Uncharted Territory

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading.  The few who learn by observation.  The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”   ― Will Rogers

(In case you were wondering,  I’m the kind of woman who needs to pee on the electric fence to learn a proper lesson. Stubborn is my middle name.)

If you were to ask me about what I’ve learned so far while living in South Africa, I would tell you these two very important things:

  1. Be Flexible
  2. Fail

Fail?  Yep.  I said it.  Fail.  I am what some professionals like to call “an experiential learner.”  I like to learn by “trial and error.”  I take a step, I fail, I learn, I change, and then I try to do it better the next time.  The concept seems simple enough, but, in the moment of realization, it can be pretty heart wrenching.  Messing up isn’t fun.  It hurts.  It takes humility to admit a wrong, and it can leave scars and memories that seem to only fade with time.  Not to mention, our culture has an awful way of reinforcing the broken idea that we must constantly strive for perfection, and if we fail to reach it, we should just crawl into a hole and let someone else give it a shot.  It’s why we hide our weaknesses, it’s why we are ashamed of our flaws, and it’s why some of the most successful businessmen in the world are the greatest liars.

But hey, there’s good news.  Jesus gave me the freedom to fail.  In fact, I have the freedom to screw up BIG TIME over and over and over again.  My identity isn’t in my volunteer work, it isn’t in my soccer playing abilities, or in the number of bible verses I have memorized.  My worth and my value don’t come from my accomplishments.  God could take all of those things away from me, and I would still be deemed precious in His sight.  His love doesn’t change when I fail.  His love isn’t conditional or dependent on me.  His love and approval do not come with a disclaimer.

So when I go through a trial, how do I respond?  Do I sulk and give up?  Or do I learn and grow?  Do I beat myself up? Or do I choose to move forward and try again?

Quick example.  Today, I had to pull the plug on my high school futsal team.  I love those girls (and I also hate feeling like a quitter), so it wasn’t an easy task for me.  I had to humble myself enough to admit that the program wasn’t going in the direction that training4changeS needed it to go.  I had to swallow my pride and admit that it simply wasn’t working…. but that’s okay.

Now, I move forward. I learn from this experience, and I choose to become a better coach.  I adjust my strategy, I adapt to my environment, and I appreciate the trials and the challenges that I have walked through over these past few months.  As a training4changeS team, we went back to the drawing board and we decided to target a new age group.  We are hoping to develop a girl’s futsal program within the local primary schools instead of the high schools.  We’ve realized that the world is changing fast.  To make a lasting impact, we need to start teaching, loving, and coaching younger aged kids.  By the time these girls enter into high school, their habits and lifestyles are so deeply engrained into their minds and hearts that change just doesn’t stick.  The chance for long term impact decreases more and more with each birthday.

So, I am venturing down a new road that will lead me into uncharted territory.  I am going to start traveling down this “one of a kind” path that God has so graciously paved for me.  This path could very well be full of sharp turns, steep hills, and some potential thunderstorms, but I am willing and ready to face the elements.  I am willing and ready to have my roadmap torn to shreds, my travel plans tossed out the window, and my destination expectations rerouted.

I know that I’d much rather trek up a dangerous and scary mountain trail with my Creator, than sit in the comfort of a palm tree without Him.

IMG_2530

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

Setting The Pace

If you have ever played a sport, the concept of “preseason training” should send a slight shiver of fear down your back.  When I think of it in soccer terms, I imagine running up and down the mountain side, too many suicide sprints, and lots of lactic acid build up in my lower body.  It’s the roughly two to three month period when I store away my soccer cleats and break out my running shoes (to my dismay).  My legs ache just thinking about it…

Preseason is the duration of time when an athlete makes the most significant strength and stamina gains.  The long hours of preparation for the season are intense and taxing, but those lengthy practice sessions equip those athletes to excel when the first game finally arrives.  The sprints, the lunges, and the squats serve their strength and conditioning purposes, and as much as I may hate them (and my coach for making me do them, sorry Coach), those exercises are meant to develop me. Each season, when I look back on the blood, sweat, and tears poured into each practice, I am exceedingly grateful.

