Soccer team 'not about winning'
August 16th, 2011
10:20 AM ET

Christian pro soccer team: ‘Scoring souls, not goals’

By Elizabeth Johnson, CNN

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) - With 12 minutes left in the game, the Charlotte Eagles are losing 2-0. The North Carolina humidity hangs thick in the evening air. The home crowd becomes restless as the opposing team's goalie blocks kick after kick.

But the team gets a big break in the 78th minute and scores twice in two minutes against the Rochester Rhinos. This men’s soccer match ends in a tie.

Did God bless the Eagles with those goals?

“I don’t think God cares if we win or lose,” Eagles captain Josh Rife says, shrugging.

Coach Mark Steffens agrees: “Our No. 1 goal is not winning games. Our goal is to bring glory to God.”

It’s an unusual stance for a sports team, but the Eagles aren’t just any soccer squad. Members of the United Soccer Leagues’ 12-team professional division, they’re the only ones who say they care more about Christian values than about winning.

The team was established in 1993 after a “sports junkie fell in love with God,” Eagles co-founder Brian Davidson says. But if he was going to continue being involved in soccer - where he saw players cheating and sneaking fouls past referees - he needed to find a way to live out his faith on the field.

He had two goals for his ministry. First, teach men to live for God on the field by playing fair. The second: Send team members into the community - both locally and “to the ends of the earth” - to teach impoverished children and refugees about soccer and to use the sport to attract people who wouldn’t normally visit church.

Like any high-level competition team, the Eagles have regular practices. They sweat in the scorching heat. They win games. They miss goals. They hear lectures.

But the organization also focuses on character by investing in the players and the community.

Steffens, Eagles coach for 15 years, uses what he calls an “in-reach” plan, mentoring and building personal relationships with the 26 athletes on his squad and setting up accountability groups within the team.

“My ministry is to grow 26 guys into men,” Steffens says. “Men who do the right thing.”

That goes for both on and off the field.

On the field, the men are expected to be above reproach. They know better than to tug on an opponent’s jersey, run out the clock or take a dive to fake a foul. As Christians, they say they hold themselves to a high standard. They challenge each other to work harder and play better.

But is that enough?

Some observers say Christianity and sports are a questionable mix.

Shirl Hoffman, author of “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sport,” says Christianity teaches “peace, humility, putting others before yourself,” while athletes are often more willing to cheat, hurt their opponents or take credit for their accomplishments.

“Sports don’t develop character,” Hoffman says. “They teach you to be selfish.”

Rife, 31, an Eagles captain and a midfielder for nine years, disagrees. He says there is a common misconception that Christians should be meek or passive. There were times when Jesus displayed meekness in his ministry, he says, but other times when he was confrontational.

Rife argues that sports are the “greatest teacher for wrestling with one’s faith.” Learning to strive together for excellence and unity in a competitive, challenging environment can help players grow and deepen their beliefs, he says.

As for whether God cares if a team wins or loses, he says that “isn’t a biblical view.” He cites the book of Job, in which God let a righteous man lose his family, livestock and health. God cares more about the bigger picture - the response of a man’s heart, as he did with Job - than he does about making sure they look good, Rife says.

Eagles co-founder Davidson says he realizes there may be few examples of godliness in professional sports. But like Rife, he says there are opportunities in a game when “we as Christians can live out our faith” - such as responding with grace to a ref’s bad call.

And when an Eagles player reacts to such a call with anger? Davidson knows it will be a learning moment and an opportunity for the player’s faith to grow. There’s a lot of grace and forgiveness in the Eagles’ locker room.

“We’re OK with failure,” Davidson says. “We just want to grow from it.”

Bob Schindler is a former pastor and current vice president of church mobilization for Church Sports Outreach, an organization that helps churches use sports as a tool for spreading the gospel. He believes the sports realm has strayed from God’s intended purpose, but that the problem is limited to selfishly motivated individuals. Competition itself is not the problem, he says.

A key question from the Christian perspective, Schindler says, is whether there was competition in the Garden of Eden.

If the answer is no, then sports are a result of sin, and Christians should not partake in competitive activities.

But if the answer is yes - as he believes it to be - then Christians can take part in competition if they use it for the glory of God.

