Redefining What it Means to be a Student-athlete in an Unusual Season

Ever since I was little, I dreamed of one day working for a professional sports team. I grew up in New Jersey, fascinated by the consistency and winning culture the New York Yankees were known for. I always wondered what it would take to work for an organization of such caliber, especially a professional sports team.

Over the years, playing baseball has taught me many lessons, and being student-athlete at Gordon broadened my understanding of how to be the salt and light of Christ in a notoriously secular industry.

Attending the Sports Leadership Conference last February—an event hosted by Jack Easterby, interim general manager for the Houston Texans—I witnessed something unfamiliar: I was surrounded by strong, devoted Christians in professional sports. Being around Easterby, other front office executives, professional coaches and athletes who were unashamedly passionate for Christ just reaffirmed by career aspirations. Knowing that there are powerful model Christian leaders leading a charge in an industry known for undermining Christian values gives me hope to add to God’s greater kingdom. As Jack would say, “It’s not about being in charge; it’s about leading and being a charge for others.”

Another unexpected opportunity to grow as an athlete occurred when COVID-19 affected the way I play, practice and compete. From professional sports to youth teams, everyone now must seek alternatives to official competition and organize distanced drills. But an unusual season doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to grow. Gordon Athletics encourages us to become well-rounded, which is why “student” is part of our title. Gordon student-athletes not only grow as players and teammates, but as future teachers, physicians, businessmen and more.

So, in an effort to utilize our unusual season in a way would inspire personal growth, a classmate and I created a five-week player development series for student-athletes. The events have featured notable speakers Alexander Lowry, executive director of Gordon’s Career and Connection Institute, bestselling author Jon Gordon and Tina Langley, head coach of Women’s Basketball at Rice University, who are covering topics such as vocational calling, the act of listening and having a growth mindset amid uncertainty. Through each interaction, I’ve been getting a clearer sense of God’s calling for me and the role I can play someday in a workplace where his name isn’t as well-known.

One of the many skills I’m continually developing is actively listening to others. Langley’s wisdom on this topic last week stuck with me: “Listening is about others and speaking is about yourself.” Listening is an integral part of servant-leadership. Everyone has a story and as an aspiring leader in sports, I need to value each one. Making sure each person in front me is loved and heard is what’s extremely important.

Reflecting on the wide range of perspectives offered by our speakers, I’ve come to realize that sports are more than just a game. Sports provide a network of friendships and challenges that an athlete must overcome both as an individual and as a collective unit. While I still have much to learn, I’m committed to be a servant-leader. Through the unique lens of faith in athletics, Gordon is cultivating holistic student-athletes who follow Christ, and for that I am thankful for.

By Alex Park ’21, recreation, sport and wellness and business administration