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United Soccer Coaches Panel — Chicago 2019

The start for 2019 is off to a fast and furious pace, with the panel that I was able to be part of just a few days into the new year. The annual, United Soccer Coaches convention was the occasion for me to be share insights as a Major League Soccer chaplain on a panel dealing with the topic of character. The panel was comprised of a few other members that I’ve come to know throughout the years including Ben Dudley (representing Positive Coaching Alliance), Adam Smith (Head Coach of USL-Championship side Fresno FC), Caroline Stanley (Coach at University of Tulsa), and moderated by Jordan Angeli (Broadcaster and commentator with the Rapids).

Adam Smith, Ben Dudley, Caroline Stanley, myself, and Jordan Angeli (left to right) pose for a picture before the panel begins.

There were, by some accounts, a little over 100 coaches in the room for our panel. The bulk of the room was made up of youth and collegiate coaches, with a scattering of others in different roles. Once the introductions were done, we dove into questions for each of the panelists — including defining character and also presenting some situational moments for those attending to think through. There were also some great Q&A as several coaches asked about how to implement character and build up resiliency with their players.

Even through there was familiarity amongst the panelists, there was a little room for debate and disagreement. In particular, I responded strongly to Ben’s statement that sports build character. I stated a strong case for sports revealing character, not necessarily building character — that the processing and shaping of character coming as parents, coaches, chaplains, etc. help an athlete understand their sports experiences.

Caroline Stanley (center) shares some of how she creates character-shaping moments as a coach at the collegiate level.

While most have asked, “How did the panel go?” my main hope is that we (Soccer Chaplains United) have shown well in this first panel. Hopefully, more discussion on the subject of character will continue in the years to come. Character is a critical issue whether examining the sport of soccer from a Christian or non-Christian worldview, whether secular or religious, as well.

I had a couple of Christian coaches come up to me after the session saying,

Thank you, I have always struggled with integrating my faith and my coaching in a positive way that won’t turn people off or call me into question.

I certainly, too, tried to make a case for coaches to consider utilizing chaplains or counselors as part of the team surrounding the team. It will remain to be seen if there are future opportunities for us to grow or if we will need to have a place at the table a little while longer. At any rate, we’ve begun and perhaps God will allow us to continue. There is a longer and deeper conversation to be had surrounding the topic of character.

In the United Soccer Coaches charter, character is stated to come first. But as you can see from the image below, charters and values are difficult to not only message, but also to live out. In some ways, our room ought to have been filled to overflowing because even on a basic level, many coaches in the game are faced with the tremendous issues of character amongst their athletes and staff.

Special thanks to those encouraging and supporting us to be part of this year’s convention. We look forward to seeing what opportunities, God creates for us going forward.

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