Coach, it’s much more likely that your players will give you their all if they first know you’re giving them your all. To give them your all, you must genuinely love them. This isn’t merely a philosophy for effective coaching. This is what God through the Bible – and God through his Son, Jesus Christ – makes very clear is foundational for the life he desires for us.
Coaches are always looking for indicators of progress: faster times, gains in the weight room, greater consistency in performing key skills, more success in actual competition. In Galatians 5:22-23, God gives a succinct yet significant standard by which we can measure spiritual progress: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” What these verses tell us is that as God through his Spirit is at work in us, growing us and making us more spiritually mature, how we live will be increasingly marked by certain qualities. At the top of this list is love.
Jesus Christ taught that the greatest commandments are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). But Jesus didn’t just talk about love. He lived it out. At the final meal Jesus has with his disciples before facing cruel suffering and then being executed on a cross, Jesus knows exactly what awaits him. So where is his focus? “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
One definition of love is “taking sacrificial action for the benefit of others.” Jesus takes sacrificial action, first by washing his disciples feet (John 13:5). This was a caring act that brought refreshment to the recipients after a day of traversing dusty and grimy streets, but it was also an unpopular task normally reserved for the lowest of servants. Jesus does this for his disciples out of love, and he directs them to love others sacrificially as well: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn. 13:15).
What does it mean as a coach to follow Jesus’ example and to love as he loves?
1. Show and tell. A little later in John 13, Jesus verbalizes his love to his disciples (v. 34). It’s really important to communicate love to your team. Especially in this time when so many of your players are coming from difficult backgrounds, they need to hear that you love them. Then back up your words with what you do. Show love by taking sacrificial action for your players’ benefit. This leads to the second aspect:
2. Go beyond the expected. Just before Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, John 13:3 says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Jesus is obviously the only one in the room with this type of authority and power – because he is the only Son of God. Yet he chooses to serve sacrificially. He loves through taking action that no one expected. Coach, love your players through doing the same. Take sacrificial action that they wouldn’t expect from someone in your position – action for their good, action that communicates genuine care for them.
Jesus ultimately shows the full extent of his love for us through giving his life on the cross so that we could be rescued from our sinful rebellion and reconciled to God. Since we are loved so deeply by the Lord, we now love others with this same love. Coach, give your players your all through loving them well: with your words, with your actions, and with doing the unexpected for their benefit. As you do so, you will be a channel through which your players experience the matchless love of Christ.
For reflection: Read through John 13:1-17 a couple of times, reflecting on what Jesus does and what Jesus is directing us as his followers to do. Think about Jesus’ incredible love for you, and ask him to enable you to take next steps to love your players with his love.