“The whole point of sports is to draw the best out of your teammates and opponents,” Schindler says. “I see that as very compassionate and grace-filled.”

The word “competition” is derived from the Latin “competere,” which means “strive together,” Schindler says. But he says athletes are indoctrinated with a self-glorifying mindset that has corrupted the word's original meaning.

Aware of the problem, Steffens, the Eagles' coach, regularly talks to his team about it.

“Guys, it’s not about you,” Steffens tells his players. “It’s about putting God first.”

During one pregame chapel service - a regular feature in the team's locker room - speaker Sam Blumenthal, a local businessman, reminds the team of this principle: It’s about “scoring souls, not scoring goals,” he tells them.

Through prayer - before and after each game - the team refocuses its attention on God.

“I think most high-level athletes pray to God for good individual performances and for their team to win,” Steffens says. “Our main prayer before games is for God to grant us strength and wisdom to play fair and Christ-like."

After the game, the team prays for its opponents and thanks God for the results, regardless of the outcome.

“We honor God whether we win, lose or draw,” Steffens says.

His players feel called by God to play for this team and want to “keep the main thing the main thing,” Steffens says. “And the main thing isn’t winning.”

“Priorities are well set and kept,” says goalie Eric Reed, 27. “It’s about living the gospel in a broken world - like in any job.”

The Eagles’ ministry can be seen in various ways around Charlotte, through weekly soccer camps, church involvement and inner-city ministry - as well as in their overseas tours.

This year, six players will travel to Trinidad to play soccer and do service work in the community. The team traveled to Jamaica last year, playing high-level opponents as well as spending time at an orphanage and a delinquent center.

Other recent destinations include Nigeria, Ethiopia, Colombia, Laos and Thailand. The team members who travel each raise a couple thousand dollars for the trips, believing they are preaching sermons through the way they play soccer overseas.

Locally, four players and two staffers have moved into four urban neighborhoods to lead the Urban Eagles, an outreach program directed at kids living in low-income housing.

“We’re a family,” Eagles forward and Urban Eagles volunteer Ben Page says. “The Lord has created this culture of love and acceptance, and the kids have responded.”

Page, 26, lives in Grier Heights in east Charlotte and has worked with the Urban Eagles since January 2010. Through this work, Page said he has realized that the unconditional love he is developing for the kids “is the love God has for me.”

In addition to soccer, the kids are taught basic manners and respect for one another. They learn how to struggle through difficult times and work hard.

“The world says they’re a statistic,” Page says, “that they’ll go to jail, or won’t graduate, or will cause trouble.” Urban Eagles teaches them that God has a plan and a purpose for their lives by pointing them to Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

“My goal isn’t to see their behavior change,” Page says, “but to see their heart change. And the fruit of a heart change is a behavior change.”

Page has played for the Eagles since 2008. He considers the team a training ground to learn how to care for others and find joy and purpose in investing in eternal things, such as sharing the gospel of Jesus with others.

“This environment where we’ve been coached by men who love the Lord - we’ve been cared about as people instead of just players,” Page says.

It’s an attitude that he hopes to pass along to the kids he works with off the field.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • North Carolina • Sports

soundoff (1,195 Responses)
  1. JR

    disgusting, misfortunes will hunt that team.

    it's all cause and effect baby, no god

    August 16, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • J.W

      Whoa that sure convinced me. I am an atheist now.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  2. Sam

    Just sad that in 2011 there are still so many ignorant scared little humans that will cling to ancients outdated belief systems. Personally I think anyone who still believes this junk is just too stupid to be ever allowed any position of responsibility. Grow up you idiots, use that brain, you got it for free.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  3. shawn


    August 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  4. Earthling

    Please just take all this religion nonsense and put it back in the church where it belongs. People are trying to have intelligent conversations about things that actually matter in the real world. This bronze age fairy tale ceased to be relevant long ago.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • bob

      no. you suck. your opinion is invalid fu

      August 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Jesus Koresh

      Nicely rebutted, bob. That Christian intellect shines brightly in you!

      August 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • NJBob

      @Bob - WOW! A real Christian response!

      August 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • LetsAllJumptToConclusions

      If you really didn't want to read about religion outside of church, then why are you on the Belief Blog in the first place?

