showed me that so many students are in desperate need of authentic love. Giving this to my teenage players is a worthwhile investment.
  • Investing in our community. I love it here in Kitsap County. Coaching basketball is an opportunity to give back to my local community. As a parent, I was always blessed when someone made an investment in my daughters. I not only want to bless my players, but I want to be a blessing to their families as well. The most important thing I could ever share is the eternity-changing gospel of Jesus Christ, but in a post-Christian culture I
    need to earn the right to be heard. Coaching is one way to earn this right. I am very careful to respect the lines that are established by the school district regarding someone in my position, but the players and parents know that I am a pastor of a church in town. They know I am available to help in any way. If I’m asked a question about church, God, or other spiritual questions, I am free to answer. When I’m asked by a player to pray for the team prior to taking the court, I make sure I ask if everyone is comfortable with this request. Each time has been a wholehearted “yes” and I am glad to do it. One of our strategies at GracePoint is to lead people to engage with their community to be a bridge to God. I can’t just challenge our people to do this. I must model it myself. Giving my time, talent, and heart back into my community is a worthwhile and lasting investment.

What are the benefits?

There are many benefits from investing lots of time into the lives of players, families, and our community through coaching basketball. Here are some benefits for me:

  • Coaching is a great diversion from the toll of ministry. Although I’ve had opportunities to take on head coaching positions, I’ve turned them down. Why? Because in every area of my life, I fill the #1 leadership position. At church and at home, “the buck stops with me.” In coaching basketball, I really enjoy the benefits of being in the #2 position as an assistant. I enjoy not having to be the main leader for once! It allows me to give out what gives me life: encouragement. It allows me to miss certain practices and games without feeling any guilt because my church responsibilities always come first.  Plus, for several hours at practice or at games, I don’t have to think about ministry and all the weight that comes with my Lead Pastor role. Coaching is a wonderful (and physically healthy) outlet for me.
  • The blessings of seeing seeds blossom with players and parents. I’ve been blessed and honored many times when a player or former player shows up unannounced at one our church services, often with a parent. What a blessing! It puts a huge smile on my face and heart when a former player takes the time to thank me for encouraging them as their coach. Last year, I was tagged in a Facebook post by a former player who I was fortunate to play a part in her getting a basketball scholarship at a college in North Carolina. She attached a picture of her on the training table getting treatment with her computer screen open. There she was watching one of my online sermons. Oh my! It made every practice and sweaty hug worth it!

Each year I evaluate if I should coach another season. I check with my wife and my team at church for their input. I always have to make sure that my main thing is getting my main focus and attention. If that’s still true, I will commit to another season. So far, the blessings have far outweighed the time given to my team and players. And the best part? The investment returns keep coming!

 

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