Coaching as Contact Work

Jim Lloyd January 5, 2021

As a father of five, I’ve had the great joy of coaching my own kids in a variety of sports. When I joined the Young Life staff at age 40, I’d already coached the spectrum of kindergarteners to high schoolers. Doing Young Life in New Jersey, schools are not open to outsiders, so in addition to substitute teaching, one way I was able to get connected was by coaching at the high school. Below are a few things I’ve learned along the coaching journey.

Coaching is great contact work with the community.

In Young Life we are always active in the community. Coaching affords leaders the opportunity to serve the community while building new relationships. In a school setting, coaching often opens the doors to the school and will help Young Life leaders earn the right to be heard with other coaches, teachers, administrators, parents and students.

But it doesn’t just have to be limited to the school. A great opportunity to build relationships in the community is through youth sports leagues. It’s a chance to get to know other parents, business owners who sponsor teams, adults who ref, and kids of all ages.

And it doesn’t just have to be limited to coaching middle or high schoolers. Today’s 4th graders will be in high school before you know it, and in WyldLife long before that! Your investment in kids at any age level will make a difference in those kids’ lives and will also help you to get to know your community. I’ve also enjoyed coaching younger ages and inviting a high school guy from my Campaigners group to coach a team with me.

Coaching is great contact work with parents and kids alike.

Most of the coaches in youth sports (pre-school – middle school) are parents of players. Few of these parent coaches have any training in how to actually coach their sport, let alone how to care for the hearts and minds of kids. A good many dads tend to take on the distorted tough-guy persona that they remember from their own high school coaches. On top of the issues with coaching are the hopes and dreams of parents who see their kids’ college careers on the line. They will do anything they can to pressure coaches, yell at their kids and demonstrate unsportsmanlike conduct to the opposing team. There are too many sordid examples of yelling parents who, in too many cases, resort to violence on the sidelines over their children’s sporting experience.

This pressure can feel crushing to kids. Think of how many middle-schoolers you know that are playing on multiple sports teams during the same season, along with a conditioning class or speed school or personal trainer. Many of them spend their entire weekends traveling to tournaments and feel a crazy amount of stress to perform and to get that college scholarship.

In his book “Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers,” Fuller Professor and long-time Young Lifer, Chap Clark, points to the trauma suffered by adolescents through what he calls “systemic abandonment.” He points to the institutions that were originally designed to serve, nurture, guide, and protect the young, things like sports, music, dance, drama, and even some religious activities. Chap describes how these activities have now become adult-driven, adult-controlled programs that are more interested in their own good. Not all, but many adults use them to fulfill their own needs, agendas, and dreams rather than taking the unique opportunity to impart life lessons to kids.

But Young Life leaders take a different approach.

We want to build relationships with kids, not just view them as an agenda or a trophy. We want to walk alongside teenagers and help them succeed both on and off the field. All across the mission of Young Life, there are countless leaders who volunteer as coaches and make significant investments into the lives of kids who may never visit a Young Life club or camp.

There is so much we do as leaders that models a different way. One small example is simply the importance of knowing kids’ names. I can remember my first season coaching high school football. I worked hard to quickly learn all of the kids’ names. And then I called them by name – not by number (“Hey 65! Where are you going”) or some derogatory comment (“Hey Blockhead!  What are you thinking!?”). The other coaches picked up on it and they would ask me on the sideline what a kid’s name was before they yelled out either criticism or praise.

And we can learn a lot from our teammates in FCA.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is not Young Life’s competition. We play for the same team are part of one body.  In the spirit of kingdom collaboration we can, in humility, learn much from others who are experts in this area of coaching.

A lot of what I taught on the field as a coach I learned from an FCA affiliated program called 3-Dimensional Coaching that guides coaches to address the 3 dimensions of an athlete:

–       Body: the Fundamentals (Skillset)

–       Mind: the Psychology (Mindset)

–       Spirit: the Heart (Heartset)

The 3DInstitute offers a variety of secular programs for coaches at all levels from youth to college. They offer a free program for athletic directors and administrators as well as a paid-programs for coaches. The basic course is called the Coaching Essentials Course which is an introductory overview of the 3D model. This is an incredible opportunity to combat the systemic abandonment that Chap Clark points out. It highlights the incredible role that a coach has to leave a lasting impression on athletes. Among many other topics, the course importantly discusses the psychological damage that kids experience from a performance-based identity and how that identity can be created by the coaches themselves.

Through FCA, the 3D Institute offers a faith-based version of the same material for free at . 

Not only will the courses offer you a framework to impart foundational life lessons to students that can be developed more in a ministry context later, but the courses also offer a way to talk with other coaches about what kids need most from them without any obstacles to the message as coming from a religious perspective. 

If you ever have the opportunity to coach, I encourage you to take it. It’s an incredible way to show Jesus to kids, adults, and entire communities!

Additional resources shared by members of the Alongside: Young Life Leaders Facebook group.

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