I am incredibly humbled to even be writing on a topic as important as marriage with regards to careers in sports. I will preface everything below with the disclaimer that I am aspiring to be many of the things that are on my heart to share, while at the same time in a battle of priorities to “walk the walk”.
I am a long time member of the PGC (Point Guard College) basketball family and have met some of the most transformational people in my life through PGC. One of the most impactful parts of my experience with PGC was my introduction to what they call their “commitment based-culture”. Sparing the details, essentially every person who works with PGC will write a commitment statement or a commitment of being. PGC as a collective then postures itself around relating to people based on their commitments and not their behavior, calling people back to the people they have committed to showing up as. Why am I telling you this, and how does it relate to marriage you ask? Many of the aspects of a commitment state are what are called “stretch goals”. Things we aren't, but that we are committed to striving, and growing towards but aren’t quite there yet. The Author Stephen Covey captures this in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People where he pens, “begin with the end in mind.” Most of what follows this line consists of stretch goals from my own life and marriage.
I was turned on to a video by Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness where he lays out a system of planning your week that parallels an illustration where they take a glass jar, large rocks, gravel, sand, and lastly water and fill the jar. In this illustration, if you don’t place the large rocks first, then gravel, dirt, and so forth the rest of the material will not all fit. As I have progressed in my coaching journey I have tried to always prioritize my wife as a “big rock” on my calendar (more on this later). I have also tried my best to cast a vision for myself as a husband, and for our family around that defined “end” which is, Christ, to be glorified in our lives. Nonetheless, the Lord has been faithful to work in mine and Nikki’s marriage and it’s our honor to turn our marriage outwards and share what the Lord has taught us over the last six years. I am going to share five thoughts with you and end each thought with a call to action, because as my good friend Tyler Coston says, “talk doesn’t cook rice.”
Towards God, Together, Forever
In our marriage, my wife and I have a symbol that we will use to sign cards, texts, and post-it notes that serve as a guidepost to us: the triangle. In premarital counseling, we learned about the importance of maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus privately from our spouse. This represents one of the bottom corners of the triangle, the other is Nikki. As we pursue the Lord individually we are ultimately growing towards each other while we are growing closer to the Lord. This reminder has been huge in my life. Much like with my team, I am no good to our program, our staff, or our players if I am disconnected from the source. I have realized that the times in my life when the devil is causing the most havoc in my life and my marriage is when I am “too busy” to prioritize Him in the midst of the day-to-day. Last year I read a men’s study where they used the acronym H.A.L.T to describe when we are most susceptible to the devil’s schemes. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. I get to that place when I am disconnected from the Lord. If I am not pursuing the Lord then I am more likely to be short with my wife, work unhealthy hours, or react poorly to our players. Gary Thomas places Matthew 6:33 as one of the paramount verses for any marriage: “seek FIRST the kingdom of heaven…”. What a great redirect! It isn’t a verse from the love chapter or Song of Solomon, it’s a verse to reorient our lives around the central source of all good. Tim Keller says in his book, The Meaning of Marriage that the “killer of marriage is sinful self-centeredness.” The easiest way to get baited into that lifestyle is to be unplugged from the Lord.
Calendar & Bank Account
Leadership guru Peter Drucker says, “Tell me what you value and I might believe you, but show me your calendar and your bank statement, and I’ll show you what you really value.” I hear many people speak on the idea of work-life balance and in my humble opinion, I think this misses the point. In any worthy endeavor or pursuit of excellence, there will be a level of imbalance. The goal and the example of Jesus is to be as we say in our house, “fully present where your feet are”. One of the most impactful books I have read in my life is The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. One great line he has says, “the solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.” I (stretch goal coming) strive to pencil in a date night with my wife every single week. Uninterrupted, undistracted, fully present, checking in on all the levels of her heart and connecting us both back to that great “end” that we have cast as a vision for our family. This doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, it simply needs to be intentional. I read a blog once that talks about “glove box dates”. This particular couple didn't have kids so they would lock their phones in the glove box of their car and go about their date. Find what works for you but be intentional about architecting your environment (shoutout to James Clear, Atomic Habits) to be a conduit for deeply connecting with your spouse.
