Why is a Character Coach Needed?
One of the most important roles coaches play in preparing players for competition and life is to give them a chance to develop good character.
We expect a game plan for coaching the X’s and O’s of our sport. What isn’t always clear is how to coach character. Over time we have seen an ever-growing gap develop between coaching the fundamental aspects of a specific sport and the development of quality character. Character Coaches exist to fill this crucial gap in developing the complete athlete.
Who are Character Coaches?
A wide variety of people can serve the people of sport as Character Coaches. One need not be a sport ministry professional to faithfully serve and to significantly impact the lives of coaches and athletes. Among those who could serve in these roles are:
- Parents of players in youth sports (school based teams or club sports).
- Coaches of youth sports teams, school based teams or coaches at higher levels of sport.
- Community leaders with an interest in developing character.
- Athletic trainers or other support personnel with sports teams.
- Pastors or other ministry professionals.
- Church members who desire to make an impact by serving others.
What does it take to be a Character Coach?
FCA wants to provide teams with the best-trained, most effective Character Coaches that they can, so we have created a process:
- Completion of the on-line application process called the Ministry Leader Application.
- Initiation of a relationship with an FCA staff member in your area for further training, encouragement, facilitation and accountability.
- Communication with the FCA staff prior to the season for planning, prayer, resources, etc.
- Communication with the FCA staff during the season for encouragement, problem solving and further direction.
- Communication at the end of the season for evaluation, reporting of results, etc.
Character Coach vs. Chaplain
When discussing the role of a Character Coach it is important to know the difference between a Character Coach and a Chaplain. Both roles are critically important but distinctively different. Which role you play with a team is determined by the audience.
- Values Based
- The goal is to teach character
- Character/Leadership Qualities
- Coaches can make it mandatory
- Model + Inform
- Faith Based
- The goal is to foster spiritual growth
- Guidance & Direction
- Coaches must make it optional
- Model + Inform + Convert
Where do I start?
As you get started recruiting, training and empowering Character Coaches in your area, it is critically important to follow some FCA guidelines to protect everyone involved.
Keep in mind the differences between a Character Coach and a Team Chaplain. The Character Coach initiative is designed to help get a ‘foot in the door’ with School Administrators, Coaches and athletes by providing an on-going presence with a particular team while passing along strong, character building lessons that are non-religious.
Obviously, our hope and prayer is that these Character Coaches begin to lay a foundation of trust that will eventually open doors for other opportunities such as evangelism and discipleship.
Below is an in-depth check-list of items to implement as you begin the process of developing a Character Coach strategy:
- Character Coach Essentials
- Character Coach Guidelines
- Characteristics of Effective Character Coaches
- Recruiting Character Coaches
- Volunteer Application- Volunteers interested in working with coaches, athletes, huddles, and at camps will fill out a MLA application/ background check authorization .
- Orientation- Volunteers will be given a comprehensive orientation on the standards, policies, and practices of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
- Know the FCA Digital & Social Media Guidelines .
- Work under the direction of local FCA Staff, and have a plan for communication and accountability.
- Character Coaches could also be life coaches willing to help all of the players (including those of other faiths or no faith at all) with a variety of issues.
- Character Coaches should only discuss faith in meetings, where students voluntarily attend or when asked a question by a student one-on-one.
- All one-on-one meetings and counseling appointments must be done in public view.
- Read and be familiar with the Student Rights Handbook .
- Know the students’ rights to express their faith at school.
- Know the rights of Volunteers to participate in religious Clubs, team devotions, team bible studies, pre-game meals, attend practice, etc.
- You must seek approval of the school administration for any events, club meetings, Bible studies, etc. that happens on campus.
- Know the expectations of the school Principal.
- Always check in through the front office. Let the administration know who you are.
- Be familiar with the Equal Access Act .
- Know what school employees, teachers, students, and coaches can and cannot do regarding religious clubs.
- Know the rights that religious clubs have on school property.
- Know the rights of religious clubs to access secondary school facilities.
- If a student shares about an abusive or illegal situation, it must be reported to the administration.
- Take a relational approach; have a missionary mindset! Do not approach this role with an agenda other than to serve.
- Focus on people rather than methods and strategies. Give your heart to the coaches and athletes. Be expressive in letting them know you care about them.
- Don’t talk down to anyone and always be available…you never know what other opportunities may arise by simply being in the right place at the right time.
- Know the coaches and athletes by name; show a personal interest in them and their families. You will be trusted when you show you care about them.
- Be present. If possible, drop by practice twice a week. A short time on the field will open hearts and it speaks volumes about how much you really care about them. Walk around at practice and speak to anyone and everyone…listening to ways you can best serve them.
- Be affirming and encouraging. Always look for opportunities to build them up. You might be the only person who tells one of the coaches or athletes that you believe in them.
- Understand that you are in that position for a reason that is bigger than athletics. Take honor in your role…it is a great responsibility.
- Be loyal. Never hang around people who constantly criticize the coaches…do not listen to them and do not entertain those conversations.
