The definition of Winning
1. To finish first in a race, contest, or the like.
2. To succeed by striving or effort.
3. To gain the victory; overcome an adversary.
Winning… the one thing that seems to white out all the terrible things athletes do wrong. Turn on the TV, watch the NFL, and you’ll see Mike Vick fresh out of prison for murdering and fighting dogs, mesmerizing the same fans who were calling for his lifetime ban. Roethlisberger, now there is a name that just last summer turned stomachs and incited rage, but with another run to the playoffs… it seems all is forgiven. It’s just funny to me the things people will do to win. I have said it many, many times, if winning didn’t matter we wouldn’t keep score. So, I want to take a look to find out how we balance wanting to win with the mission of our Christ centered schools.
How in the world would I start to describe something like that? Seeing as we have three active coaching legends in the NCCAAII with 27 National Titles between them, I thought they would be a good place to start. I asked Vickie Denny (CCC Volleyball), Gary Bailey (GBC Men’s Basketball), and Ron Arnett (KCU Women’s Basketball) a few questions about how they built their powerhouses.
Is winning the most important thing in your program?
Denny: “Winning while important is not the most important thing. If we win without integrity, we do not win. If we win, and lose our testimony, we do not win. I also try to emphasize the journey rather than just the end result… the process as well as the product. We define winning as doing our very best for God’s glory. So we may lose on the scoreboard, but actually win.”
Bailey: “No. These guys are told early and often that I don’t care if we win or lose a game. Obviously we want to win, but not at the expense of losing our testimony or people questioning our character or integrity.”
Arnett: “. I enjoyed winning much more but it was never the goal. I wanted our kids to be able to compete, play hard, enjoy the experience and give God praise for His blessing. We spent lots of time as we traveled talking about how fortunate we were to be able to do what we loved. All I ever wanted to do was coach basketball. Waiting until later in life probably made it even more enjoyable for me. As we traveled our kids always conducted themselves as Christians. We prayed, smiled, played hard and held our heads up high wherever we went.”
There was a nice story that Arnett shared with me about his early years.
“The second year was not on the schedule for me, but it just sort of happened. With a meeting of the family it was concluded that I could work basketball into my schedule. It was tough! I had a full time job, led a small country congregation with three sermons or Bible studies each week, and worked in our community with several non-profit groups. Basketball got little time but God continued to bless. On a road trip to Cedarville University, He showed me how it was supposed to work for us. After a tough beating by a very good Cedarville team I was cleaning up the bench area and the team was heading for the locker room. Cedarville’s Coach had been very good to us and did not run up the score. The 30 point loss could have been much worse. Our kids were just overpowered. To their credit they played until the final horn and then smiled as they congratulated the other team and we prayed with them at half court. As I started for the locker room a man stopped me. He told me he was the father of one of Cedarville’s players and I expected him to tell me to not be so discouraged. What he said was, ‘I enjoyed watching Christ in your team tonight’. I was speechless. I shared that with the team in the locker room and there were tears all around. ‘That’s what this is all about,’ was all I could say to them. It was a nice van trip back home.”
So here’s the thing. To me OCU is UNC and KCU is Duke. I am as hardcore of a Tarheel fan as you will meet so I cannot stand Duke to win EVER. That also goes for the Blazers and the Knights so for me to say that unless KCU lady Knights are playing OCU I will never root against Arnett… that’s huge. But that’s how much I have learned to admire the way his program is run.
How do you Recruit Athletes?
Denny: “Basically a player has to be a good fit for our college. We are a conservative Christian college so athletes need to recognize that and decide if they want to attend. I do not try to convince anyone to come. I do believe the Lord leads and He will give us the players we are to have at CCC. I do conduct volleyball camps during the summer and try to find good athletes who would want to come to Clearwater and we also have alumni who sometimes encourage their players to check us out”
Bailey: “We look for players that are athletic and do well academically. There is another thing that we look for and it is a killer type instinct. We like players that play hard every second and don’t take plays off.”
Then when the players get on campus Bailey says:
“On the first day that I meet with my players I remind them of what was talked about when we recruited them. The first thing I tell all my players are what my goals are. First, I want to see them in heaven one day. Second, I want to help them beyond basketball to be good husbands, fathers, employees, and to be good members of their community. Basketball is pretty easy to learn so we spend quite a bit of time learning some other things.”
