The Catechist as COACH

 

I’m always amazed at how many men I see coaching their kids’ soccer, football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and even lacrosse teams! And yet, so few men feel called to serve as a catechist when, in my mind, it is another form of coaching. Perhaps too many men view being a catechist as a feminine/nurturing role that they are not comfortable with. Fortunately, a growing number of men are discovering how to serve as catechists in a manner that they are comfortable with – as a coach. Likewise, many women are finding the “coach approach” as a way of invigorating their call as a catechist.

Soon, we will be watching another Catechist in Action – Dan Ward – here on my blog, and the thing I enjoy about Dan’s approach to serving as a 7th grade catechist is that he uses the “coach approach” extremely effectively. In the meantime, as we prepare to view Dan in action, I would like to share some thoughts with you from another catechist who also serves as a coach – Dean Nikodemski. I met Dean in Charlotte, NC, last month and we had a great chat about the similarities between coaching and serving as a catechist. He was kind enough to put some of his thoughts in writing to share with us. Thanks, Coach Dean!

This is the story of a volunteer coach deciding to get into teaching religious education at 45 years of age. About five years ago, I was leading the team prayer at our Little League game when it hit me: the next use of my time and talent at my Parish became evident to me – I might make a good catechist.

I am a cradle Catholic, Knights of Columbus 4th degree member, past parish pastoral council member, RCIA sponsor, and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at one of the largest Catholic parishes in the Southeast. I feel I have given a lot to my parish and community but I never really felt I was doing what I was best at. I have also coached baseball for 25 seasons and 2 seasons of middle school football. Never before though did I notice a comparison between how I could serve my parish and coaching young people in sports.

So for the next week I added myself to my daily Rosary list and prayed about being a catechist. I then got the nerve to speak with the head of our Faith Formation department. What I learned from a brief meeting is that it is much easier to get a FF teaching position than a head coaching job at the local middle school! As a matter of fact, she asked me to evangelize and find other teachers at our first meeting. The nerve! Five years later I am teaching 3 different grade levels, 7th, 8th and Confirmation and I have found that the parallels between coaching and being a catechist are endless! The game plan, the pre-game preparation, the explanation to the group of today’s life lessons, the facilitating the group to ascertain their best insights, the use of the game clock, the inspirational and passionate style of teaching and finally the summary of today and the expectations of tomorrow – these are all things that have parallels in catechesis. The only difference was I didn’t have my whistle. Not yet any ways!

Recently, at one of Joe’s seminars, a catechist approached me during the break to thank me. She told me that I had coached, I mean taught, her son in 7th grade 2 years ago. She told me his name and I remembered the class. I had been asked, 3 weeks into the year, to help a new catechist with her very unruly class. I said yes and was interested in seeing how bad they were behaving. I intentionally arrived 5 minutes late to see the young lady struggling to teach a group of truly unruly kids. I took out my whistle and began building the new team immediately! Quickly disciplined and with a new-found respect for their teachers, their parents, themselves, and their faith, we proceeded to have a great year! We didn’t even have to run hills after class!

All in all, my experience as a catechist has been life changing! I would like to challenge any one who has coaching experience to consider being a catechist or catechist aide at your parish. The rewards are endless and we need more men to get involved in this ministry. Pray about your personal life. Ask God to lead you to make yourself available to teach the youth of your parish.

If you have ever led a spontaneous prayer before a game, you are a candidate to get involved as a catechist. If you are already a catechist and know of a coach in your parish, I challenge you to recruit him or her.

God Bless you and good luck on the ball field or in the classroom or both! And remember to “Love the game beyond the prize” and “see the reality beyond the statue!”  Thanks Joe!

Sincerely,

Coach Dean

About Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press. He has more than 30 years of experience in ministry and has taught at many different levels. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestseller The Catechist’s Toolbox and Under the Influence of Jesus.

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