Posted tagged ‘coaches’

Mentors For the Journey

January 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 4, 2019

                                      

I’ve been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life that have allowed me to try and fail, hone certain skills, and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. 

Dr. James Payson Martin, senior pastor of Arlington Heights (IL) First Presbyterian Church was my first mentor when I joined a church staff. He was gentle but firm. Grace-filled, but demanding. I was between my second and third years of seminary, looking for a summer ministry experience that would stretch me…and it did. Loved it and learned from it! Grew as I groaned! 

Jim Martin was the catalyst for my growth. His daughter, Cyndi, remains a long distance friend of mine (She still lives in the Chicago area). I get choked up thinking about her and her dad. Jim passed away suddenly the week of Easter about 30 years ago. 

And then there is Chuck Landon, my first mentor in a church ministry after I was ordained and on a church staff full-time. I had been on the staff of another church for about 15 months after seminary graduation and it did not go well. I was defeated and discouraged, wondering if I was really called to ministry. The senior pastor was rarely around to guide me. The rumor was that he spent more time on the golf course, which had one of its fairways rolling right behind his backyard. This “Wolfe” often felt like he was being fed to the wolves!

Lansing First Baptist Church rescued me from leaving ministry, and Chuck Landon taught me more about being a pastor than anyone else I have known. His work ethic flowed out of his passion for Christ, pursuit for excellence, and love for the people he pastored and community he served in. When I was willing to settle for less he let me know it was unacceptable. When I did something well he affirmed the excellence and effectiveness of it. When I wore my softball cleats (They were rubber cleats, okay!) to a Diaconate meeting in the pristine church parlor, he read me the riot act the next day! He taught me responsibility, and he taught me that perception, no matter whether it is accurate or not, is the reality.

Those two men mentored me to become a good pastor. They prepared me to mentor others to be good pastors, and hopefully those people will mentor others.

I’ve had other mentors through the years also in other areas of life. Don Fackler mentored me to a good basketball coach. When I assisted him in coaching the Mason (Michigan) High School Girl’s JV team, he laid the foundations in my life on how to coach. Now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself using some of those same learnings, and speak some of the same terms that he spoke. 

As I write more these days there have been a few mentors to bring my writing quality up. God has blessed me to have my life path converge with Ed and Diana Stucky. They’ve pressed me to not settle for less, to reach for quality and to be a wordsmith in conveying ideas. 

Mentors are essential for our development and success. If we learn in isolation we will experience the storms of being isolated. If we realize that we are “not all that!” and allow others to speak truth into the rough edges of our lives we will be better, and we will be better prepared to be vessels that flow with purpose!

In Appreciation of Great Parents of Young Athletes

November 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 12, 2018

                              

One of the main reasons I decided to stop officiating basketball after the 2017 season and 16 years of wearing the stripes was out-of-control parents. Many of them have added to their resume’ and are now not just “helicopter parents”, but also “helicopter fans”!

Irrational and belligerent, abusive and hostile, they bring a dark side to youth athletics. When their son or daughter has an official make a marginal call that goes against their child you would think that the kid just got a reject letter from Harvard!

BUT there are “the others”! That is, there are the parents who are awesome and supportive; the parents who understand that the world does not turn on the basis of a roundball’s rotation; the parents who allow their son or daughter to experience failure and also success and don’t feel like they need to pave the path that only leads to victory.

Parental guidance and encouragement are the vital elements for a kid growing up and trying to figure out life, but they are elements that are too often missing. They are elements that many parents have pushed to the side in favor of outraged entitlement and having a messed-up view of what is really important in life.

The parents of my 8th Grade boys basketball team this year were awesome, and here’s why!

They let the coach coach! Their analysis and evaluation of the game and their son’s play didn’t happen until after the game, if at all! Never once did I have a parent shout instructions to their son from the bleachers. They applauded and encouraged, grimaced and smiled. I’ve heard too many horror stories of coaches being hounded and ridiculed by parents. My parents modeled how things should be!

