As you know, our Upward Season has come and gone. Saturdays at FBC are much quieter! Jonita Barram recently wrote an excellent article ‘recapping’ our Upward Season. Enjoy.
In March to May, if you came by Faith Baptist Church on a weeknight or a Saturday, you saw several soccer fields set up in the church’s “backyard” and kids kicking around a soccer ball. Usually this activity came with sound effects: coaches coaching, parents cheering, whistles blowing, and kids panting as they ran up and down the field and back again. It was Upward Soccer season once more.
Upward Soccer for Dummies
If you’re already familiar with Upward Soccer, skip ahead. If you haven’t a clue, hang on. There’s a lot more to Upward Soccer than meets the eye or blasts the eardrum. Pastor Peter Brock, the Upward Soccer director at Faith, says: “It has been a great tool for us. Upward really provides just about everything you need—from registration to uniforms. They set it up so you can have people coaching who are not from a sports background.” One of this year’s coaches who had little knowledge of soccer was Helen Durham. She was “out there relating to the kids,” says Pastor Pete. Upward gave Helen and others like her an opportunity to minister in their area of giftedness—working with children.
Parents like Upward for a variety of reasons. One is that it takes only an hour during the week and one game on Saturday. Although Upward Sports Ministries provides the team rosters, based on the players’ abilities, Pastor Pete says: “We’ll tweak the rosters a little bit because some of the kids can only practice certain nights—if a family has three or four kids playing, we try to get practice on the same night—that kind of thing.”
Another plus for parents is the cost. “One of the advantages of Upward is that it’s somewhat inexpensive,” says Pastor Pete. “The player’s kit includes a reversible uniform shirt, socks, a water bottle, and devotional material. It’s very reasonable compared to other soccer leagues.”
With only an hour’s practice a week, do players really improve their skills? Stephen Allen, who played on one team and helped coach another, says that he prefers Upward to rec-center soccer “because in Upward you get to play different positions, switching off. In rec [soccer] you have to stay in the same position.” He prefers offense, because, as he says with a smile, he scores a lot.
Stephen also says: “Playing has helped me with my feet; I’m better with the ball now. Also, because I’ve played a long time, I get to tell my teammates where they should be and what to do.”
Maddie Hill enjoys Upward Soccer because “we have fun and we play hard. It has helped me a lot with my dribbling skills and my shooting skills.” She adds, “I encourage other people to play it.”
Faith’s senior pastor, Nathan Osborne, says that while the players do improve their skills, “in Upward, we are not getting these kids ready to play soccer. They are out there having fun—every kid plays, and every kid plays the same amount of time. And their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, and their brothers and their sisters LOVE it.”
And it really is about having fun. Pastor Pete says, “Technically we don’t keep score. The kids do, they know the scores. But we don’t announce a game’s score. We don’t announce the winner of the game. We don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“If it’s all fun and games,” you might ask, “why bother?” The answer is to connect with people and share the gospel. Pastor Nate says that for him, “the highlight is always the relationship I begin with the parents. I enjoy that; I enjoy their interaction; I enjoy the joy on their faces as they watch their kids play. . . . I just love the interaction with the kids, but especially with their parents.”
During the Upward Soccer season, the coaches have a devotional time with their players during every practice. Pastor Pete says, “Upward supplies devotionals that build toward a presentation of the gospel in the seventh week. So the kids hear the gospel.”
Rick Allen, who coached two boys’ teams, says, “The devotions this year were really, really well done. They’ve all been pretty good, but this year we got some great examples so that we can not only give the message, but we can also give a word picture. We just kind of plant the seed and water the seed through the season. Then hopefully when the invitation is given, they’ll move on that thought that we’ve presented throughout.” One of the reasons both Maddie and Stephen like Upward Soccer is that they learn more about Christ and God.
The players aren’t the only ones who learn “about Christ and God.” Each Saturday during the season someone from Faith gives a testimony during halftime. Shelsetta Douglas was one of those people. She says: “I was nervous for days leading up to it. My husband and I both—he did his and I did mine. We did a couple different fields, so we were bouncing back and forth between games. It was gratifying. It was definitely worth it; it’s just getting over the nervousness.”
She tells how she decided what to say: “I think a lot of people try to get up and give a few quick verses that might catch somebody’s attention or direct them toward the front door of the church in the short amount of time that they have. I decided . . . to share some of my story and how God has gotten me through some tough times. I think it’s important to share where God has gotten you. Everybody’s story is going to be different.”
She knows that people who hear her testimony “may not jump up and say, ‘Wait. I need to talk to you now’ ”; “but,” says Shelsetta, “at least at some point they may come to a breaking point and think back and realize maybe it’s time to do something.”
The 2010 Upward Soccer season ended with a Celebration on Saturday, May 15. During the event, the teams were announced by Danette Karnes. As she introduced each team (accompanied by a photo), the coaches and the players ran up on stage to the audience’s applause.
After all the teams were announced, the audience enjoyed a show by Todd K, a silent magician. Then Deacon Bob Wamsley presented the gospel in a unique way, including breaking several blocks as they rested on the stomach of coach Cody Peters. The Upward Soccer staff, the players, and their families then gathered in the fellowship hall for refreshments, to collect gifts, and to view displays of the various children’s ministries at Faith. These included Camp Gilead and Faith’s VBS 2010.
The Blessing to Faith
Upward Soccer takes a lot of work. One of the men who organized this season’s program and was responsible for setting up and taking down the soccer goals several times a week was Rick Allen. Rick also coached two teams and is Stephen Allen’s father.
As a parent, Rick sees the value of Upward Soccer because it “provides a very great learning environment for the children. And it’s not so competitive that somebody who has average talent can’t enjoy the sport. And it also teaches about Jesus.”
As a coach, Rick says: “The kids’ attitudes are very positive, and we promote the ‘positiveness’ of the sport as well as of the actions of the coaches and the referees. So it’s a very positive, win-win experience for everybody involved.”
As a member of Faith, Rick tells of the advantages to the church: “Number one, we get to involve all the youth in the program. They learn to handle the children as well as give testimonies throughout the season. They support their faith, and they also get to practice giving their testimonies. So they learn quite a bit. And we learn as adults by listening to other people’s testimonies and picking up tips from the older, more experienced coaches as well.”
Pastor Pete says: “Upwards gets people on the church grounds when you’re not doing church. For a lot of people, that’s very important. During our closing celebration time, they’ll be in the auditorium, but we’re not doing church. That takes a lot of uncertainty away from people. And those kinds of people will come back. Some will join the church, some will not. Some will attend and not join. But others have joined and have been very, very active and involved.”
In addition to introducing families to Faith, Upward Soccer gives present members an opportunity for ministry. Pastor Pete says: “It gets people involved in ministry where normally they may not be. Some people are involved in other things. Some people feel they have some giftedness toward working with kids, and this gives them a great opportunity to do that.”
“Then there are people who are not involved in any other ministries of the church, but they help coach Upward. It gives them an opportunity to minister. And that’s an encouraging thing to me. And it’s neat to see. A lot of times people get involved and say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But they’ll do it, and they just fall in love with it.” Pastor Pete says that the soccer ministry has gone well. “The Lord has blessed it, and we’ve seen several families begin attending church. I don’t think they come because of Upward, but it was a factor in it.”