Family, Faith, and Football
Coaches hold a special place in the lives of our young people … and behind that coach is often a wife making his career possible. ~ Fellowship of Christian Athletes Greenville
Nowadays, it may seem like we have to tiptoe around our beliefs based on recent developments in the news. Coaches have been punished for living their faith on the field, and a few examples follow. Back in 2014, Melissa Brittain, wife of Tempe Prep football coach Tommy Brittain, confirmed online that her husband was suspended two weeks for praying with his team. This past summer, former Bremerton High assistant Coach Joe Kennedy was punished for silently praying on one knee midfield after football games, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said his religious liberties did not apply and were not protected. Just this fall, East Coweta High School Coach John Small was not allowed to bow his head in prayer with his players.
This is such a stark contrast to the tradition of praying in the locker room, on the field, and with the players. It brings to mind the glory days my PaPa experienced in his illustrious coaching career. Some might call PaPa an “old school” type of coach who openly practices an “old school” type of faith. This is a man who was inducted into the Brenham High School Hall of Honor and coached one or two All Americans among other professional players. In fact, he put seven players into the NFL. PaPa retired after 44 years and has seen it all—lots of changes in the game and society as a whole. He said, “From a Christian standpoint, I didn’t allow players or my coaches to do crazy things or curse on the field. We had after-game parties and rotated to from one coaches’ home to another. I strived to do this every place I coached and was proud that Betty represented our family so well.”
When he coached at Nederland, he and the players kneeled in the locker room and said a prayer before the game. After the game, players either congratulated each other or consoled each other, and then kneeled and said the Lord’s Prayer. There was not one football player who didn’t participate, and this was typical in many Texas towns. Today, however, it’s almost unheard of today.
Once, decades ago, while kneeling on 50 yard line, PaPa noticed two women he didn’t know coming across field. Suddenly something hit him in the head—one of the woman took her purse and whacked him. He was dazed and almost knocked unconscious, and the assistant coaches came running. Of course, PaPa wanted to find out why he was assaulted. Was it because of the praying? Was it because of the team’s performance? Of course, today there would almost certainly be an arrest. But back then, things were different. Although PaPa was tempted to file charges, the school superintendent said, “Why would you say that? The person who hit you was the mother of the quarterback and the wife a higher up.” So PaPa left the whole matter alone (although MiMi was outraged, of course), but will hopefully write a book about these types of escapades and many other adventures he experienced as a head coach.
This story brings to mind the importance of faith in the lives of coaches families, even when that faith is challenged.
I believe MiMi’s personal support system came almost entirely from her faith, and she certainly encouraged me to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coaches’ Wives Ministry. I assume from this encouragement that she was also a member, although I never asked specifically. I do know that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is a wonderful interdenominational Christian sports ministry founded in 1954 “to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” MiMi was so pleased with the FCA Coaches’ Wives Ministry mantra: “The coach is the heart of the game. The wife is the heartbeat.”
I encourage other coaches’ wives to check out the FCA Coaches’ Wives Ministry at fcacwm.org and join! I love their “Who We Are” page, which states, “Since 1954, the Lord has been impacting lives across the nation and internationally through FCA. Our philosophy is to minister “to and through the coach.” And the “4 C’s” of FCA are coaches, camps, community and campuses. Camps are opportunities for impact, the community and campuses are the places of influence. In the middle of it all is the coach—and his wife.”
Another great ministry is The Reach—A Ministry for Coaches’ Wives that intentionally connects wives with each other. It filters everyday life through the word of God and inspires healthy, meaningful discussions concerning the challenges of the lifestyle. It’s a part of coachesoutreach.org and includes 400 wives meeting all over the state of Texas, with groups in Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma as well. There are requests to join in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
The coaches’ wives meetings are formed geographically and each small group coordinates their own meeting times and places based on the schedules of their group members. Genuine friendships bloom based on commonality, trust, and the truth of God’s Word. Please check it out if you are interested in another source of Christian support.
