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  • Writer's pictureJustin McGee

Freedom: Tenant #3 of Incarnational Coaching

At Incarnational Coaching we believe there are 3 primary tenants that guide us all as coaches: authenticity, with-ness, and freedom.

Over the next few days, we are going to flesh out these 3 tenants for you, so you can understand a bit more who we are and what God has called us to share with other coaches.

Today, freedom…

If you have been following our blog posts over the primary tenants -- the foundational beliefs -- of Incarnational Coaching, you have probably noticed there is a spiraling that is occurring.

Authenticity is first. When you are authentic -- when you know who you are in Christ and who He made you to be -- you are able to practice with-ness. Without authenticity, your athletes will see right through you, and they will not be willing to follow someone they know is not being true to who they have been called to be. Also, when you are authentic, there is no fear or danger in being with your athletes and community. You are comfortable in who God has made you to be and in the love that He gives you. You can step down into the trenches of their lives -- just as Jesus did for us -- because there is no fear in failure or condemnation. You are His; He is yours.

By practicing with-ness, you have gained credibility amongst a generation that is skeptical of authority. This credibility is the lynchpin for two things:

  1. Allowing you to be used by God, so their lives are transformed into the image of Christ

  2. Directing them where they need to go to be successful in your sport -- both individually and collectively

When authenticity flows into with-ness, it creates the opportunity for your team to have a culture of freedom.

I want to clarify before I go any farther. Freedom does not mean allowing the athletes to do whatever it is that they want to do. Freedom does not mean no standards and rules.

Here is the beauty of freedom in the context of Incarnational Coaching…

As you are authentic and with your athletes, they will not only be willing to go with you wherever you believe they are called to go as a team, they will, themselves, desire to go that direction, too. The investment you have made in your team pays dividends because they catch your DNA as an Incarnational Coach -- unbeknownst to them -- by seeing you live it out. Before you know it, they will start asking to be held accountable, they will dream up policies to keep everyone in line, and they will be coming up with creative ways love and serve each other.

I recently stepped into a coaching situation that was difficult for all involved -- kids, coaches, and school alike. I was asked to be the wide receivers coach halfway through the season which in and of itself is a difficult task, but for me, I had coached many of them before or had them in the classroom. I had already established my authenticity and with-ness, so while there were many challenges, the foundation of coaching incarnationally had already been set.

In a span of two years, the team had lost 15 games when I showed up to coach, and I won’t bury the lede on you here...we didn’t win the rest of the year either.

Yet, God was on the move.

Before each game, I would eat lunch with the WRs and remind them of one truth and ask them one question:

“We all believe we are going to win this game. We wouldn’t be out here if we didn’t believe this. Therefore, we aren’t going to talk about how to win the game.

“Instead, I want to ask you a question: when you think about why you love football and what brings you the most joy on the field, what is it?”

Deep inside, what I really wanted to tell them at this time is that their footwork at the top of their routes are sloppy, and they need to pay attention to that today; I really wanted to emphasize with them how they can gain an advantage if they don’t false step on their starts; I really wanted to draw up on the board the way the other team played their coverage, so they wouldn’t forget their blocking angles and how their route stems should look that week.

Instead, they were given freedom to share, and this is what they unanimously said:

“We love to have fun with our friends and celebrate each other’s victories.”

Instead of inserting an opinion about this, I simply asked them, “How does this look for us today? How can we celebrate each other?”

They all went on to say that the celebrations -- small or large -- need to begin during warm-ups and extend throughout the game. They affirmed the need to celebrate the great blocks, the simple catches, and the big plays.

As they were throwing out ideas, they were also drawing upon a word they had been using all year to describe how they want to play as a unit: “sauce”. As WRs, they wanted to play with “sauce” -- a spice, a flair, a flavor -- so they were also going to celebrate each other when they saw someone use “sauce” on a defender.

So, that is what we decided as a unit. As a group of WRs, we were going to celebrate both the “sauce” and the mundane -- from warm-ups on.

It was magic. Players were cheering great over the shoulder catches during warm-ups, they were running from the other side of the field, jumping, celebrating and fist pumping, when their teammate broke free for a touchdown, they were fighting coaches to get the ball to players who normally don’t get it, and as they came off the field after a big play, they were huddling up on the sideline as if they were circled around a pot -- some stirring and others pouring the “sauce.”

They were having fun in the midst of a challenging year; they were excelling on the field; they were encouraging each other (as well as the whole team); and they were learning how to persevere when it would have been understandable for them to give up.

They used their freedom to dictate their own attitudes. They didn’t allow the circumstances to determine who they were going to be during what they may have deemed a lost season.

Instead, they chose to celebrate each other through the means of “sauce”. As their coach, I didn’t come up with it. I simply asked the question, and because my authenticity and with-ness was established, they picked something better than I could have ever imagined.

There are many ways to give your athletes freedom -- developing policies and procedures, creating themes for the season, leading small groups, pushing them to risk, fail, and compete without a punitive response, etc. We will talk about these aspects another time. But, in the meantime…

How can you give your athletes freedom this season? Once you have established authenticity and with-ness, what can you allow your athletes to take ownership of -- with your direction -- so that a culture is built with them at the center, where growth occurs, and their lives are changed?

Click for part 1 (Authenticity) and part 2 (With-ness) detailing the tenants of Incarnational Coaching.

Photo cred: Michael Chan

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