IMG_6967

As a coach, I experience some of these same feelings of distress with my players.  We had our first league game this past Friday, and we had our rear end’s dished out to us on a silver platter (how’s that for eloquence). It was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever coached, but I learned a great deal from the experience.  We have a lot of training to do, and I have a lot of coaching to do.  However, I realized that it’s more than just the futsal skills that need improving.  Most of my players have never been disciplined in their entire lives, and the concept of “respect your authority” is completely foreign to them.  Not to mention, I am completely foreign to them.

Coaching

I read a verse that fits this situation perfectly. Hebrews 12:11-13 says, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.”

When I look back on my childhood, it becomes so evident that my parents disciplined me, not because they were angry with me, but because they loved me.  Their discipline made me strong.  They protected me from danger and taught me life lessons that I will never forget.  The Lord does the same thing.  In fact, He is currently doing the same thing in my own life.  In the moment, it stings and aches.  Still, in the long run, it’s one of the sweetest things because it reminds me that He cares.

I am learning what it looks like to discipline my players in love.  I am learning what it means to show them grace while teaching them truth.  I am not going to be perfect in my delivery, but that’s alright because it’s through my failures that I will improve.  God tends to teach me some of my biggest lessons during my toughest trials (probably because I am too stubborn and thick headed to learn the easy way).  He has to throw me into the fire to refine me and He has to lovingly shove me out of the “comfort” nest to teach me how to fly. You think I’d be used to it by now, but… I’m not.

My playing season and my coaching season have just begun, and each day I will face a new challenge.  One of the most comforting things is that I will never have to face any of those challenges alone.  I am surrounded by a group of amazing people who love me for who I am (mishaps and all), and that truth spurs me on to take the next step forward.  Walking by faith means that my next step could easily lead me into an unforeseen ditch, but I needn’t worry because Psalm 40:2 says, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

So I walk…

Our next futsal game is in two weeks, and I have a confident expectation that it will be better than the first.

Striving For Excellence

10 Coaches.  4 Days.  1 Purpose.

As I lay on my bed with cramps in my calves and dark circles under my eyes… my heart is full.

These past few days came and went, but the lessons I learned and the friends I made will last a lifetime.

SummerCamp_001

The training4changeS coaches training camp kicked off with team building challenges that pushed our limits and broke down our trust barriers.  We led, we served, we opened up, we followed, we supported, and we bonded.  As coaches from multiple cultures and walks of life, we learned how to love each other and how to simultaneously grant each other the grace and freedom to be themselves.  We strengthened our teammate’s weaknesses and we took advantage of their strengths.  We shared our stories and our passions, and we connected on a deeper level.

SummerCamp_026

Then we took it up notch (more like 50 notches, actually).  The National Futsal Coach of South Africa and the training4changeS Director of Coaching, Quinton Allies, taught us the fundamentals of playing and coaching futsal.  Using the sole of the foot, proper body positioning, and communication were just three of the tools we learned to implement while playing this fast paced and intense sport.  About eleven hours of futsal sessions later, I can’t walk or feel my legs…. but more importantly, I have gained significant insight into the game of futsal and I have developed the skills necessary to be a successful coach.

SummerCamp_074

Next comes the theory.  Sylvester and Quinton taught us about child protection, the history and rules of futsal, and the power and influence that a coach has on and off the futsal court.  Children will “follow the leader,” and they are not biased to whether the one leading them is a good or bad influence.  Our goal as training4changeS coaches is to stand out as positive role models for the kids we coach.  We want to provide a safe place for them to grow and learn by teaching them core values and life skills that will lead to their success and well-being like: discipline, encouragement, forgiveness, teamwork, love, communication, sharing, acceptance, and determination.

training4changeS has taught me that futsal is so much more than a sport.  It’s an incredible tool for impacting the lives of the next generation.  If we can make a difference in one life, then that one life can impact even more lives down the road.