Chase Relationships, Not Titles
Indeed, it really does feel at times that the coaching life has roots in ministry. I’m reminded of this by Jordan Harrell, a former 6th grade math teacher and coach. The last five years she’s been a stay-at-home-mom to her three kids, the oldest of whom just started kindergarten. She loves chocolate, naps, coffee, her family, and cute shoes, not necessarily in that order. But also maybe in that order. She is now a freelance writer and blogger at Jordanharrell.com and fridaynightwives.com—and her insights are great!
“Clark and I both feel as though his job is our ministry, that coaching is as ‘boots on the ground’ as being a missionary or a preacher. He is forming relationships with kids who need him, and need Jesus. And my job is to help facilitate that. We have the kids over for dinner. He stays after practice sometimes and talks to a hurting kid, which makes him even later, but I have to constantly remind myself what my purpose is. We are seeking his kingdom first, and expecting ‘all these things to be added unto us.’
The biggest lesson we have learned is to not chase titles. Chase relationships. You are happier when you are working with people you love in a positive, enjoyable atmosphere. If going to work is stressful, it won’t matter how much money you are making or how high on the totem pole you are, you are going to be miserable. Go where you know you will enjoy going to work, not the place that will make you the most money or is the fastest way to get to a head coaching position. And the kids can tell – when the coaching staff enjoys each other and there’s not any dissension, they feed off of that.
Being a coach’s wife is hard. But so are a lot of jobs. I don’t think we’ve cornered the market on challenging marriages but I think the enemy will try to convince us that we have – he will encourage our pity parties and remind us how often our husbands are gone. It’s so important to focus on the positive, not to the extent that we hide the issues, but to the extent that we don’t drown in a sea of negativity.
I spend most of my days picking up toys, wiping bottoms, and teaching small humans basic social skills. My kids, now 5, 4, and 2, are finally getting self-sufficient enough that I can get things done even when they are awake, which makes a huge difference. Writing keeps me grounded and connected to people during a stressful and often lonely time, so that’s my “me time” during nap time and bedtime. My hope is that I always offer relief to others – whether that be by reminding them of the message of the cross, or telling honest stories of how I’m currently failing miserably at life, or reassuring them that they are not alone – I passionately want to spread good news, not add to others’ anxiety by making them feel like they aren’t measuring up.”
Wives and Prayer
Once LSU football coach Ed Orgeron (married to Kelly Orgeron) was asked if he had a “coach.” I love his answer: “No question. Number one, my wife … and number two, Pastor Jacob and Pastor Steve.”
Claudette Giles-Gillespie, wife of Valdosta High School head football coach Rance Gillespie, encourages people to look closely at two scriptures she holds dear: Colossians 3:23—Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, and Micah 6:8—He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? I love that she says, “This is an awesome challenge we all have regardless of the lives or careers we have. Celebrating life with wins is always the goal of a coach, the prayer of his wife, and of course the hope or expectation of others.”
It’s definitely worth noting that coaches’ wives stand in the gap for many, not just through physical acts of hugs and baking and encouraging words, but through prayer. Examples of prayers are all around us. Oakland Raiders Derek Carr and his wife Heather prayed unceasingly when their son, Dallas, was born with intestinal issues and underwent multiple surgeries. “We had so many people praying for us,” Heather said. “The whole community came together and prayed for us. It’s just amazing how many people come together in a time of need.” Thankfully, Dallas recovered and was joined in 2016 by little brother Deker.
When Wendy Anderson, the wife of Arkansas State head football coach Blake Anderson, battled breast cancer, the team honored with a pink banner that stated: “Get well soon Wendy Anderson.” The assistant head coach, Trooper Taylor, asked Arkansas State fans to pray for her. Blake Anderson tweeted thanks to all who prayed for his wife and later tweeted that Wendy was cancer-free.
