Recently, I talked with a sports minister about the criteria this ministry used for team selection in their youth leagues. This issue familycame up because of a protest from one of the coaches regarding the perceived disregard of his particular request for certain players to be on his team. This coach was so exercised about it that, even after the sports minister explained their rationale, he took it to the sports minister’s supervisor for resolution.

This sports ministry recently reworked their mission (where they are going) and vision (how they will get there) and are in process of developing their philosophy (values, guidelines, and rules that undergird their journey) that included team selection criteria. As a result of the coach’s protest, the sports minister brought before the ministry Leadership Team this issue of team selection criteria. Issues like athletic parity, relationships with coaches and other players, convenience for parents and players were discussed.

But what happens when these criteria are in conflict (as they were with the previously mentioned coach)? What is the priority of these criteria in making decisions about team selection?

“The customer is always right!”

Imagine one of your business acquaintances bringing up this well-known phrase and applying it to this situation. Taken literally, parental/coach preference would then be the top priority and the requests would be honored above all other criteria.

How would you respond to such an assertion and the implications of it?

This phrase was popularized by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field.

They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that they should not feel cheated or deceived. This attitude was novel and influential when misrepresentation was rife and caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was a common legal maxim.[1] Variations include “le client n’a jamais tort” (the customer is never wrong) which was the slogan of hotelier César Ritz[2] who said, “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked”.[3] (For more, click here.)

Back to the question, here are three reasons why the customer/parent/coach isn’t always right.

1. People, including sports ministers, forget who is the Master.

I worked in a church for 18 years and wrestled regularly with this problem. Jesus stated clearly that he came to serve, not to be served. As his followers, we are called to serve each other. Jesus speaks even more specifically about this to the leaders of those followers – “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them…But you are not to be like that. Instead,

the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Luke 22:25,26

Misunderstood, this serving can become twisted into “the customer is always right” and turns leaders into followers of those they are to serve. Understood properly, this serving becomes service to him as The Master first and then to people, second. It means “using one’s power and position to profit those served” as Jesus defines profit, not the way those being served define profit. This means we do first what The Master wants for the parent and coach, not what they want.

Another way of thinking about what The Master wants for a coach or parent is to ask – What is The Master’s purpose for a parent or coach? What is His mission (where he wants them to go) and his vision (how they are to get there) for that coach or parent?

In sports ministry, we ask more specifically, “What is The Master’s mission and vision for the parent’s or coach’s sports involvement?” The answer to this question becomes the compelling reason for their involvement in sports that reminds all involved of who is The Master.

2. Selfishness rather than the mission and vision often drives parents and coaches.

In the absence of such a compelling mission and vision from The Master for a family’s involvement in sports, what can easily take over is a “what is best for my child or players” attitude. Left unchecked, this attitude morphs into a selfish orientation to the family’s sports where convenience for the parents and comfort for the players rules the day.

For a coach, this selfishness looks a little different. What can easily take over is winning. Left unchecked, this attitude morphs into a selfish orientation to the coach’s sports where winning at all costs rules the day.

As a result, parents’ and coaches’ expectations become irrational. As Ty Kiisel states in a recent post

“Sometimes we allow, and even facilitate unrealistic expectations with our customers.”

The solution is to give coaches, parents, and players a compelling mission and

vision for sports that drives out this selfishness.

3. Parents and coaches are often misinformed or lose sight of the mission and vision of the sports ministry.

Unfortunately, as I talk with coaches and parents and even sports ministers, I find the inability to articulate such a compelling mission and vision. Sometimes this is from forgetfulness. Sometimes this is from misinformation. Sometimes, though, it is from a lack of such a mission and vision for the sports ministry.

This reality requires we develop and regularly communicate such a mission and vision. This mission and vision then becomes the top priority when it comes to team selection.

Going back to the discussion with the sports minister, we envisioned a conversation between them and a parent or coach with a beef about a request that wasn’t honored:

“I am sorry we weren’t able to honor your request, but to fulfill that request would have resulted in a violation of our mission and vision. You may remember that Christ has called us to build redemptive relationships and facilitate godly competition through this sports ministry. If we did what you want, your son would have been on a team with all Christians that as a team are heads and shoulders better than any other team in the league.”

While the parent or coach may or may not agree with this assessment, the sports minister isn’t there to please them ultimately. The sports minister and ministry are there to please The Master who has given this compelling mission and vision. If a parent or coach doesn’t support that mission and vision, they may be “bad for business.”



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About the Author

Bob Schindler has worked at CSO since 2003. Prior to coming to CSO, Bob worked as a pastor for 18 years - eight as an Associate Pastor in Leadership Development, Outreach, and Youth, and ten as a church planter and Senior Pastor. Before vocational ministry, Bob worked in business for six years in sales and marketing and corporate training and played professional golf for four years. He still has an interest in golf but would most of the time rather play basketball or rock climb or kayak - something more active than golf. He and his wife, Beth, have four grown "kids" and a grandson and a granddaughter.

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