Involve your Spouse!
I know this one hinges solely on the discretion of the staff you work for but if your program allows spouses and kids around then by all means join in! There are so many ways to get involved as a spouse of a coach. You can volunteer to help with meals, or baked goods, open your home up to players, invite them to church, interact and love on them on social media, the list could go on! When Nikki and I were engaged and were picking out furniture I specifically chose the dining table we have because I had a heart and desire to have our athletes in our home (vision) and to break bread with them. Many players over my years of coaching have sat around that table and my wife and I have gotten to know them in ways that the basketball court doesn’t often provide the space to do so. I am lucky that my wife herself was a basketball player so she understood (to a degree) the demands of the job but we had many conversations prior to marriage about us both being open to voice where we were at and this is a practice we have carried all the way through our marriage. Oftentimes I have made the mistake of assuming that because my wife is involved with, or around the team that this counts as spending quality time with her. Going back to calendar and bank account, when genuinely seeking to connect with your spouse it’s important to carve out one on one time where distractions are minimized and your focus is intently on your significant other.
Plug into Gospel-Centered Community
Our marriage was saved by community. No exaggeration. The devil had used a season of consistent H.A.L.T in my life to convince me that I was done with my marriage. It wasn’t fun, wasn’t what I hoped it would be, didn’t make me happy so on and so forth. I confided in a member of our community group at my house one evening and just told him I didn't think I wanted to do it anymore. Thirty minutes later our doorbell rings and there stand 12 members of our young marrieds group. The women ministered to and loved on my wife, and the men took me out of the house and got my mind off things for a little while to help clear my head. When they brought me back to our house that evening I remember walking in the door and two of our friends had their baby sleeping on the table on their blanket while the wives were sitting around my wife praying, crying with her, and comforting her. That image of a Gospel-Centered community is forever seared into my brain. I can honestly say without those couples who loved us enough to not mind their own business, Nikki and I wouldn’t be where we are today. The devil had me twisted into knots and had run rampant through my thinking to the point where one member of our group said he couldn't even see me when he was looking into my eyes. Those couples fought for us, and those men almost fought with me to prevent me from leaving my marriage. Community. People on mission for Christ who seek to radically love those within their reach. Nikki and I can’t thank God enough for those couples that he placed in our lives for that season. We are the biggest advocates for not going through marriage alone. Vulnerability and connection to other people outside of your home are so vital for support and stability when the storms hit and as I am assuming most of you reading this know, the storms will hit and often when it is least opportune. If you can’t find a community like this in your church, town, or area, then create it, be it for those in your life! As scary as it is, step out and connect with others on the same walk and be intentional with the relationships that God blesses you with.
Begin with the End in Mind
If we are beginning with vision then we must bookend the other with vision as well. It is of the utmost importance to our family that we stay connected to our why. Jerry Bridges in his book, The Practice of Godliness defines Godliness as, a “devotion to God that results in a life that is pleasing to Him”. This is our family’s aim. We want to live lives of Godliness by way of pursuing Him, loving others, and stewarding the time, talents, and resources He blesses us with. Just as important as casting vision is checking in to make sure you are on course. Think of someone traveling by map (physical map, not GPS) and plotting their course initially but never checking their progress against the map. Nikki and I make it a point to check in with each other yes, but also check in with how we are progressing towards the markers we have set for ourselves and for our family. We even have started the process of writing a family covenant that we can frame and hang in our home. We want to lock-in on the things that the Lord has pressed on our hearts to do with our lives and the world, especially the world of sports is a distracting place. Both Nikki’s career as a nurse and mine as a coach is always subservient to this “why”. We fight the culture lie that would have us believe that if we just grind now then things will slow down or get easier in the next season of life. I think John Mark Comer is on to something, that with the level of busyness and rush that we embrace as normal the devil is alleviated from much of his work against the believers of the world.
The adage says “aim small, miss small” so I will close by saying our aim is to pursue Christ, love each other like Christ, and lead lives that are honoring to Him.
I hope this serves as an encouragement to you and your marriage. Nikki and I would love to connect with any other couples in the sports and coaching space that are fighting for their marriages against the assault of culture.