As we, the futsal coaches, reach out to these young and talented athletes, our hope is that one day those athletes will become the coaches (and players) of the next generation.  Their example and lifestyle will set the new standard for the South African culture, and change will happen.

But one step at a time…  

SCAS (Sport For Christ Action South Africa) Director Hein Reyneke shared some wisdom with us when he said that we should, “Strive for Excellence, Not For Perfection.”  I am bound to make mistakes along the way, and there’s nothing shameful about that because my mistakes will become the stepping stones for my improvement.  This will be a long journey, but I am ready and willing to do whatever it takes, mistakes included.

Lastly, I have to give a shout out to you all: my family, friends and supporters who have been following my adventures and encouraging me every step of the way.  There’s no way I would be here without your help.  Thank you all for believing in me, thank you all for motivating me, and thank you all for having enough trust in my vision to support me financially.  I am BEYOND grateful.

The Lord has used you guys in a big way to strength my faith, and He has proved His faithfulness to me through all of the support and provision that I have received.  I don’t deserve any of it, but He is so good.  I am simply an imperfect girl in desperate need of a perfect God who has overwhelmed me with His perfect grace.

And for some CRAZY reason, He chose me to be an ambassador to share His truth all over the world, and my hope is that a tiny bit of Sam and a whole lot of Jesus will rub off on the wonderful kids I coach.

SummerCamp_131

Let’s keep making things happen! The season has just begun!

Be Still and Know

“Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes!”

1 Samuel 12:16 (NIV)

For those of you that don’t know me that well….

“Standing still” is not something that I enjoy doing.  In fact, I despise it.  That’s why I majored in Exercise Science in college, that’s why I have played multiple sports in and out of season since age 4, and that’s why I will never work in a tiny cramped office cubicle (I wouldn’t last a week).

To put it simply…let me confess.

Hi, My name is Sam, and I’ve struggled with a Martha Complex for 23 years. (whew, glad that’s off my chest)

The story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 is one that constantly challenges me because it forces me to ask the questions: What is the most important thing in my life? What are my intentions behind what I do?  Does my value come from what I accomplish or from who I am?

So, now I am in South Africa and I want to be honest… there are days when I feel absolutely useless.  Language barriers, unfamiliar environments, and tons of free time before the coaching season begins in February has made this period of “resting and preparing” really difficult for me.  My mindset has always been “put me in coach!”  I want get out there and I want to start getting things done, but sometimes that mindset can cause more harm than good.  I tend to be impulsive and impatient, and it’s easy to “get ahead” of myself without waiting on the Lord for direction and wisdom.

But, God is pretty awesome at comforting us when we need comforting.  He’s also great at speaking Truth into confusing and difficult situations, and He reminded me of something important through this verse in 1 Samuel.  This futsal ministry in South Africa belongs to God.  My gifts and talents and abilities are gifts from God.  He’s in charge, He’s the director, and He’s the organizer.  He doesn’t ask me to do a bunch of amazing and marvelous things for Him.  He calls me to stand still.  He calls me to listen, to enjoy, to watch in wonder, and to just “be.”

He’s taken me outside of my comfort zone.  He has brought me to a place where I have been asked to sit back, relax, and watch Him work, and THAT goes against every natural fiber in my being.

But, I am learning that my identity and my value should not be rooted in the things that I do, because I would never be able to do anything good if it wasn’t for God.  Jesus uses the example of cutting a branch off of a tree and seeing how that branch ends up withering from lack of nutrients instead of producing fruit.  As hard as it is to admit sometimes, I can do nothing apart from Him.

My identity needs to come from the fact that I am fully and completely loved, whether I am an invalid who is completely dependent on others or whether I am a successful athlete who is fully capable. God’s love for me and His calling on my life are not dependent on my abilities to “do stuff.”  He promises to be the equipper and the provider, all He asks me to do is to show up and trust Him.