They understood that we coach student athletes, not athletes who also happen to be students! None of my players had to sit out a week of games because they were academically in trouble. Their son’s grade point average is much more important than his scoring average or how many rebounds he gets in a game.

They modeled maturity! I’ve seen my share of parents who have been asked to leave gymnasiums because of their behavior. Last year the mom of a player from the team we were playing that day sat in the row behind our team bench…in our gym! Her voice was the loudest voice in the gym. If it was Cameron Indoor at Duke and the Blue Demons were playing North Carolina I could understand it, but this was a 7th Grade boys game. I had our security person ask her to move at halftime. She was not pleased! There were plenty of seats behind her team’s bench. The coach, a friend of mine, said to me after the game, “Great! You moved her down behind my bench and then I had to hear her!”

Some parents just don’t get it! And then you see their son or daughter turning into mom or dad!

Here’s the harsh truth! Officials and referees are hanging up their whistles because of parents! And coaches are calling it quits because of parents! 

My parents this year were awesome and that’s why I’ll be back for my 19th season next year…and consider myself blessed to be able to do it!

Grace-Filled Winning

January 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 15, 2018

                                        

Recently a high school women’s basketball team in our area was beaten by 94 points. They were missing a couple of their players that day, but other defeats this season have been lop-sided as well, just not in the same zip code as 94.

In my years as a coach I’ve been on both sides of the final score…on the left side of the  hyphen with a way larger number than my waist size…and on the right side of the hyphen with a digit that looks as embarrassed as a naked child in a grocery store.

One of the first games I coached was a YMCA Church League game for middle school boys. We lost 75-5 and my only player who could dribble and chew gum at the same time broke his wrist. That team struggled to score more than six points in any game for the rest of the season. One of our last games was against Bethlehem Lutheran, and their associate pastor, Noel Niemann, was also their coach. Noel knew what our team’s skill level was and he purposely had his players play a packed in 2-3 zone defense and allowed our players to shoot from the outside. They beat us 36-12, but my team was elated that the scoreboard had to use two digits to display our team’s score. That was in 1982 and I still remember Noel’s name, the score, and the sportsmanship.

I seldom see grace filter into sports these days. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. “After all,” say too many coaches, “we’ve practiced hard. Winning in a blowout is our just rewards for practicing hard!”

That argument carries only so far! Winning by a ton of points is usually fueled by a coach’s arrogance, blood-thirsty parents in the bleachers, or players who think it says something about how impressive their skill level is.

In most states high school athletes can choice into schools that ordinarily they would not be going to. Certain high schools are accumulating more than their fair share of the better players, while other schools are encountering cupboards that are bare. Mismatches are evident before the season even begins. And it will continue to be!

So whose responsibility is to be win with grace?

The opportunity to show grace begins with the coach. I use the word “opportunity” because it should be seen as such. Not a requirement, but rather a gift wrapped in the lesson of sportsmanship. Any sporting event is a venue for how we wish people would treat each other. Too often it is a place where the participants strut like peacocks and the observers say things they would not want their mothers, some already in the grave, to hear.

Grace in winning is an opportunity for a coach to teach his/her players a different lesson that is unrelated to the score. Not enough coaches seem to understand that so now there is this thing called “The Mercy Rule.” The name should be a stop sign, but, instead, it has just become a point in the game where one team is a certain number of points ahead of the other team…and mercy has gone out for coffee!

High school sports, and maybe even more than that, middle school sports, need more coaches who teach the skills of the game, but also the character that a person can have. It needs more coaches that can model for their players that winning is more than a good-looking number figure on the left side of the hyphen.

It needs more “Noel Niemann’s”!

The Sinful Nature of Tee Ball Parents

July 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 12, 2017

                          

I was at my granddaughter’s t-ball game last night. It was a calm event, appropriately applauded by parents and grandparents alike. The game’s highlight was when the first baseman actually caught the ball that was thrown to him. Other than that it was a time of watching six year olds more interested in the plane flying overhead than the baseball that just rolled by them on the ground, baseball caps turned backwards, and kids carrying mitts about half their height. Six year old t-ball is meant to be about learning, having fun, and getting the post-game snack. A kid can belt four home runs in the game, but if he misses the post-game snack he will go home totally devastated.

