According to a 2017 study done by the Pew Research group, nearly 80% of United States citizens identify with a particular religion. From the same study, approximately 90% of those who identified with a particular religion believe in some form of Christianity.
Per the same study, regardless of their religious beliefs, 88% of all Americans believe in God.
With that said, in every walk of life, some people are just more comfortable than others in speaking about religion and their beliefs. Personally, I’ve found that anytime I’ve spoken with someone who believes they have a personal connection with Jesus, their passion for and belief in what they are saying shines through. You can tell they are speaking from the heart.
This leads me to offer my thoughts on religion and coaching (and truly in teaching). This morning I read an interesting article from Sports Illustrated’s Tim Rohan. Tim wrote about Dabo Swinney’s faith and how that has permeated into his team at Clemson. The article explores whether this is a good or a bad thing.
I encourage you to read the entire article and want to offer my own two cents.
First, it is my personal belief that football is something we play, we coach, we enjoy; but it is not who we are. Who we are, what we believe and what we strive to be is all bigger than the game.
Not everyone agrees with my proceeding statements…and that is okay.
Second, I firmly believe that no one should be discriminated against. In sports, and in life, each of us should be judged based on our actions and our attitudes.
In Rohan’s article he notes Dabo’s strong faith, how he has built a staff with similar beliefs and how his team is growing to reflect those same beliefs more and more. Rohan notes that an organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been sending letters to Clemson challenging Dabo’s right to promote religion for nearly five years now (and has yet to receive a response). Dabo’s response (from a few years ago), “Over the past week or two, there has been a lot of discussions of my faith. Players of any faith or no faith at all are welcome in our program. All we require in the recruitment of any player is that he must be a great player at his position, meet the academic requirements, and have good character.”
Rohan interviewed a former player named Aaron Kelly who’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Kelly noted that he did feel “almost like an outsider” during some of the faith-based activities, but added that he went and spoke with Dabo about not participating in an upcoming “Church Day.” Kelly said Dabo’s response was “kind and understanding. ‘He said, “Aaron, that’s a really big deal. We all have our beliefs and I want you to feel comfortable.'” Kelly stressed to Rohan that Dabo never held his faith against him saying, “I tell people, ‘Hey, I didn’t follow his religion and I started for four years under him.'”
Rohan also spoke with the mother of a highly rated commitment to Clemson who added she still remembers the promise Dabo made to her during the recruiting process. “He said to me, ‘We’re going to win some games and lose some games. But I guarantee you that every single player that comes through this program will hear about the Gospel of Christ.'”
So, you might be wondering where I’m going with all of this….
My recommendations for coaches:
First, your faith is bigger than your job. Prioritize it.
Second, if your faith is important enough to you, and you feel comfortable speaking about it, please do. Young people today need leadership and they crave knowledge. Tell them why your faith is important to you and tell them why you believe what you believe.
For every Dabo, Kenny Niumatalolo, Hugh Freeze, Blake Anderson, Lane Kiffin, and countless other coaches who openly speaking about the importance of their faith, there are just as many who believe just as strongly; but don’t feel comfortable speaking about it publicly. That is OK too.
Finally, it is not OK to force religion on anyone, nor would it be OK to discriminate against anyone who doesn’t believe something you believe.
We all know the potential impact a coach who cares about a player can have on that young man’s life. Don’t be afraid to let your players see your true heart. They will respond to it.
Link to Pew Research
Featured image via: Toledo Blade