FAITHFUL FAN | Coach: Players respond to focus on a greater purpose

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When Amanda Pirih started coaching, her focus was on winning. But that left her unsatisfied. She asked herself if there were more to it, then recognized that there was a purpose greater than herself.

"I realized I was coaching for someone, Christ Himself," Pirih said last month at a CYC Sports Summit in St. Louis. "This is something my players needed to know, too. It draws them out and makes them play better. The way I coach now is teaching them that they are not playing for themselves but they are playing for Christ."

The girls volleyball coach at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Ill., Pirih found that the Christ-centered approach results in players who are more positive, enthusiastic and energetic and are closer together.

The Catholic Youth Apostolate's first attempt at a sports summit was commendable and appreciated by the attendees. Almost two dozen people signed up for it, most of them CYC coaches, each from a different parish in the archdiocese, from St. Louis City to St. Charles. Mark Gutzler, who coached a third-grade baseball team at Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, said he wants to apply what he's learned in his coaching. He appreciated the advice about imitating Christ.

"A tool we can use to reach young people is sports," he said. "You can teach them about Jesus and that they're loved and worth much more than the world puts out there."

Stephen Cummings of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville also appreciated the event. He just started coaching soccer and T-ball. "I can use all the help I can get. I learned how to incorporate God and evangelize in sports," he said.

Pirih offered tips for the youth coaches on incorporating values and faith into practices and games. Included is personal and team prayer — encouraging players to speak from the heart. She builds relationships, checks in with each of the players individually, showing that she cares about and is invested in them. Building trust allows them to follow her lead.

Certain behaviors draw out a positive attitude such as high-fives and fist-pumps on various plays while avoiding a focus on a defeat or win, Pirih said.

The volleyball coach picks a virtue for the day or week and asks questions after practice or during a break of where her athletes saw that virtue practiced. Other times she'll show and discuss an inspiring video of an athlete displaying a virtue.

"As I am called to be a disciple of Christ, I am accompanying my athletes as they become disciples of Christ," Pirih said. "I want my athletes to be a dramatic example of what it means to live virtuously and authentically human. And I want other coaches and officials to come up to me and say watching my girls play inspires them, reminds them of why they love the sport and helps them to see that athletics is more than just the game itself."

Her last point is one that is too often overlooked in sports — inspired play, love of the sport and positive examples are victories. We're making progress on getting that across, and it's time for all coaches to get on board. The CYC sports program offers the Coaching to Make a Positive Difference class and has examples of sportsmanship highlighted on its website, www.cysstl.net. The St. Louis Sports Commission highlights sportsmanship as well through several programs.

We tend to get a bit out of control when it comes to sports. Lucky for us, people such as the ones involved with the CYC Sports Summit are helping us get back on track.

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. 

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