Young volleyball players in Ukraine recently had the opportunity in early June to learn more about the sport they love from a special FCA team led by FCA President and CEO Shane Williamson. The bonus and the main message, however, was that the athletes were introduced to Jesus and His love for them.
Williamson and his family had the privilege of working alongside Ira Chorna of FCA Ukraine for the Kiev volleyball clinic. Chorna reported that 60 athletes, nine coaches, eight volunteers and seven FCA staff participated in the event in an effort to build relationships within the school that hosted the clinic, to meet new coaches and, of course, to serve the players and introduce them to Christ.
Williamson leaned on his previous experiences in coaching four FCA volleyball teams in Hartwell, Georgia—called P31, for Proverbs 31—consisting of 42 girls ages 8-13.
Williamson said his experience coaching—and specifically coaching volleyball—helped prepare him for his leadership role at FCA as well as for his time at the Ukraine volleyball clinic.
“Over the course of your life, God, through experiences and relationships, gives you different lenses in which you see Him, yourself and others,” Williamson said. “This helps us better serve the Lord’s purposes in our lives. I believe the relationships and experiences I have in coaching, and the different FCA roles in which I’ve served, help me to see more clearly how I am to serve FCA. The most humbling part of my role is representing those who serve the coaches and athletes of our world as FCA staff.
“As a coach, parent, player or fan, there are few in the world who are not directly impacted by sport,” Williamson continued. “The influence of the coach—other than parents—is the greatest adult figure of inspiration in millions of children’s lives daily. Billy Graham said, ‘A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime.’ This coach-to-player relationship has become even more critical for young people in single-parent homes. FCA’s ministry of ‘To and Through the Coach’ is a global opportunity that works in every culture and country.”
Chorna shared, “We wanted a clinic to be a first step to the FCA Huddles at this school. And, for now, we are planning to start a coaches’ breakfast in September. And that’s God’s win!”
Chorna said serving with Williamson allowed her to learn from another leader and see how and where inspiration is born.
“Shane is a great leader,” Chorna said. “At the volleyball clinic, he was a head coach and he was a leader for Coaches Huddles. Shane inspired the coaches, not only at their professional side but also at the spiritual side—just sharing how sport and faith goes together. Even a few weeks after the event, coaches remembered the way how Shane coached, how patient he was and that he really cares. During the Coaches Huddle time, each coach had a chance to ask Shane questions. And after the sessions, Shane encouraged coaches personally.”
Volleyball has a long history in Ukraine, with deep roots in the former Soviet Union. In fact, many Soviet coaches would coach through fear in trying to capture athletes’ hearts, Chorna said. So mixing sports with Christ’s love and grace was a welcomed change.
“At the last day of Camp, we had a big Huddle where Shane shared the gospel,” Chorna recalled. “It was very powerful, and parents were there as well. In the end, a few kids went to their Huddle leaders with questions, and some parents were interested as well and asked us if they could come again. A few weeks after, we also met one of the athletes, and he had the bracelet we gave him at the volleyball clinic. I asked, ‘Do you remember what that symbol means?’ He said, ‘I remember the most important: Jesus came and paid a price for me so I can be free.’”
The FCA volleyball clinic was the first of its kind in Ukraine, Chorna said, and with its success, others—God willing—may be planned for the future.
“Through this I see God, and believe it wasn’t the last time!” Chorna said. “There are a few more ideas how we can serve this school and maybe it could grow to all-city.”
Organizers weren’t the only ones impacted by the clinic.
“What an example of coaching Shane showed to us, love in eyes and heart,” said one volleyball coach who participated. “He really cares about kids, we need to do the same,” while a parent of one of the athletes added, “This clinic was like a new fresh breath for my kid. Let’s do it again. They need it.”
Chorna asked that the FCA community would pray along with her team that the coaches’ breakfast at the school where the clinic was held will become a reality.
“Please pray for open hearts of coaches and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.”