When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry – Part 3: Real Life

In my first post on this topic, I talked about importance of changing the way we view sports to promote “teamwork” between sports and youth ministry. In my last post I talked about the importance of owning the problem and coming up with practical steps to help students in their harried sports schedules. Today, I want to post the reply to an email I sent to a good youth ministry friend. Here was his predicament:

I really liked your blog posts about us dealing with the sports in the schools.  I think we do a decent job of working around the game schedules, but what is terribly frustrating for me is the dreaded “open gym” in the school… The girls basketball coach just posted the spring open gym times for the basketball team.  All of these practices directly conflict with the high school youth group and start this Sunday and go until school gets out.  But I wouldn’t really begin to call these gym times “open” at all.  The coach demands that everyone be in attendance.  So starting this Sunday through the rest of the school year, I will have lost roughly 50% of my regular attenders because a lot of the girls in my youth group are in basketball.  I want to be supportive of the team and the girls in sports, but his actions make it incredibly hard to do so.

Here’s a reply I gave him. But what about you? Can you help?

PRAY: Pray that God would soften the heart of this coach to make changes. Just like Nehemiah, ask for God to give you favor. Simple truth, but something I often forget. Sometimes, It’s easy to get upset with the situation and  just charge in with no wisdom…

GET PARENT HELP? What do parents think and feel about this? Rather than get them upset, simply ask parents how they feel about their kids missing? I would be looking to gather info from them and if they gave me the consensus that they too are unhappy, I would attempt to get them to approach the coach first. If there is a large number of kids missing youth group for this, I have seen before how parents can sway a coach to make changes. ALL coaches can be swayed and parents are most coaches biggest fear. Just like we fear unhappy parents, so do coaches! In addition, if open gym is every night, I am sure that some parents already struggle with that schedule anyway. You might be helping some good discussions to be instigated? Make sense?

TALK DIRECTLY TO THE COACH: If there seems to be no passion from the parents, I would be inclined to chat to the coach directly. Again, I would come across as “partner in ministry” (in as much as you and he both invest in students). Express your concerns and ask whether on Sundays your students can have permission to miss open gym to go to youth group? Or even better, have him change the time? Just like you and I can get tunnel vision with our programs, it’s easy for coaches to not consider the impact of their programs on others… He might just listen?

TALK TO YOUR PASTOR: Let him know what you are actively doing in talking to parents and this coach. Let him know you expect your numbers to drop. It’s important that he is at least in the loop. He could even become an advocate for you, but at least he will be aware of why your numbers drop every Spring.


What would you add to help this guy? What has worked for you in these situations?

Phil <><


4 Responses to When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry – Part 3: Real Life

  1. Mr Bill April 8, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Phil –
    Absolutely great posts bro! Thanks for posting these!
    Same principles apply to all extra curricular as well: choir, band, theater, etc…
    One additional thing I have found helpful is to help train students in sports, choir, etc… to look beyond the activity and see themselves as missionaries in those activities. To think, “God has given me this time period in my life to both excel in this and at the same time be an ambassador for my Lord.” Long bus rides and times between games allows for a lot of life sharing. By calling students to their higher calling I’ve seen them really use these activities to have eternal impact!
    Keep up the good God work Phil Man!

  2. Jon April 9, 2011 at 1:42 am #


    I must confess that i haven’t read parts 1 & 2, but thought i’d make comment regarding this scenario.

    I do youth work in what would seem like a very similar situation – where sports takes away a lot of the time where young people can meet and that our youth group can have time together. Having said this, i would simply ask the question of why stick with the particular time if you lose half the group anyway. Why not consider meeting as a group at a different day/time? That seems a bit too obvious for me, i hope i’ve read the post right!

    Good thoughts above by Mr Bill too – sometimes it’s just better for the guys and gals to be out connecting with others than stuck in another youth group event. Seeing it as mission is a very good thought.

    Thanks for your posts, i’ll go suss out a few more now!

    Cheers, Jon.

  3. Phil Bell April 9, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    @Mr Bill – Great way to change focus for students!

    @Jon – Simple, but true. Sometimes we have to bend and flex to make things work. It might be well received by parents and students too… Thanks for your ideas and input!

  4. Adam May 4, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    I agree with everything so far. I’ll take it (I think) one step further here too – can stuff like this call for a complete restructuring? Maybe if there comes a point where there is too much “competing”, we begin to look at this as the mission field, as stated above. We focus less on a “large group time” and make the ministry consist more of small groups, or even better, mentorships within the church. Change the YP’s job from “activity leader” to “mentor and trainer of mentors.” Get the kids involved more in the life of the church and less of a sub-group.

    Hey, I”m struggling through all this too. I don’t mean to imply that we’re just activity directors (although sometimes it seems like that’s the expectation!). I don’t have anything figured out. I’ve just been wrestling with this in my head lately, and here is where a lot of it kind of dumped out…

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