Then there are the other games! In Cortez, Colorado several parents got into a fight at a t-ball game. Video circulated from the event showing women going after one another, profanity thrown around like candy, and, ultimately, the police called with one parent cited! If this was an isolated situation we could just assign it to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, but unfortunately it isn’t just a blip on the screen. It happens quite often.

One team in my granddaughter’s age group has parents who follow the attitude of their children’s coach…a bit arrogant and cheering that is a bit over the top. One player who fell and went to the bench crying…as any six year old well-adjusted child would…was reprimanded by the coach who yelled at him that he had two minutes to get his act together.

Being a basketball official for sixteen years I remember having a mom removed from a sixth grade boy’s club game. She had been sitting along the baseline yelling to her son, “Kill him! Kill him!” When I had her removed she protested that she had paid to get in.

What is it about their son and daughter’s athletic contests that make parents become prime examples of human depravity? It seems to be the fertile ground from which their sinful nature grows like a weed. The Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote to the people of Galatia that “…the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

     He goes on to clarify what the acts of the sinful nature are, and while not specifically naming “being a parent at a youth sporting event” he does list associated acts like “hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and dissensions.” Ahhh…yes, sounds like some of the ingredients of some sideline parents I’ve seen.

Last summer twenty adults got into a fight during a four and five year old tee ball game in Florida over a disputed call of the umpire’s. National youth sports organizations get calls weekly about parents or coaches…or both…who have gotten into fights at games.

Years ago we had a men’s team play in a church basketball league. I used to say that the teams would pray together before the game and pray together after the game…and play like we were demon-possessed during the game!

Let’s face it! Sports bring out the best in us…and the worst in us! Parents have a hard time keeping things in perspective. Winning is worshiped. Having character is devalued. It is no longer about enjoying the sport, it’s about annihilating the competition. Common sense has exited the ball park!

Some leagues have toyed with not allowing parents to attend. Others have gone to the extreme of not allowing parents to say anything, even cheering. Associations of sports officials are seeing decreasing numbers of referees. One of the main reasons given is the behavior of parents!

Going back to Paul and his instruction to the Galatians he contrasts what the “fruit of the Spirit” are with the previously mentioned acts of the sinful nature. That is, what are the evidences of someone being directed by the Spirit of God, as opposed to “that other me” that seems to emerge form time to time. In his list he mentions things like “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Just an idea! They may not get it, but it’s an idea! What if parents start receiving a list of positive elements, like those just mentioned; and another list of unacceptable behaviors and attitudes. Perhaps some of them would recognize the spiritual connection…and file a law suit, citing religious discrimination! But maybe, just maybe, some of them would have their dusty light bulbs click on that would tell them how things should be, and one playing field intended to be a place of play would regain some of its purpose.

 

One Year Retired!!!

January 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 22, 2017

                                       

On January 17, 2016 I spoke for the last time at Highland Park Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, the church I pastored for sixteen and a half years. I went from a long-time pastor to a has-been pastor.

A week after I graduated from Northern Baptist Seminary in June of 1979 I began a position as Minister of Christian Education and Youth at First Baptist Church in Davison, Michigan. For the next thirty-six and a half years I ministered and pastored in churches of Michigan and Colorado.

And then it was time!

This last year has been awesome, not because I’m just sitting around each day watching my toe nails grow! My passions have always been “coaching” and “creating.” Pastoring and coaching have a number of elements that are similar. Creating and sermon-writing are like twin sisters. This past year has enabled me to do a lot more creating, blog-writing…working on a novel…thinking…pondering…conversing. And I’ve also been able to coach middle school football and basketball, coach a struggling small-town church as it navigates the future, and, most recently, coach roomfuls of 7th Graders in the discovery of Social Studies.