Coach’s wife Janice Archer, a dear friend of my grandparents Betty and Lloyd, had a special connection with my grandmother. MiMi was a very devoted catholic, and at that time Janice had become a new Christian and member of the Methodist church. “I shared some of my faith with Betty, and when Betty’s father died I told her, ‘I’m going to pray with you.’ We actually went in to the laundry room at Betty’s house, where we wouldn’t be disturbed. She commented over the years that she never forgot I went out to her house to pray with her. Whenever something happened, she always called to ask if we could pray together.”
When my uncle Mark Wassermann got cancer, MiMi called Janice and asked that she put her son on the prayer list at church. Janice reminded me that when one of the football players broke his neck or back and was paralyzed, MiMi and PaPa rallied the the community and raised funds to purchase a van with an automatic lift. “That’s the type of Christians they were,” says Janice.
My friend Lisa Gotte told me that “God is first and the marriage is second.” Therefore, she and her husband BJ make sure church is a priority. “If he has to work on Sunday, we go to an earlier service or a Saturday night service,” she says. This is a great no-excuse example for Jeffrey and me, and I’m sure many other coaching couples. I love Lakewood Church in Houston, and with Noah being so tiny, it’s wonderful that I can watch Joel Osteen’s worship services over the computer.
I also really love the writing of Carolyn Allen, especially her “Prayer for the Coach’s Wife”—a lovely poem that has gone viral.
I am a coach’s wife who needs You.
All I have comes from heaven; therefore,
I praise You for my teammate and his calling to be a coach,
my circumstances of daily victories and defeats,
and my faith to get me through.
You are not surprised that I feel overwhelmed during the season.
Be near me and give me strength and peace.
Help me to love others and bear fruit by
filling me with your Presence.
May I courageously run the race you have set before me,
focusing on Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of my faith.
In Your Name I pray.
Give Me Strength!
More t-shirt sightings! I spotted a wife wearing a tee that said “Shhhh…it’s the coach’s old lady.” This exemplifies precisely how I feel when the slings and arrows are flying after a loss or after a shakeup. Shhhh! I don’t want to hear it! I don’t want my son to hear it!
I love the way Lisa Nu’u articulates her faith and also shares insights that can give us strength when our coaches (and by association, our families) are under attack. She’s the wife of linebackers coach Joe Nu’u of Valor Christian High School and wrote and open letter—a “Thank You Letter”—to coaches’ wives that deserves a shout out, especially because it addresses something I struggle with. I have mentioned before and I’ll say again that it is an ongoing challenge for me to gracefully deal with unjust or overly harsh criticism, and Lisa’s words resonate:
“There are times when you’re at the game and you hear people criticizing your husband or calling him names that you would never dream of calling anyone else. You now have to move because you don’t want your kids to hear the horrible things being said about their father. You do all this because you know that God has a plan for you and your husband in the lives of the athletes He has given you to love and care for. Most of the time, it seems the athletes, parents and fans don’t see all you have to sacrifice, but I want you to know that God sees your sacrifice. He sees all that you do behind the scenes so that your husband can fulfill his call as a coach, knowing that you’re with him, no matter what. And I believe He is smiling down on you.”
The Jewish Faith
Although it seems that many coaching families share Christian beliefs within various denominations, there are significant organizations for coaches of the Jewish faith. For instance, Jewish Coaches Association (JCA) is a 501c3 non-profit with the primary purpose of fostering the growth and development of individuals of the Jewish faith at all levels of sports, both nationally and internationally. The JCA is committed to creating a constructive and tolerant environment and presents the Red Auerbach Award, given annually to the nation’s top Jewish college coach, as voted on by the members of the JCA. They recently announced four finalists for the 2017 Red Auerbach College Coach of the Year Award.
The American Jewish Coaches Association, located in Austin, Texas, addresses significant issues pertaining to the participation and employment of individuals of the Jewish faith in sport in general and intercollegiate athletics in particular. It provides professional and leadership development strategies for member coaches and networking opportunities for Jewish coaches and athletic administrators. It also inspires members to coach with integrity and Jewish values and serve as a role model to their teams and communities……