In sports, showing weakness is viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. How about the quality of gentleness? Is being gentle the equivalent of being weak and therefore something you as a coach should resist? Or could gentleness actually be an essential quality if you desire to be a coach that is successful in what matters most?
In our devotional series on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, “gentleness” comes next in the list: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Maybe we’ve been tempted to opt-out on gentleness when it comes to coaching, thinking that it doesn’t really have a place in sports. However, a biblical understanding of gentleness leads us to a different conclusion as we pursue coaching for the Lord’s glory.
In Ephesians 4:1-2, the Apostle Paul gives this charge: “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Essential to living worthy of God’s calling on our life is this: “Always be humble and gentle.” The word “always” encompasses how we coach. What does it mean to be gentle and how do we live this out in our coaching?
Far from being the equivalent of weakness, gentleness is “strength under control.” It is treating others with a considerateness and sensitivity to their needs that comes out of genuine humility. There was nothing weak or wimpy about Jesus. He lived and led with a strength that we desire to emulate. So it’s helpful to recognize that Jesus called himself “gentle” (Matt. 11:29). He proclaimed that we experience the blessings of his kingdom when we are gentle (Matt. 5:5 – often translated “meek,” which comes from the same root word in the original Greek of the New Testament).
It’s not hard to be gentle with people we like, but the true test of gentleness is how we respond to people we find difficult. We all encounter individuals who push our buttons, whether it be players who are a challenge to coach, parents who make coaching responsibilities more burdensome, referees who seem to repeatedly make calls against us, or just folks who rub us the wrong way. It takes far more strength to treat difficult people with gentleness than to fly off the handle at them or just be dismissive of them.
How can we coach with this type of “strength under control,” knowing that relating to difficult people is always going to be part of the equation? Eph. 4:1-2 points to the fact that gentleness comes from a foundation of love. Remember, “we love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). As we’re amazed and humbled at how God loves us and treats us with gentleness in spite of our long list of sins and flaws, we’re now able to love others in spite of their sins and flaws. Rather than unleashing on a player or ref when they act contrary to what we want, we can be both firm and gentle out of a desire to put God’s love on display.
Gentleness also comes from staying focused on our ultimate goal as a coach: to live worthy of our calling, which includes making a long-term impact for Christ in the sphere of influence he’s given us. As you recognize the deeper needs of your players rather than only being focused on short-term competitive results, you can speak to them and treat them with gentleness and patience. When they’re expecting the yelling and angry outbursts that they receive from many coaches, your gentle approach will be not only noticeable but also life-giving to them. You’ll reflect the character of Christ and point your players to Jesus.
When you coach with appropriate gentleness, you’re not showing weakness. You’re living out a strength that’s under control and can bear fruit for God’s glory. According to Jesus, living and coaching with gentleness will bring kingdom blessings.For reflection: Think specifically about what it looks like for you to grow in gentleness as a coach. Ask God for his grace and strength to do this, and commit to taking specific steps. Thank the Lord for his unfailing love for you and his gentleness to you.