Anne Stricherz, a veteran cross country coach and religious studies teacher at SI, found herself years ago with a group of her runners at one end of SI’s Jack Wilsey Track.
It wasn’t her girls that caught her attention. Instead, it was the football team and their coach at the time, Joe Vollert ’84.
“Joe invited his athletes to stretch in silence and to use that time to pray,” said Stricherz. “He suggested that his team give thanks to God for the beautiful day, pray the Examen or think about a person who needed help. He wanted that time to be intentional. From Joe, I learned that every coach should make space for silence and prayer during practice.”
To help them do that, Stricherz wrote Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes, published last March by the National Catholic Education Association.
Her book offers 30 ways coaches can integrate prayer into their season. “Some prayers you offer as a team, some are personal, and some are meant to be integrated into prayer services,” said Stricherz. “They make the school’s tradition come to life and reveal the school’s mission. I never take for granted the fact that I am able to pray with my students. We pray before competition in ways that reflect the personalities of our athletes and the type of sport involved. Rowing is different than swimming. The team dynamic on the basketball team is different than it is with golf.”
Stricherz spent three years assembling the prayers and activities from fellow coaches at SI, Bellarmine, De La Salle, Sacred Heart Cathedral and her alma maters Carondelet and the University of Notre Dame.
Now the JV girls’ golf coach at SI, Stricherz uses one prayer technique to help her student-athletes — one borrowed from Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. “At the end of the week, we stand in a circle and share something we are grateful for — thanks. Then we pray for anyone in need of God’s grace — help. We conclude our sharing with a ‘wow’ moment — something that happened at a match that inspired us.”
She wrote the book to help coaches and athletic directors “who are all hungry to develop our athletes not just physically but also spiritually. In the midst of our seasons, we lack the time to research how to do this. I hope this book ends up in the hands of every coach, as it has the potential to change the culture of a team and, ultimately, a school.”
When she coached cross country, Stricherz and her fellow coaches gave their runners cards with a team motto and a prayer that they could say on their own. “I have seen that prayer card taped inside lockers, and I’ve heard that many students take those cards with them to college. Each card is different every year, but they all feature the abbreviation AMDG — for the greater glory of God.”
Pray and Practice with Purpose offers the story behind the prayers, activities and suggestions for taking the prayer deeper. “Sharing the context behind each entry was what I enjoyed writing about the most,” said Stricherz.
Praying with students, Stricherz added, “strengthens our sense of community and helps us become the body of Christ in a different way. For instance, at the end of the cross country season, our team met for an Evening of Reflection. Our team captains gave testimonials, we reflected on the theme of the school year and prayed together. At other times, I have prayed with my roster. Usually, one name stands out — someone injured or someone who is challenging me personally. I believe it’s so important that athletes know their coaches pray for them.”
Stricherz hopes that her athletes understand that prayer isn’t something only done inside a church. “The places you compete and practice are also sacred spaces as are the places where everyday life occurs.”
Another activity discusses the importance of players honoring their teachers by offering them their jerseys at a ceremony, which SI’s football team does before the Bruce-Mahoney game, or inviting them to their competitions. “It’s a community-building experience to have teachers ride on the team bus to away games or for athletes to extend a personal invitation to teachers to attend a Friday home game.”
The book is available on Amazon for $28, but if you want a signed copy for even less, email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is already working on her second book, which discusses the six ways sports can offer lessons on living a spiritual life.
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