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The Fellowship of Christian Athletes engages coaches and athletes to grow in their faith and sport.

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Words Matter

Imagine you are sitting in your church on Sunday morning. Your pastor’s quickened pace and escalating tone has you hanging on every word, knowing the climactic point of this powerful message is about to be driven home. Sweat rolls down the pastor’s face as he pounds his fist on the pulpit, and now nearly screaming he adds an expletive in front of “Jesus Christ” as part of his rousing finish!

A pastor cursing for dramatic effect doesn’t really happen in church – or at least I hope it doesn’t!

If cursing is not acceptable in church, why does it seem to be so readily accepted as part of coaching and sports?

The Bible seems to be quite clear on the subject.

Ephesians 4:29

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”

Colossians 3:8

“But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.”

Matthew 15:11

“It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Two of our area FCA coach’s huddles are currently working through the book “Coaching Matters: 12 Lessons to Transformational Coaching” by Tom Osborne, former Nebraska football coach. According to Osborne, “sometimes coaches may feel profanity adds emphasis to what they are saying or makes them appear tougher or more authoritarian. My experience has been that those who feel profanity is necessary really aren’t that secure in who they are and adopt a false bravado, often laced with profanity, to cover their insecurity.”

Unfortunately, bad language has become oh so common, and seems to become more and more the norm every day and at younger ages. It is prevalent in music and movies and is now much more common on television, even in prime-time. Use of foul language in every day, ordinary conversation has become more of a norm than an exception.

But your job as a coach isn’t to encourage your players to conform; your job is to TRANSFORM!

Romans 12:2tells us - “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform (my emphasis) you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

In other words - Dare to be Uncommon!

In his book “Inside Out Coaching,” Joe Ehrmann describes a coach who made a profound impression on him. “There was no shouting, screaming, shaming, or use of sarcasm to control players. Instead there were these sensations: finesse instead of force, camaraderie instead of combat, and an abiding memory that playing and feeling alive were still connected.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all our past players would use those kinds of words to describe experiences on our teams?

Parents would not find lectures from teachers laced with profanity acceptable in math or science classes, or at least I hope they wouldn’t, so why should they find them acceptable on a field or in a gym? Coaches are teachers. The field or gym is your classroom. Foul language shouldn’t be the accepted norm in either the classroom, or the playing field.

James 3: 1-12talks about the tongue being a weapon, and the importance of guarding your tongue.

I hear many coaches – and athletes – talk about swearing simply being a habit, and a very hard habit to break. Breaking bad habits – and developing good habits – takes commitment, discipline, and practice.

John Wooden is considered by many as the greatest coach ever – and he did not use foul language to coach and get the most out of his teams.

Legendary management consulting guru Peter Drucker is credited with the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Coaches are notorious for spending countless hours thinking about strategy and the X’s and O’s of their particular sport. But how much time do you spend thinking about your culture?

I would argue the language used by coaches and players at practices and in competition says a lot about your culture. As a coach, what expectations have you set in terms of language? What happens when those expectations aren’t met? What are you modeling for your players with your language at practice and games?

All great coaches are constantly looking for new tools that can help them not just with game strategy and skill development, but with the mental aspects of the game and the all-important team culture. I love sharing ideas, methods and resources available for coaches to build their toolbox.

Bad language is one tool God wants us to take OUT of our toolbox.

In Christ,

Jim Collins


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