      And the last time I checked, intellectuals like Einstein and Newton subscribed to a Higher Power and often used it as inspiration for their discoveries. How could you possibly have an intelligent conversation when you've decided block out an ideology, whether you agree with it or not?

      August 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  5. Anomic Office Drone

    If there is a god, he stopped listening when we started spamming him with prayers about sports, traffic and parking spaces.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |

      true that.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  6. Tommy is a Twit

    Yes it does. Now be a good little pre-pube Tommy and go lookup The No True Scotsman fallacy, you ignorant tool.

    Only a fool would put a sky fairy ahead of their self.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Jesus Koresh

      They have this thing called a "reply" button.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  7. Acanta

    “Sports don’t develop character,” Hoffman says. “They teach you to be selfish.”

    That is probably one of the most ridiculous comments I've ever heard.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • beelzebubba

      Agreed. The most important value 'atha-letes' need to learn from their coaches is that you're only cheating if you get caught. Praise olly!

      August 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  8. Jason B

    how many times and ways does the article have to say "God's not interested in the outcome of the game, but in the hear and character of the players" before people stop leaving comments about how the article is dumb because God doesn't care about the outcome of the game. Please READ the article before you leave stupid comments...

    August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Jesus Koresh

      How can anyone know if God is interested in the outcome or not? What you are reading is people who pretend to know what God is interested in.

      And how do they know what God thinks and does? Well, when you invent a nice invisible friend for yourself, they do whatever you want them to. God is like a Barbie doll for people who cannot deal with reality.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • comedycentral

      I'd be willing to bet that, "Shirl Hoffman, author of “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sport,” who says...
      “Sports don’t develop character. They teach you to be selfish", never played a moment of organized high level team sport in her life. That's one of the most idiotic statements I've ever heard out of someone who is supposed to be highly educated.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  9. Stefanie

    Are any of these guys single!! Hard to find good, Christian guys these days 🙂

    August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Jesus Koresh

      Not surprised that it is difficult to find hard Christian men.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  10. dave

    I wish this story was about a pro-christian gay team, just so the atheist's heads would explode from trying to figure out if it was OK to comment....

    Ever notice they only post about Christians? Where's all the wicken, muslim, buddist, taos, or hindu bashers? (Speaking of which, there are pro-teams that are only muslim, buddist, taos, or hindus – in certain foreign countries that have no freedom of religeon and/or freedom FROM religeon).

    August 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • NJBob

      You have freedom of religion and I have the freedom to say it's all nonsense. I don't care what your religion is. If you believe in some big celestial power, there's something wrong with your head.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Erik

      So, mr. "religeon" practicer, you are aware that christians are dominating out politics with their interpretations of stuff written by people hundreds of years after your Savior was dead, right? Perhaps that might be why people focus on christianity instead of wickens.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Erik

      So, mr. "religeon" practicer, you are aware that christians are dominating our politics with their interpretations of stuff written by people hundreds of years after your Savior was dead, right? Perhaps that might be why people focus on christianity instead of wickens.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • derp

      "Where's all the wicken, muslim, buddist, taos, or hindu bashers?"

      Go read the comments on the muslim boy scout story. We atheists think they are just as delusional as christians, only slightly more violent.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • LouAz

      There is no such thing as a pro-christian gay soccer team. Just as Frau Bachman or Snooki Palin.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • NJBob

      Christians always play the victim.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Jimfrank346

      Those other religions are edits of an older religion. Also, they don't pray to some Jewish dude, and believe all of the heresay made up from people who came around hundreds of years later...

      August 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • DuchessFeathers

      "I wish this story was about a pro-christian gay team, just so the atheist's heads would explode from trying to figure out if it was OK to comment...."

      – no, Dave, that's not quite correct. I don't believe in any particular 'god'.....although there are some pretty cool Greek ones. Kinda like Poseidon myself.

      The point here is if this team is not playing to win games but to make "god" happy, then why are they playing – really? Also, I don't care what religion you are – what I do care about is the constant 24/7 push of religion any more. Why? All of a sudden everything and anything is "christian", "about god", etc. etc. It's tiresome. Don't push whatever your religion is on me. Thank you.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Stan

      Best comment of the day. I too would love to see how the atheists would/could react. Brilliant!