I headed into retirement thinking that I would golf more, work on my slice, hone my putting game. Instead, I actually golfed 7 holes all last summer. Yes, 7! A fog bank rolled in on us as we were getting to the 7th green, and then we couldn’t even see the 8th hole!

I headed into retirement thinking that I would read a lot of those theological books that look impressive on my book shelves but have been harvesting dust. (Pause) They are still harvesting dust. I’ve read a lot this past year, but not very much theology. I discovered a new treasure- the public library! Not a week goes by that I don’t go there at least a couple of times. I’m reading history and mystery! Carol has been pleased by the decreasing number of Amazon packages delivered to our front door. I’m currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the outbreak of World War 1, Ken Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, and John Sandford’s Escape Clause. I just finished J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, that resonated a lot with my family’s Eastern Kentucky roots.

We headed into retirement thinking that we would travel more, and we have: road trips to Phoenix and Ohio, and a week in Hawaii; an upcoming family trip to San Diego and heading up a mission work team to British Columbia this summer.

Retirement has really been more a refocus. Carol tells people that I am now much more relaxed and less stressed. I enjoy traveling out to Simla and worshiping with the 20 folk at First Baptist Church. They have helped me fall in love with the church again.

Carol and I get to watch and be with the grandkids more. On Saturday nights I’m not worried about the Sunday sermon. This past week I sat on the couch with the two oldest “GK’s” and watched “The Secret Life of Pets” together. It was awesome to laugh with them about different parts of the film. They are a delightful trio…with their two-year old sister.

The hardest part of this past year has been the separation from many of the dear relationships I had with people of my former congregation. As a long-term pastor I’ve tried to keep my distance as the church navigated the journey ahead of them. There is a journey of loss for everyone involved, the congregation and the former pastor and pastor’s wife. I miss the Saturday morning men’s bible study group and the Thursday morning Ageless Wonders bible study. I’ve kept my distance from the Buddy Basketball program I started 14 years ago. Others have picked it up and continued it. I miss the conversation amongst the older saints, and I miss the group of young guys that I “coached” for several years in dialogue about their families and faith.

Retirement is about missing some things and moving on to others. I think the first year of ours have been done well. Thankfully we still have our health. Thankfully I can still talk to my dad every Sunday night on the phone. Thankfully I still have a couple of support groups that help keep me grounded and healthy. Thankfully Carol and I don’t get on each other’s nerves very often. (If Sister Wives is on TV I just leave the room! She did tape my snoring one night on her iPhone and sent the scene to me the next morning while I was substitute teaching. I just want to say, however,  that the film footage was very grainy, so it probably would not hold up in court as evidence!)

Year two of retirement began with a long-term substitute teaching position. What a hoot! Getting to spend most of each day with 120 7th Graders in a portable classroom! I could write a book!

Oh…I’m already writing a book!

I could write another book! Perhaps that will come in Retirement Year Three!

Losing Perspective In the Midst of Playing a Game

January 11, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 11, 2016

                      

This past weekend I officiated eight basketball games (one college, four 5th grade instructional league, and 3 middle school club games), coached one game, and was on the bench for two others.

Here’s what I learned. There are a lot of parents and coaches who lose all perspective. There are very few times that players lose perspective, although a couple of Cincinnati Bengals’ players majorly go against that statement!

The best of the eight games I blew my whistle for was the college game…the game that meant the most! Coaching jobs, school reputations, school pride, recruiting potential new players, conference titles and NCAA post-season berths are all tied into the playing of a college game…and yet, it was the calmest and most enjoyable game to officiate. Players battled hard, coaches coached, fans cheered, and it was fun.

The worst of the games would be a three-way tie between one of the instructional league games where one of the coaches evidently didn’t get the memo about it being INSTRUCTIONAL!!!; one of the club games between two sixth grade girls’ teams, in which one of the coaches and the parents must have “Red Bulled” up before the game; and the JV and Varsity games I was a part of coaching, in which the parents of the visiting team were obnoxious, insulting, and blatantly immature towards the officials.

