Catholic small groups

Coaching Little League and Leading Small Groups

The season did not end as we intended. As the other team celebrated their rec league baseball championship, our boys fought back their tears. As their coach, I was struggling to fight sadness—not because we had lost, but because this season of coaching my son's 12U rec team had been so much fun. In a matter of weeks, parents had bonded, players had grown their skills, and each time we gathered felt like a party. As we wrap up another season, there is a lot I learned and a few things I discovered about how coaching little league is like leading a small group:

Everyone Plays for Different Reasons

We had kids who were playing to win it all, some who had never picked up a glove or a bat, and others who just loved the community or were there because their parents did.

The similarities to the ministry were uncanny. People come to your ministry for various reasons. The key is not to assume that everyone has the same intentions. One of the most basic rules of leading a small group is to remember that everyone has a story about why they come. The question you have to answer is, "How well do you know that story?" Knowing it will help you build trust.

Communication is Essential to Engagement

This was not the first time I had coached one of my son's teams, but I learned how important it was to communicate about each practice and game. Before, I assumed that parents had the schedule and signed up for league weather alerts. This year, we used apps, email, and post-game meetings to review what was coming up and how to prepare. Yes, we still had a few kids arrive last minute, but overall, communication was solid.

It's not only the director of religious education or the youth minister's responsibility to communicate with parents, kids, and teens in your parish. A small group leader who communicates consistently and effectively will see an uptick in engagement. Consistent messaging communicates, "This is important." Regular check-ins make you accessible and able to walk with people when conflicts arise.

Culture Comes Before Content

We had some talented kids on the team, but some had a bit of an attitude. Early on, we were in situations where we needed the talent, but it would have been at the sacrifice of integrity. Prioritizing talent would have communicated, "You can do anything you want and still start or hit at the top of the lineup." When we addressed the culture early by establishing the rules:

  • Listen First
  • Respect the Team
  • Have Fun
It showed the team that while we valued talent, we needed a strong culture. This proved favorable when we had to play tough teams or come back in the final innings. The kids learned that the better we gelled, the stronger we were as a team.

There is a lot of content we have to cover in ministry. As Catholics, we value a lot of Tradition and want our disciples to be confident in faith; however, that all falls short if we are divided. If you lead a group (even of adults), it's important to establish some rules and expectations and address any issues early on. Focusing on culture and community creates a space where participants can be vulnerable. With vulnerability comes trust and openness to life change.

I know that recreational sports are not the same as parish ministry, but one reason it does well is because great coaches focus on cohesiveness and community. While we want to make sure our disciples are growing in faith, we have to ensure they do it together as the Church. We are one body in Christ, and small faith-sharing groups help us remember the power of accompaniment and community.

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