      August 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • MomOf3

      Wicken? Really? Try Wiccan, or Wiccans for plural.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      This atheist would congratulate the gay/christian soccer team on openly disagreeing with many religious tribes about homosexuality and then politely remind them that there are no gods – not even just one.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  11. Child of God

    Actually I think it is kind of neat that the mere mention of His name raises such a response – our God is awesome that even the mention of his name causes this effect in the sin-filled world.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Karl

      you're so right. just like the minister at my church growing up that had affairs with the wives in the congregation and molested his daughter. Look him up – Lane Hurley.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • really

      alrighty well there you have it

      August 16, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Masher

      @ Karl....It is too bad that you had a fake minister, but this is not the way it is supposed to be. The Bible has always warned about wolfs in sheep's clothing. The bad example you had doesn't change the fact that some ministers, and Christian men, are honorable and noble-most, in fact.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • DuchessFeathers

      No, it's not "awesome", it's rather tiresome. It's okay to be pro-god but not anti-god – is that it? Is that fair? I grew up going to Sunday School and church every week – Presbyterian church. And now I don't.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  12. Stan

    Just gotta love how all the little atheist trolls come out of their holes when there's an article even remotely linked to Christianity. You people are just a bunch of insecure, hate-loving/spreading losers. If you're so against religion, why are you reading the article and spending the time making these comments? Do you think you'll make it go away? Do you have any idea how large a majority on this planet believes in a creator and an afterlife, including something like 80% of the USA? What does it matter, anyway....you atheists have formed your own religion now, which is the biggest irony.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • John

      No religion in Atheism Stan... and I am not little nor a troll. Most of us have no issue with your beliefs or your right to believe, it is when religious folks decide to try and make us follow their beliefs that we have a problem. Freedom of religion also comes with the freedom to live without it.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • TAK

      "If you're so against religion, why are you reading the article "

      Sun Tzu – "Know your enemy..."

      August 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • DuchessFeathers

      Curiousity. Why do you feel the need to rant? Hmm?

      August 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Masher

      Sorry you don't like Christians being part of the world, but that is exactly the job of Christians. Our religion tells us to be in the world but not tainted by it's sin. Too bad that doesn't happen perfectly, but we are normal people like you.

      Why don't you think for 1 second about the good Christians have had on the world...red Cross, most older universities, most older hospitals, YMCA, the founding principles of the United States....the list could go on and on.

      Don't bother with all the alleged "crimes" of the church. We've heard it all, and most of them happened in the middle ages by "European" rulers who were no more Christ-like than the inquisition.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  13. Neil

    Why are many of you condeming this team? Let them play the game the way they want. The statement in the article says the team "focuses on character" and "kids are taught basic manners and respect for one another" seem like pretty gopd things to me. These are a few things sorely missing in todays society and it is very apparent that they are not getting it in our school systems!

    August 16, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Jesus Koresh

      It isn't how they choose to play the game. It's that they are exploiting the game to shove their religion down other peoples' throats.

      Sports should not be a venue for pushing some agenda.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Tweety

      Jesus, your a joke man...never thought I would say that! Look at all the sports teams and you can't tell me with all of the advertising and the millions of dollars of endorsements that someone isn't trying to shove something down everyone's throat. If there is no God and it is all a joke, then why do you make yourself into an a$$ over it??? Let good morals alone!

      August 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • MomOf3

      Professional sports that pay millions for endorsements are fine...and completely different. That's a business, not a church looking to expand it's parishioners. I hope they're not looking for a tax-break on any of their profits, if they make any.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  14. Sigh

    This is a shame. I live in Charlotte and I'm embarrassed to hear about this story.

    Here's my issue: The only people with high character and good values are Christians? Oh please...

    You can build a high-character team with great morals without it being an all-Christian team.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      Totally agree. Religion is not a requirement for morality. If anything, it gets in the way due to irrational thinking.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Masher

      Of course a team could focus on good morals in a sports team, but nobody would pay attention. People need a higher cause than "be nice to others" to believe in. Sorry, but it is reality.

