In my role with FCA, I have the privilege of working with a number of coaches, including several who have experienced significant success in their sport. I’m thinking in particular of two coaches who have both won multiple state championships. They’re obviously very skilled in building winning programs. They’re sought after by other coaches who are trying to understand how to achieve similar success. They have “hall of fame” resumes. But what’s most striking to me about both of these coaches is this: they are genuinely humble.
Perhaps “humility” doesn’t immediately come to mind when we think of “qualities needed to be a successful coach.” According to Jesus, however, humility is essential to experiencing the blessings of God – the grace and favor that come with living under his reign as our King. As we continue to look at Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) about life in God’s kingdom, Jesus takes us next to the quality of humility: “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth” (Matt. 5:5).
Jesus’ words fly in the face of our present sports culture, which is saturated with self-promotion and a focus on “getting what’s mine.” Athletes and coaches alike are often concerned with making sure they get credit for success while pointing fingers at others when things go wrong. In contrast, to be “humble” is to have an accurate view of ourselves, including our flaws and weaknesses. Building on what Jesus already said in the previous two verses in Matthew 5, humility is a product of recognizing our complete spiritual poverty apart from Christ and grieving over our sin against him. We’re humbled by his grace and love toward us in rescuing us and bringing us into his kingdom.
When a coach is characterized by the humility that comes with experiencing the gracious reign of King Jesus, this is evidenced by qualities like these:
1. A humble coach is patient with others. When we’re aware of Jesus’ immense grace in response to our own flaws and shortcomings, we’re able to be gracious with the flaws and shortcomings of others. Impatience with players is often really about our concern that they’re going to make us look bad as a coach if they don’t perform in a certain way. Humility causes us to release this concern and focus instead on patiently walking with our players on their journey.
2. A humble coach gladly promotes others. The joy of living under the loving reign of King Jesus prompts us to no longer worry about self-promotion. In fact, we humbly desire to put the focus on Christ because we know the credit belongs to him, not us. This also prompts us to genuinely desire and celebrate the success of others. When things go well, we promote the contributions of our players, fellow coaches, and others. When things don’t go well, we step forward and own what went wrong rather than pointing fingers.
3. A humble coach operates from a place of peace rather than anxiety. As we understand that Jesus, the King who reigns over all, made a way for us to be part of his kingdom, we’re released from the anxiety that comes with seeking validation through being recognized by others. Instead, we humbly rest in the peace that comes with knowing we belong to Jesus – wins or losses, fame or obscurity.
What’s the reward for coaching and living with humility? According to Jesus, the humble “will inherit the whole earth.” Jesus is the ruler of all and has the power and ability to direct all things for his purposes. The whole earth is his. Whatever he knows we need here and now to live out his design for us, he will provide. And in the future when Christ brings in the fullness of his kingdom, all who humbly trust and surrender to him will get to live with him in the new heavens and new earth.
The humility Jesus is talking about could also be described as a quiet strength. The state championship-winning coaches I mentioned earlier have this quiet strength. Coach, you can be confident that Christ will give you this quiet strength as you willingly trust his reign over you – the strength needed to be patient with others, to promote others, and to operate from a place of peace. It’s this quiet strength that will make you a truly successful coach according to the measure that matters most: that of Jesus our King.
For reflection: In which of the qualities of humility do you need the most growth: being patient with others, promoting others, or operating from a place of peace? Talk to the Lord about this and your desire for his continuing work in you. Humbly express your trust in him and gratitude for his grace.