ko te manaaki i ngā kaihākinakina | caring for New Zealand's sports community
Photo of sports field with 'Fields Open' sign, role of Sports Chaplaincy in 2019

The difference Sports Chaplaincy can make

We welcome Sports Chaplaincy NZ National Director Phil Pawley as a guest writer. Phil explains the role of Sports Chaplaincy in meeting needs in the sporting world.

“Sometimes I feel as though I am simply a piece of meat being sold to the highest bidder.”

A player expressed that sentiment to me early on in my time as a Sports Chaplain. I was working in an elite rugby league team in England. He alerted me to the fact that all was not well in the world of sport.

The club further demonstrated this lack of care when they secured the services of a well-known Kiwi born player. It took the club nearly six months to find a suitable home to rent for him. In the meantime, he, his wife, and 18 month old daughter, lived in a local hotel. The stress on that young family was unreasonable and uncaring. This became a key motivating factor that led to significant changes in the way the club cares for its players.

The root of many problems

That lack of pastoral care is at the root of many problems. We witness a steady stream of negative headlines about sporting people today. More often than not, such headlines have to do with moral failure. There are also many other forms of failure that afflict athletes: failure to make the cut, to reach one’s potential, to live up to personal or parental expectations, or to live well and plan for the future. Most of these, and other needs, have historically gone unnoticed by those who profit from the sporting success of others. Thankfully that tide is starting to turn. More sports organisations and organisers recognise they need a more holistic approach to sports management.

How Sports Chaplaincy is making a difference

Sports Chaplaincy is all about caring for the mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of sportspeople, now as well as in the long-term. It is about pastoring people where they gather and when they might need such care, rather than waiting for a crisis. In many ways it’s about building the fence at the top of the cliff to help avoid the need for ambulances and undertakers at the bottom.

Some may be tempted to think that the role of Sports Chaplaincy is only about looking after the needs of elite and high performance teams and athletes, but it goes much deeper than this. In fact, Sports Chaplaincy goes to the roots of sport in Aotearoa New Zealand. Chaplains serve with school teams, local clubs, tournaments, at stadiums, elite and high performance, and wherever else people gather to play or enjoy sport. Sports Chaplaincy is undoubtedly needed as part of the answer to meeting the very real personal and pastoral needs that we all have—needs that for many are not being catered for in any other way.
Watch a Sports Chaplain at work in a school.

Watch a Sports Chaplain at work in a professional club.
Find a Sports Chaplain for your organisation.

Author Info

Phil Pawley

Phil has been in ministry since 1980, with Youth With a Mission, The Church of England, Morrinsville Baptist Church, and now as National Director of Sports Chaplaincy NZ.. During 20 years living in England he was Sports Chaplain for the St Helen’s and England rugby league teams and at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. In his younger days Phil played hockey. He has also completed the London marathon and climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. Phil and his wife Diane have four adult children as well as a growing number of grandchildren.

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