Dabo Swinney, the highly successful Clemson football coach, encourages his team to play with joy. As you watch his players compete – and as you observe Coach Swinney on the sideline – you can sense their joy. You can also see how this raises the level of their performance.
In the last devotion, we observed how God in Galatians 5:22-23 gives a succinct yet significant standard by which we can measure spiritual progress: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” One of the marks of God’s work in us is joy. When we’re characterized by joy and we encourage joy in others, this is an important indicator that we’re growing in our relationship with Christ.
But if we’re honest, our approach to coaching often doesn’t intentionally encourage joy. Why? In 3D Coach, Dr. Jeff Duke says that coaches may think joy doesn’t really have a place in sports. Dr. Duke writes, “I used to interpret joy as a lack of focus. And that meant loss of control. Coaches are all about control. We need to be in control. [M]y first inclination was to suppress that joy. And after a while, athletes will learn to suppress it too. And when they suppress joy, they aren’t free to be who they were created to be. Ultimately, that means they aren’t able to perform to their fullest potential.”
Rather than suppressing joy, we need to coach in ways that promote joy. Consider what the Bible teaches us: “…the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10b); “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Joy is a deep, consistent delight at the core of our being based not on favorable circumstances but rather on the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. We experience this joy as we trust Christ rather than attempting to hold onto control. We’re filled with joy as we recognize God’s goodness and faithfulness to us day by day. Our joy in Christ enables us to stay positive and encourage others even when present circumstances are challenging.
When you as a coach are growing in joy as you respond to the work of God’s Spirit in you, you can both coach with joy and encourage joy in your players. Never lose sight of the fact that sports are intended to be fun! The chance to be part of sports is really a good gift from God. There ought to be joy as we play and compete because we’re grateful to God that we can do so.
That’s why Dr. Duke implores coaches to do away with the “outwork” mentality. He writes, “[The ‘outwork’ mentality] will only lead to burnout for you, your coaches and especially your players, who will become complacent as they begin to realize that they can never truly work hard enough. Turning work into play will revolutionize your practices and produce better, more sustainable results on the field of play.” (3D Coach)
Remind yourself and your team that playing sports is a gift, not just an exercise in “working hard.” Be creative in building fun activities into your practices that can still help your players improve skills or conditioning while experiencing the joy of play. Fight the temptation to feel like you have to be in control at all times. Daily delight in God’s goodness and faithfulness. May the joy of the Lord be your strength, Coach.
For reflection: To what extent are you coaching with joy and encouraging your team to play with joy? Ask God’s Spirit to continue to grow the fruit of joy in you, being grateful for the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to you.