- Do not be presumptuous. If the coaches want you on the sidelines or to ride the bus for road games, they will ask you.
There may be no more costly nor rewarding role in ministry through sport then that of the Character Coach. The keys to effectiveness in such a role are simple, but most important.
Simply said, there are a few keys to ministry with people of sport and they are outlined briefly below. Chief among those keys is to take a relational approach rather than a programmatic approach. Focus on the people more than the methods or strategies. The goal is not just to develop programs or to hold meetings; rather it is to relate to the people of sport closely enough to sense the needs of their hearts and to minister to them accordingly.
Focus on the people of sport. Win their trust through serving them.
- Focus on the coaches and players, not the fans, the media or others. Coaches are key. Invest in their lives and build trust with them. Respond to the athletes who show interest. Follow up with those who ask questions or indicate a desire for spiritual things.
- Know their names, positions, uniform numbers and all you can about their backgrounds. Show a personal interest in them and they’ll be more open to you.
- Ask good questions about the sport, their roles, their expectations and their goals.
- Be available to them, even when it’s terribly inconvenient. The point of crisis or the inconvenient phone call is often the situation that either wins or loses you their trust and confidence.
Watch Your Attitude & Don’t Act Like a Fan
- Respect and value the culture of sport. Study it; learn its history and language. Ask good questions of the coaches and players.
- Look for opportunities to serve the team and don’t seek privileges. If they want to outfit you with team gear, they’ll ask for your size. Don’t seek such privileges. An arrogant, presumptuous attitude will quickly invalidate your ministry.
- Encourage always and don’t become critical. If they want your opinion, they’ll ask for it. Maintain a supportive attitude and you’ll be a highly valued person. If you are constantly critical or finding fault, you’ll soon be marginalized or ignored.
- Don’t talk about religion. Talk about faith in the context of the sport. Help them see what genuine faith is through their sport experience.
Be in the Right Place at the Right Time
- Be at practice sessions. Lots of people attend the games, very few attend practices. The coaches and athletes know that only those most highly committed to the team are at practice. If you’re there, their respect for you will grow quickly.
- Be there when they lose. Everyone seems to hang around to congratulate the team when they’ve won a big game. You must be the one to stay late, to console, to encourage and to commiserate with them when they’ve lost the big game. This builds trust and lets you see their grieving hearts.
- Be available in times of crisis. The trips to the training room or the emergency room with an injured player build trust and deepen relationships like nothing else. The private meeting with a coach in his office concerning a troubled player is a powerful ministry opportunity. The lunch meeting with an athlete or coach who’s looking for counsel as he or she is making a big decision is a life-changing moment. If you’re available, you have a ministry. If you’re not, you don’t.
Strategies and Methods are Secondary to the Relational Emphasis
- If you will focus on the relationship building tips listed above, the appropriate strategies and methods will be much more easily seen and implemented.
- Always ask permission before beginning a ministry initiative. Make a proposal to the head coach for the Bible study, discussion, chapel, event, etc. Doing so honors his position and may keep you from violating a team or athletic association rule. It also further builds his or her trust of you and your ministry.
- Be sure to adapt ministry methods and tools to the sport’s culture. Don’t simply drag the people of sport into church culture and expect it to be a good fit. Strive to help those whom you serve to fully integrate their lives in sport with their lives in Christ Jesus.
- To effectively serve the people of sport as their Character Coach; focus on the people and win their trust through serving them; watch your attitude; be in the right place at the right time; and keep strategies and methods secondary to the relational emphasis.
Character Coach Messages
- Stay under 7 minutes!
- Time yourself as you prepare. Do not abuse the Coach’s wishes…this is the quickest way to lose respect and trust.
Sharing a personal story or experience makes a great impact and it will help you connect with the audience.
Do not try to cover too much information. Be simple and focused. Give them something they can remember and repeat.
Remember that these athletes are about to go into (or have just finished) intense competition. Always try to end your message with a charge for them to take action! What is it that you want them to do as a result of what they have just heard?
- Begin with prayer.
- Begin conversations with potential Character Coaches to better understand their passions.
- Recruit someone that you know who has strong character and their life reflects Christ
- Recruit a wide range of people from your community: businessmen who were athletes, former Coaches, Pastors, Youth Leaders, College Athletes, etc.
- Recruit someone who is enthusiastic.
- Recruit self-starters who will follow through with their commitments.
- When appropriate, have another volunteer ‘tag along’ or ‘shadow’ to learn how to be a Character Coach.
Character Coach Essentials Agreement
All prospective Character Coaches must have a signed agreement on file with NE Florida FCA indicating that you agree to adhere to all statements included within the agreement.
Character Coach Resources
One of the roles of the Character Coach would be to give brief (7-10 minute) ‘character talks’ or lessons each week to the team. The following links contains 20 ‘character talks’ or lessons that revolve around a specific character trait. These lessons are a powerful resource and are to be used as a guide for an FCA Character Coach.