All this football hype in Europe got me thinking about how important coaches are and how similar coaching is to working with young people in the church. Having worked over 25 years with youth in ministry and over 15 years as a gymnastics coach, I’ve noticed some similarities between the two, and thought it would be nice to share.

First, a coach has to know his/her stuff. I can only advance a girl’s skill as far as I know how. There are times I have to do some research, get more training, and seek the advice of other coaches in order to get my athletes to that next level. This also applies to working with youth in ministry. You have to know your stuff, but if you don’t, there’s plenty of people around who can help you. Tons of resources exist to help you grow, and take the children you work with to the next level. We all want to help each other in getting our kids to their goals physically and spiritually.

Second, coaching takes time. A good coach takes the time necessary to get their players progressing to the next level. Sometimes the coaches are exhausted and don’t want to do any more, but we hang in there. We give up weekends to be on the sidelines cheering on the kids. We spend time getting to know the athletes, building their trust, knowing what excites them, what stresses them out, and how to motivate them. The same thing goes for ministry. Kids need you to take time to build trust. They want to know you really care. Through time we can learn how to minister to each kid in a way that will be beneficial to them.

Third, a good coach cares for their players. Sometimes, coaches have to put their own safety and lives at risk to protect their players (especially in gymnastics, oh the physical pains that come from coaching gymnasts). That takes real love and dedication from a coach and the athletes can spot it quickly. The same if someone isn’t passionate about working with kids and youth in ministry, the kids will know it immediately. And they’ll be able to spot the leaders that really do care for them. Love also helps get us through the tough times dealing with kids.

Last, through these years of coaching, I noticed something special about coaches. They often have a great network of other coaches they can go to with questions or help out. When multiple coaches worked with one group, they had to collaborate and communicate with each other to not cause confusion. It also takes a variety of coaches to help kids out. Some coaches are tough, some more encouraging, others more specialized, some who will make you cry, and some who know when a hug or pat on the back is needed. Just as a group of coaches can take an athlete to the next level, a group of spiritual coaches working together can help young people reach that next step in their relationship with God. Just as good coaches are not alone, those “coaching” kids in their spiritual walk should work together, encourage each other, and build up each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It can be tough if you’re working alone. But in a group, the benefits are huge for both the leaders and the youth.