      If you want to make that team, than go ahead and do it. Nobody is standing in your way.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  15. beelzebubba

    Dear lord, help us smite our enemies on this ballfield to glorify your name? Unbelievable.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  16. Karl

    What a bunch of crap. This type of thing is why I left the bible belt.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Ed

      Karl, you did the right thing. If more people would follow your advice, the South would be a much better place.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • beelzebubba

      Yep. Right beside Charlotte, NC is Gastonia, the sanctimonious town recognized in Guiness Book of Records for having the most churches per square mile. Sadly, it is too hard to measure the most hypocrites per square mile, but I'm sure they qualify.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  17. o.k.

    JiminTX–I couldn't agree with you more. Fortunately, as a Christian, I don't worship an invisible man–Jesus was a real person. Fortunately, I also don't worship a God who "grants wishes." He answers prayer. (Sometimes the answer is no.) You can load your comments with all the mockery you want, it won't change the fact that without Christ, there is no hope.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Jimfrank346

      lol, you admit that Jesus was some dude, yet you still pray to him? What if I were to make up a place called lalaland, where everyone ends up burning in lakes of fire unless they listen to me? Would you pray to me?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Jeff99


      August 16, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • really

      I have plenty of hope without religion thank you very much. And faith? Faith in myself, in my abilities.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • o.k.

      JimFrank346–interesting response. Would I worship you if my failure to do so resulted in me going to Hell? If I believed you...which would require that you have substantial evidence of these things, then I'd have to give some serious thought to it. What about you? What if what the Bible says is correct? What if God does judge the righteous and the unrighteous (as defined by him, not us). What if there is a Heaven and a Hell? (I'm not trying to paraphrase Pascal and the limitations of his wager–simply responding to your inquiry.) Would you reject it without further investigation because you believe it to be a myth, or would you want to find out–really investigate from all sources–whether the evidence merits a belief worth following? The ball is in your court.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • o.k.

      Really–fair response. Perhaps I should define my use of "hope." The "hope" I have, which you don't appear to have, is the hope that there is something greater than me that explains "why" (to whatever inquiry I may have–why this or that, why me or her, etc.). It is the hope that, after I die, there is something else–something that will be defined by what I believe and how I live (not either/or–both) now. I too, however, have a hope that can exist independent of faith, e.g., a hope that my children will live in a more peaceful plant, that they will have the same economic security that I have, etc. As for faith–I also have a faith in myself and my abilities–that faith is simply enhanced all the more so by the understanding (at least my understanding) that God is with me–because I have invited him to my life. There is no way to measure one's faith in oneself or his or her abilities with or without God. I can't say that I would have more, same or less faith in my abilities without God–I just know that they are enhanced, I simply can't articulate it any better.

      August 16, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • o.k.

      Really–sorry, love a good typo–that was supposed to say planet, not plant.

      August 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  18. mrgmorgan56

    A team of weak minded idiots.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Ed

      You sure? What information to you have access to that verifies your claim? If you are an example of a "strong-minded" person, you won't struggle to provide evidence, am I right?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  19. rt

    It's sanity and religion that aren't compatible.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  20. RCinSC

    Anti-Christians are so angry aren't they? If it makes you guys feel better then go ahead and blast away. You can waste your time being angry and self absorbed. You can bet that these young men and all of us developmentally challenged Christians could absolutely care less. So hunker down in your basement with your cheetos and enjoy the show. Fire away.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • mrgmorgan56

      You're a serious idiot.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Observer

      "angry and self-absorbed"?

      Which side advocates that you either do as they say or you deserve to burn in hell forever?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • pdough

      Wow...so many Christian haters on this thread. To all of you I say I feel sorry for you. By your angry comments, it's apparent you are lacking a spiritual foundation in your own lives. You therefore jealously resent and attack those who believe in a power higher than themselves for direction in life and strength to handle adversity. Understandably, there are those of you who may have been subjected to some form of abuse by Church leaders (read pedophile priests) and you have lost your faith. Understandible. But it's not the priests or Churches that make you Christian. Rather, it's your personal relationship with God and how you celebrate him on a daily basis that does.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Masher

      @ Observer "

      do as I say or burn in hell forever."

      If you want to pretend to be intellectual, you need to accurately represent your opponents. "MAYBE", extreme Taliban hold this sort of view, but you make yourself out to be dumb when you represent a nice team of Christian athletes this way. They are exactly that type of people we want working for us, marrying our daughters, teaching our kids, and as neighbors.

      You, on the other hand,...not so much.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.