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  • Writer's pictureJustin McGee

With-ness: Tenant #2 of Incarnational Coaching

Updated: May 21, 2020

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, the obscure word we made up: with-ness…

A few years back I was talking to one of the bible teachers at the school I was working at. In between our musings about how the Rangers were going to do that season and our fantasy baseball teams, we discussed the scriptures, language, and the character of Jesus.

In the latter part of the conversation, he made this comment that has stuck with me for a long-time:

“Do you know what the most important word of the Bible is?” he asked.

I thought for a bit. I have been in the church for most of my life, so I was pretty sure I knew the answer. If I didn’t know the exact word, I knew I would be in the right ballpark.

“I mean, it has to be a word like ‘salvation’ or ‘redeemed’ or ‘love.’”

He paused for a second, allowing these crucial words to hang in the air for a bit.

He replied, “The word with.

I waited, expecting him to provide what we are meant to be with. “With God”? “With Jesus”? As an English teacher, I knew you should never end a sentence with a preposition…

He proceeded to clarify what he meant by saying that Jesus came to be with humanity. He is the Immanuel – God with us. He humbled himself as God to slump around with the baseness of man and woman. In choosing to be with us, it led to His eventual work of saving all of creation through His death and resurrection. This only occurred because He chose to be with us. Therefore…

With-ness leads to salvation.

At the core of who we are at Incarnational Coaching is this word, “with-ness.” Fundamentally, coaches are called to develop the bodies, minds, and souls of their athletes, and they do this within the unique function of athletics. We would all agree that the world of athletics creates a crucible of sorts – a furnace that melds us into something.

The question then is this: what does the furnace of our team and our culture meld our athletes into?

When we practice with-ness, when we model the life of Jesus with our athletes, staff, and community, we create a crucible where students our formed into the image of Christ. They experience a transformation that only fire can create.

John the Baptist references that. If you remember, he says that he just merely baptizes with water, but Jesus, the one who was to come, well, He will baptize with fire (Matthew 3).

What, then, does it mean for us to practice within-ness with our athletes and community? How do we create a crucible of a program that melds our athletes and community into the image of Christ?

1. Assume the best of your athletes and community.

Being in education and athletics for as long as I have, I can have the tendency to be jaded. I have been criticized, burned, or condemned many times – just as we all have. Because of that, I can write families off, disbelieve kids, and think that a kid is unreachable. This is human nature. But Christ never wrote anyone off. He was compassionate to the brokenhearted, and he challenged the self-righteous to be more loving. If He didn’t see the opportunity in each and everyone one of us, He would have stayed with the Father instead of choosing to be with us. Therefore, we need to be as Jesus is: expectant that all we engage with have the potential to become something more than they currently are – as athletes, followers of Jesus, etc.

2. Be active listeners.

I love the T.V. show Friday Night Lights and the example set by Coach Taylor. He loves his athletes and community in a way that we should all emulate. But there is one thing that always grates me about him: he never listens. He spouts off his wisdom, which kids follow, but he rarely ever allows them to share what is going on in their lives.

Yet, this generation of athletes need to know that you love them before they allow you to speak into them. One way to do that is through listening to what they have to say. This could be about something specific to your sport, or it could be related to their lives outside of your sport. In the end, listening is about respect. When you hear someone’s story, opinions, and thoughts, you show them that you respect them as someone equally created in the image of God. In giving them this respect (even when they don’t always deserve it), they will give you the respect that you need to lead your team well.

3. Connect with your athletes outside of the practice field.

My wide receiver coach during my junior year of high school invited his players to Olive Garden every Monday night after practice. The never-ending breadsticks and salad were the allure, but over time, this ragtag group of players and their coach turned into something more: a family (as Olive Garden said at the time, “when you are here, you are family”).

We rarely talked about football during these times. We laughed at our coach’s inability to send an email, we shared music recommendations, and we talked about the hard realities of life.

He saw us for more than what we were on the field. He saw through the sport that brought us together and to our fundamental reality: we were all human beings worthy of being loved. This caused us all to follow him as a mentor and as a coach. We did what he told us on the field, we performed at higher levels than ever before, and he pointed us towards Jesus by his simple willingness to be with us.

As you think about your teams and cultures, how can you practice with-ness? What does this look like in your contexts? How can you form your athletes in the image of Christ through the powerful crucible of being with them?

Being with your athletes and community is a simple reflection of the body of Christ. We all have different functions: some are adults and some are kids; some are coaches and some are athletes; some have certain gifts while others offer something entirely different.

But in Christ, we are all one. We are His beloved – the seemingly unreachable, the power-hungry coach, the athlete with minimal ability, and the star on the field…all of us. When we recognize this, it changes the way we coach and the way we treat those we have been called to develop.

The impact of with-ness on our community will extend into eternity as well as the length of our courts and fields. As followers of Jesus, this is our ultimate goal. just as it was Jesus’s – to bring about the restoration of all things, now and forever.

It all starts by being with.

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