In those games only a couple of players had attitude problems, and they seemed to take their cues from either the coach or mom and dad in the bleachers.

What is it about a game that makes reasonable people lose all perspective? As a coach I value the opportunity to teach my players not just about the game, but about life…what’s really important and what is the chaff that will burn away? A big part of the teaching is the modeling of consistent beliefs and behavior. Some coaches create players who are “game-long pains” to deal with. They model that kind of behavior and/or condone that kind of behavior.

I hope I’m the other kind of coach that creates players who are able to keep perspective. During the Saturday game I coached, one of my players questioned a call by one of the officials. My response: “Sub!” She came to the bench and I calmly explained to her that asking the officials about a call was my job not hers. Players questioning officials is not to be a part of our DNA.

One brand new high school varsity boy’s basketball coach that I’ve officiated for models consistency and integrity. His team is struggling. He inherited a cupboard that is bare. As an official I’ve offered him encouragement even in the midst of a game. He’s a brand new varsity coach, the kind that our sons and daughters need to be influenced by. If I can say just a few words of encouragement to him to help him keep the right perspective I will do that.

Officials are not the enemy. They are simply the ones given the task of keeping the horses in the corral. Coaches understand that there are good officials, other officials trying to be good, and still other officials that will never be good. Officials are like a school classroom. There are those who excel, some average, and others who struggle.

The sad reality is that the number of officials is declining, and one of the main reasons is the loss of perspective by those who are coaching or watching the game. Officials in any sport can now get an insurance policy that covers death or injury during an athletic contest. Whereas most of those deaths are related to heart attacks, there is the growing concern about officials being attacked by spectators, coaches, or players.

It really comes down to a choice that people involved in athletic contests make. You either choose to keep perspective or you lose it! When people lose perspective everyone loses!

The Saints Who Go Before Us

April 22, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                            April 22, 2015

                                         

We have been blessed in so many ways and by so many people…and so often we don’t immediately recognize it.

Today it hit me…in an unusual way!

Today is the 96th birthday of a woman who I always saw as being a person of compassion, gentleness, and faith. Her name is Ruth Kennedy.

Now…you need to understand something! I haven’t seen Ruth in close to twenty years. I was taken back by the fact that she has a Facebook page…and is now one of my Facebook friends, although in my birthday greeting to you today I couldn’t bring myself to calling her Ruth. She has always been Mrs. Kennedy to me!

Her oldest daughter, Cindy, was a good friend of mine in high school, and several of us hung out quite often at the Kennedy mansion in Ironton, Ohio, between the flood wall and North Second Street. The Wolfe’s and Kennedy’s were  a part of the same church, and our youth group as close-knit.

Mrs. Kennedy would welcome us into her home, and then…this is important!…give us space! She would go to another part of the house and let our group of friends laugh and converse together.

She was faithful! She would sit with her husband Jim on the Vernon Street side of the sanctuary each Sunday for worship at First Baptist Church. Ruth was not a hit-and-miss attender. She was consistent and friendly and warm.

And now years later it hits me how blessed I was to have her in my life during those high school and college years.

We talk about the saints that go before us, but sometimes we are blind to the saints that are with us! And then years later…in an unexpected Facebook post you catch sight of how special someone in your past was to you.

Mrs. Kennedy was just one of many saints who affirmed my call to ministry in 1979 when I was ordained. I can see some of the other faces…Pastor Gale Baldridge, Pastor Jerry Heslinga, Bill and Sue Ball, Paul Hughes, Glenn Fairchild, Ralph and Phyllis Carrico, Ramona McCollister, Dale Clark, Betty Douglas, Rev. Earl Dale…the list could stretch on to the horizon! Some have gone on to Glory…some were like “church moms” to me…and some were encouragers. All had a part in shaping me and causing me to press on!

Happy birthday, Ruth…I mean, Mrs. Kennedy!