Arnett: “Recruiting has been amazing over the past twenty years. The alumni of KCU are very helpful and I have been blessed to get to know lots of high school coaches. I also get referrals from AAU coaches who have seen us play. Once we have one of their players be successful they are quick to recommend others. Lots of high school coaches contact me with information about their players. I probably sort through 35-40 prospects each year to come up with the ones who fit into who we are and what we stand for. With 20 players on the roster this year it is evident that recruiting has been very good. I am always asked how I recruit without offering any kid of athletic scholarships. I learned early on that you recruit with what you have. What I offer is:
- A tremendous academic experience with some outstanding faculty
- A spiritual climate where a player can find out what God has in store for her
- A chance to win the last game of the year – something most players never do
That package has helped us attract players who could easily play for scholarships schools. The personalized experience with God’s blessing is attractive to many parents and players alike.”
A lot of times athletes are recruited on things like playing time, chance to play at a college level, and academic study. Then, low and behold they get on campus and it’s a culture shock. There are chapels all week, rules, spiritual requirements, and regulations that they have to follow but had not been told about beforehand. Coaches strive to put players in places to succeed during competition, but sometimes it is not done that way in recruiting.
Do you institute team small groups or devotions?
Denny: “For several years now my team will do a Bible study through a specific book of the Bible. Last year we just finished Colossians and this year we are starting 2 Peter. We select a key passage from the chapter along with a theme that we use for the season. This season it is 2 Peter 1:5-7; CCC: Cultivating Christ like Character. Each player memorizes the verse of that chapter that corresponds to their uniform number. We go verse by verse in our study and when we come upon their assigned verse they share something. I also lead in devotions on road trips over our assigned chapter.”
Bailey: “We do a thing each year called Champions to the Core. It is our team devotionals. It is lead by different people: Coaches, players, alumni, guests, etc. It can be about anything that helps build character within our players.”
Arnett: “Team devotions are an important part of our year. Our seniors lead weekly devotions for the entire team. We also break down into 3-4 small groups with a leader in each group for discussions and prayer sessions. I try to meet every two weeks with the entire team for Bible Study and prayer, usually in my home. My wife and daughter, assistant coach Aimie Walker, feed them and we read the Word and make application. In addition to that we always have team devotions when on the road. I lead those and reflect on what is happening to us and how that fits into God’s plan for us. The application of scripture is a big part of what I try to do for our players. All this is in addition to twice weekly Chapel, Dorm Devotions with their Resident Assistant, and Sunday Church services.”
In my experience, the team devotions are the lifeblood to the success on and off the playing field. When teams are in unison with God, the school, and each other, there is nothing that can stop them from succeeding.
Do you find more joy in seeing your athletes celebrate a National Championship, or coming back years later and telling you that they are successful in their Churches or Jobs?
Denny: “I have no greater joy than to hear my former players are continuing to walk in the truth.
Bailey: “It is fun to win championships. It is fun to share that with the players. That is just part of the overall mission of this coaching staff. I am smart enough to know that teams cannot win the national championship every year. There better be something else. We have something to fall back on if we don’t win and that is our life training that goes into every season. We always win in that department.
I have a wall in my office that is covered in pictures. The pictures are of every guy that has played for me. It is a reminder to me of the commitment and hard work that we put in here together. I can see them and pray for them every day. I am really proud of the fact that we don’t lose players here. Occasionally you will lose a player for financial reasons or injury, that can’t be helped. This is one of the biggest reasons for our success.”
Arnett: “I am sure some would say that I place a high premium on winning. On the surface that might be how it looks. Actually, my team will tell you that my focus is on excellence. If we do what we do the best we possibly can then I am satisfied. That rule of basketball translates very well into life in general. “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might” is the message I preach to them over and over. It applies to basketball in the gym but carries over to all we do. I expect excellence in the classroom and in all aspects of their life. When former players talk with me they know that I am going to ask them what they are doing with excellence. Some go on to teach, others to work in church settings, some go into mission service and others coach in various scenarios. It doesn’t matter what they do, how they do it is the important aspect of my coaching for life.”
Win at all costs. What have you done for me lately? These are just a few statements that are prevalent in the upper levels of High School, College, and the Pros. Really we are small Christian colleges trying to build The Kingdom; not our trophy cases. These living Legends have found a formula for success with that in mind. I think it is awesome that the most dominate teams in their sports have such competitive and Christ like examples for everyone else to follow. I know that I plan to incorporate their tactics and priorities into my future coaching ventures and I hope many other coaches will follow their lead.