Ministering To and Through the Coach
By Mickey Seward | FCA.ORG
Less than four years ago, Wes Simmons’ entire ministry philosophy changed. The area director of the Northwest Missouri Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Simmons had been an FCA staff member for three years and was struggling to make the ministry’s Four Cs – coaches, campus, campus and community – balance.
Simmons’ answer was to make one ‘C’ the catalyst that jumpstarted the others.
“It really felt like I was spinning plates trying to keep it all going,” Simmons said. “We had more activity going than ever, but I wasn’t sure we were being deliberate about what we were doing and really achieving the vision for our area. It was just getting heavier and heavier, and when I heard that phrase ‘to and through the coach,’ it resonated with me.”
If You Want to Reach the Athlete, First Reach the Coach
Over time, FCA’s leaders have realized that the most effective way to reach athletes is to first reach the coach. It would be difficult for the organization to reach the 44 million athletes under the age of 18 in the United States with approximately 1,000 staff members. However, if FCA were to use organizational discipline and minister to and through the coach, it can reach the 44 million young athletes, because they all have coaches.
Simmons thought about that concept and how it would relate to his area.
“We’re spinning all these plates with the Four Cs, but what if we just spun the coaches plate really well, and what if what they are saying is true; that if we do that, our community and our campus and our camps will explode?” Simmons said. “It was an idea that captured my imagination.”He began to plan his ministry activitieswith the coach inmind.
“As I began to assess my area, I felt like if we want to have a successful camp, we have to get the coaches on board, and in order for that to happen we can’t really compete with a lot of the camps going on in the area where the coaches are already plugged in,” Simmons said. “We’ve got two (NCAA) Division II universities in our area that do team camps like crazy. I was struggling to think ‘what fills a gap that coaches feel?’”
Simmons prayed, and felt like a camp for team captains was the way in which God was leading. However, Simmons was feeling the tug of coaches on his heart, and knew it was important that they would be included. Eventually, it was decided that for an athlete to take part in the camp, his or her coach must also be there and have invited that athlete to be a part of the event.
What resulted was the EXCELeration Leadership Training Camp, a two-day leadership experience equipping coaches to coach the heart, captains to lead with excellence and FCA student-leaders to implement the EXCELeration curriculum.
“It was kind of an experiment,” Simmons said. “We didn’t know if we could pull it off, but we felt we had to do something to develop those relationships before camp season ever came to even have an audience.”
“We’re Really Not That Deliberate About Engaging”
Simmons and Northwest Missouri FCA then tied in a “3-Dimensional” coaches clinic, held in January, to reach out to coaches that may not be directly involved with the ministry and to help birth biblical coaching studies. Not reaching out to all coaches is a common theme, Simmons said, and something even he and his staff had to overcome.
“I think a lot of FCA staff can sometimes feel intimidated by coaches ministry because, to be honest, we spend a lot of our time with coaches that are running huddles or campus ministries, but about 95 percent of the coaches out there, we’re really not that deliberate about engaging,” Simmons said.
About 100 coaches showed up to that first coaches clinic, and 12 of those coaches plugged into a bible study.
“Just like we hoped, those were the 12 coaches that showed up at camp and brought their captains and leaders,” Simmons said.
The next year, the same guidelines were used and 44 coaches plugged into a Bible study that semester. When that happened, the number of coaches and captains at the EXCELeration Leadership Training Camp doubled, to about 90 coaches and athletes.
“We said, ‘this is working, let’s keep it going.’ And we did it again,” Simmons said. “Last year we had 225 coaches show up at our clinic, which translated to about 70 coaches throughout the region that got plugged into Bible studies, and our camp doubled again.”
Team Ministry Leads to Campus Ministry
Soon, Northwest Missouri FCA developed the EXCELeration Impact Program after coaches expressed a desire to join with their captains to implement a team curriculum. What traditional FCA camp is to the campus huddle, EXCELeration Camp is to the team ministry.
“It’s all about empowering coaches and athletes to go back and lead their teams in all 3-Dimensions: physically, mentally, and spiritually,” Simmons said. “Through the curriculum, we try to challenge the kids to lead team studies and training table sessions, which are just post-practice devotionals.
“We have been thrilled to see what the post-practice devotional has done for our campus ministry. We coined the term ‘training table’ not only because it sounds athletic, but also because Jesus talked about being the bread of life that came from Heaven. We like the idea that, as part of their regular training regimen, they can stop by the training table in the corner of the end zone or gym on their way to the locker room and get their spiritual nourishment.
“We also like that if you really examine the table practices of Jesus, he was very unbiased about who He would sit with. He would invite sinners to the table. He would sit with anybody. Metaphorically, this is a way to spread the table of the Lord right in the presence of people who don’t know Him, and invite them to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ What is powerful is the athletes literally have to walk around it on their way to the locker room to say no. It’s not trying to get kids to show up early or come back late. It’s part of the program.
“When the coach buys in and he gets the captains to buy in with the right leader leading, we see almost immediate participation of the whole team, because the influencers are bought in,” Simmons said. “That’s been the most exciting thing.”
According to Simmons, when the team ministries are booming, it leads to added excitement around the campus ministry.
“What we’ve seen in other areas where people have implemented this program, the Huddles are exploding because we are being deliberate about taking the gospel to the teams right where they are,” Simmons said.
“But in order for that to happen, it goes back to the coach. They are the gatekeepers. Our prayer is that they will create an atmosphere on their team where student-leaders are empowered to impact their peers for Christ.”
Which means ministering to the coach is the primary responsibility of Simmons and his staff.
Ministering To Before Ministering Through
“FCA staff members recognize the influence of a coach,” Simmons said. “If we’re not careful, when we approach coaches, it can come across like this: ‘Coach, we know you have influence, and we’d really like for you to help us start a huddle.’
“You have to put yourself in their shoes. They’re working 60-70 hours a week, they’re teaching at school, they have a family at home; and there are some wonderful Christian people who know that it would be a great thing to do, but it’s just another drain on their limited resources.
“What we are trying to do through this process is flip that around, and instead of saying, ‘Coach, we want you to invest in what FCA is doing,’ we are trying to invest in something that the coach is already invested in, which is the team.
“As we help them discover their transformational purpose in God’s Kingdom as a coach, the natural progression is for the coach to eventually say to us, ‘I need your help to help me fulfill this purpose,’ and we become a means to their end, instead of them being a means to our end. That’s the paradigm shift we’ve made.
“We are here to invest in them and what they are doing, and as God births a vision in their own heart, the outflow of campus, camp, and community ministry will be the natural progression after we have first invested in them.”
Now, one plate is spinning the rest.