Magazine article Momentum

Storytelling, Clicks and Double-Takes: A Deeper Look into Sports

Magazine article Momentum

Storytelling, Clicks and Double-Takes: A Deeper Look into Sports

Article excerpt

Use sports as an opportunity to help all people (not just the young) to be aware of God in all parts of their lives

Since the inception of the Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development (ISSCD) at Neumann University in 1999, we have had many different responses regarding the wisdom of connecting these three entities. From the sports community responses ranged from "That sounds really nice, but how do you do that?" to "That sounds a little weird." From the spiritual side such as campus ministry or the theology department, the response tended to align along the side of such comments as "You can't do that, you don't want to spoil religion with sports" to "Sports exist in their own little world and we have no idea what to do with them. Please help us."

Comments such as these tend to promote a hands-off approach to sports, rather than an opportunity to be seized. The apostle Paul certainly recognized a connection between sports and Christian spirituality in his preaching and his letters. Further, with Jesus' great ability to relate the Gospel message to common, ordinary things, we believe if he had been exposed to athletics, he would have incorporated them as well.

In a world and culture in which the young tend not to attend church in large numbers, we aim to meet them where they are. Sports provide a great opportunity to do this. As Bishop Joseph McFadden, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, likes to say, "Catholicism is more than just about church attendance on Sunday. The faith is supposed to be about the rest of our lives also - what happens in between Monday and Saturday."

We have been using sports as an opportunity to help all people (not just the young) to be aware of God in all parts of their lives. God is selfish in the sense that God wants to be a part of all of our lives, not just our time in church. There are no moments or experiences where God cannot be recognized. We want to help athletes, coaches, officials, parents and spectators be more aware of God's presence in our lives and to use sports as a vehicle to teach this.


Desiring to move beyond hearsay and anecdotal information, in November 2006, an assessment tool designed by the ISSCD was sent to a random sample of half of the 1,084 NCEA member Catholic high schools in the United States. The purpose of the survey was to identify best practices and needs regarding the integration of an institution's mission/ vision /values into its athletic program. A total of 288 institutions completed assessments, comprising 53 percent of the 542 NCEA high schools surveyed. Findings reveal that there are opportunities to promulgate the mission through parent involvement, spiritual growth and campus ministry.

The study revealed an overwhelmingly strong level of agreement that NCEA high school athletic directors believe there is a connection between sport and spirituality (4.7 on a scale of 1 to 5) and sports and character development (4.9). However, when asked the question, "Have sports added to the spiritual development of your student athletes? " slightly more than half of the athletic directors (57 percent) answered yes, while 39 percent said no and 4 percent said unsure. Many athletic directors and coaches do not feel equipped to assist student athletes on their spiritual journey.

In response to what the high school athletic directors needed to connect sports, spirituality and character development, we responded with three approaches to all the work that we do. These are storytelling, clicks and doubletakes. We utilize these in the classes that we teach, the discussions we lead, the talks we give and in our chaplains program.


1. Storytelling

Several years ago we brought together people from many different areas of study for what we termed a think tank. Basically, we wanted to explore how we could bring the essentials of spirituality and theology to bear upon athletics. …

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