Coaching the Tongue

In the ESPN documentary series The Last Dance, we hear Chicago Bulls’ GM Jerry Krause claim, “There’s no backstabbing going on here.”  This was clearly not true.  Sadly, the problem of speaking harmfully about others behind their backs is not just something that happened with the 1997-98 Bulls.  It happens far more widely in sports and in life.  Perhaps it happens on your team and in your program, Coach.

As followers of Christ, we’re confronted with the assessment of James 3:9-10 – “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.”  We are probably all guilty of speaking to others in a critical or derogatory way about another coach, or about a parent or administrator, or about one of our players.  James makes it clear that this does not honor God and is not fitting for us who claim devotion to Christ.

Why is this such a big deal?  Because we are treating with contempt what God created in his own image, as James 3:9 says in reflecting the truth of Genesis 1:27.  And because speaking in this way is destructive and harmful, as this sobering passage earlier in James 3 makes clear:  “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (vv. 5-6).

We need to coach the tongue, with the priority placed on coaching our own tongue so we can effectively influence our team and program toward a culture where there really is no backstabbing.  How do we do this?

  1. Confess and commit.  Where we’ve been guilty of harmful speech, confess this to God and receive his forgiveness.  By his power and grace, commit to pursuing his design for how we use our tongue.  We also need to confess to those who are normally the audience for our destructive words.  For example, if we’ve often spoken critically about others while in the presence of other coaches in our program, we need to own this to them: “I’ve often spoken critically about others to you guys and this is wrong.  I want you to know I’m sorry for doing this and I want to stop.  If you hear me starting to tear others down, please call me on it.”
  2. See as God sees.  Make it your daily prayer that God would enable you to see people as he sees them – even those you find most annoying or bothersome.  Every person is created in God’s image.  Every person is deeply loved by him.  Every person is either a sinner saved by Christ’s grace (just like you and me!) or is someone who needs to hear about and experience the love of God in Christ.
  3. Be direct, not divisive.  Sometimes we have legitimate problems with another person.  Rather than talking critically about this person and problem with other people, the Bible instructs us to go directly to the person with whom we have an issue and seek to resolve the conflict (Matt. 18:15).  Model this for your team and reinforce a culture that values talking directly to one another about issues rather than talking about one another in divisive ways.

When we effectively coach our tongue, we go a long way toward eliminating a leading cause of harm and division on our team.  When we coach our tongue, we honor Christ and point people to him.  This is a resounding win for everyone involved.

For reflection:  Confess to God ways you’ve sinned against him and against other people with your words.  Thank him that he can and will transform the way you speak as you rely upon his grace and power.  Ask the Lord to show you the next step in coaching your tongue.