The Experience of Christian Prayer in Coaching: A Qualitative Investigation

By Egli, Trevor; Czech, Daniel R. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Experience of Christian Prayer in Coaching: A Qualitative Investigation


Egli, Trevor, Czech, Daniel R., Shaver, George W., Biber, David D., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


Studies have been conducted examining the lived experience of Christian athletes' use of prayer (Czech et ah, 2004). However, no published research has sought to understand how a Christian coach may utilize prayer. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively examine the lived experiences of collegiate Division I Christian head coaches' use of prayer within their profession. A humanistic framework - specifically, existential-phenomenology (centered on seeing the individual being interviewed as the expert on the matter at hand) (Dale, 1996)-was used to allow for an information-rich and detailed description of the coaches' experience. Four themes emerged from the data analysis: Relying on God's Guidance, Roles of Coaching, Prayer Types, and Subtle Influence. Implications from this study may benefit coaches, athletes, sport psychology consultants, and those who may encounter Christian prayer within sport by providing insight into how coaches may use prayer in these settings.

"Sport has the power to change the world, the power to inspire, a power to unite people in a way that little else can" (Nelson Mandela, 2000). Coakley (2009) stated "religion is powerful because it forms a foundation for general systems of meaning related to ultimate issues and questions. These systems of meaning affect the way people think about the world, about social life and social relationships, and even about sports." Sport and religion are two powerful avenues that when combined may create difficulties for those who attempt to make sense of both.

Sport sociologists have suggested several ways in which athletes and coaches use prayer, including (a) to cope with uncertainty; (b) to stay out of trouble; (c) to give meaning to sport participation; (d) to put sport into a "balanced perspective"; (e) to establish team solidarity and unity; (0 to reaffirm rules, expectations, and social control on teams; (g) to assert autonomy in the face of power; and (h) to achieve personal and athletic success (Coakley, 2009).

The current study focused on Christianity, the majority religion in the United States. Deford (1979) coined the term "Sportinaity" to refer to the social movement of coaches and athletes who live their lives as examples for Christ. One such organization is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). FCA provides a resource to Christian athletes to connect and meet with others who have similar beliefs and values. This is only one of many Christian sports organizations (Coakley, 2009). Research has shown that Christian athletes can experience dilemmas when applying their faith within sport (Stevenson, 1997). The athletes reported that they coped best by "coming back to faith" which tended to help them within the dominant culture of sport. This refers to the athletes placing more importance on seeking out the meaning of their faith and how to apply it to their lives, especially sport.

Several studies have found that prayer is the most prolific response used to help Christian athletes cope with difficulties in sport (Czech & Bullett, 2007; Czech, Wrisberg, Fisher, Thompson, & Hayes, 2004; Park, 2000; Watson & Czech, 2005; Watson & Nesti, 2005). One such study examined Christian prayer in sport among Division I elite Christian athletes (Czech et al., 2004). Four uses of prayer were revealed: (a) performance prayers; (b) prayer routine; (c) thankfulness; and (d) God's will. This study helped show how athletes across different sports utilize prayer in similar ways to help reduce anxiety and discomfort (Coakley, 2009). However, further research exploring the phenomenon of prayer in sport is still essential (Watson & Czech, 2005; Watson & Nesti, 2005).

Another population within the Christian community of sport we know even less about is coaches (Czech & Bullett, 2007; Czech et al., 2004; Watson & Czech, 2005). Bennet and colleagues (Bennet, Sagas, Fleming, & Von Roenn, 2005) demonstrated the dilemma Christians may face within the dominant culture of sport. …

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