Mary sat at Jesus’s feet.  She didn’t allow a big dinner party to distract her or frustrate her from what was most important.  From my personal perspective, Martha was focused on people pleasing while Mary was focused on “simply receiving.”  Both loved Jesus and both were loved by Jesus, but one sister embraced Him while the other tried to impress Him.  Jesus says that Mary did the better thing.

This journey is going to stretch me in more ways that I ever could have imagined, but I know that God promises to finish the good work which He’s started in me.  I get to see my Heavenly Father do some incredible things in South Africa.  I get to witness His sovereignty and His power and His love for His people…

and I get to say, “wow, thats my Dad… look at Him go”

and because of grace, I get to feel Him smile upon me because He calls me His Beloved, and there’s nothing that I can do to separate myself from that beautiful truth.

#againstALLodds – Girls Futsal Initiative

According to FIFA, roughly 500 x more girls have the opportunity to play soccer in America than in South Africa.

IMG_6170

So practically, what does this mean for girls in the city of Cloetesville, South Africa?

In my personal experience, soccer has taught me some incredibly valuable lessons: discipline, leadership, teamwork, communication skills, and trust.  Soccer has shaped my character and it has built my confidence.  It kept me out of trouble as a kid, it opened doors to new opportunities and experiences, and it helped me to build relationships with mentors and leaders who were willing to pour into my life in a variety of ways.

Okay, so to sum it up:

The number of opportunities and positive outcomes that these South African girls can have with soccer are limited.  So limited in fact, that South Africa has stereotyped soccer (and futsal) to be predominantly a man’s sport.  Girls don’t play futsal.  They are intimidated by the boys, they are mistreated and disrespected, and they lack the encouragement from female leaders to step out onto the pitch (field).

Instead, these girls end up dropping out of school, they develop addictions to alcohol and drugs, or in some cases, they get pregnant and are forced to stay home and take care of their children (usually without the help of the father).

The nonprofit I am partnering with, training4changeS, made it a goal to redefine futsal for girls.  We want to show them that they can have better futures.  They can have hope. We want to use soccer to bring these 14-18 year old girls into an environment where they can learn, grow, develop, and shine.   It will be a safe place after school where they can be transparent and experience love, support, and encouragement. This girls futsal initiative will help to counter those cultural norms that plague the colored communities. Empowering, equipping, and establishing these high schoolers through futsal is the main focus of the training4changeS initiative.  This is a ground breaking concept, so it will look more like a marathon than a sprint, but we are willing and ready to give it our all.

We have (so far) partnered alongside Coaches Across Continents, SAIFA (South African Indoor Football Association), Cape Town Titans, Futsal Worldwide, and the Stellenbosch Municipality to accomplish these goals.  People are joining our team, things are getting done, and visions are being put into action.

Practically, my role within the training4changeS nonprofit will be to coach and mentor the girls who play futsal under our initiative.  I will be working alongside Ashulita and Rencia, two other coaches with a passion for impacting girls, to develop the high schoolers in life skills and in technical futsal skills.  We will also tutor them since academics will be a huge priority (no school, no futsal).  The more time we get to spend investing in these girls, the greater our impact will be. We chose Friday nights to be our “league game night” which will help keep the girls off the streets and away from those dangerous “night life” environments.  We are also planning multiple training camps and tournaments to give the girls more exposure into the sport.

Offering them practical lessons and training will be far more beneficial than just offering them kind and motivating words (though we plan on doing that too!).  We will do our best to lead by example and make a difference practically.  These young women will be fighting a tough battle, and they need all the armor and all the tools they can get to fight back against the oppressing and depressing situations they face each day.

If you’d like to support the training4changeS initiative visit their website at: training4changes.org

Also, help us spread the word by using our hashtag:    #againstALLodds

t4c_logo

Together we can accomplish much.   Thank you for being a part of our team, and I can’t wait to share updates on the girls and the growth of this program.