This article appears in the Fall 2022 edition of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.
Here they come, the children in their matching kits, running toward open expanses of turf.
They come by the dozens, hundreds and thousands--from all directions and all stations in life. Girls and boys. Young and younger. Black and white. Rich and poor. They flock to fields of green.
These are the next-generation rugby players in South Africa, a nation transfixed with the sport. Four years ago, a South African man named Christo Spies attended an FCA Camp in Zambia and caught a vision of how FCA’s Gospel-centered sports influence could affect generations to come. What followed was a strategy—one that expanded divinely during a global pandemic—to reach coaches in South Africa. It’s a story only God could author.
God is using rugby to reach coaches and athletes in South Africa—and all over the world. Rugby’s global popularity is growing. Rugby sevens (seven players per team on the field) was added to the Summer Olympics in 2016. The sport is gaining a bigger foothold in America too, especially at the collegiate level. The U.S. was awarded host status for the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2031 and the women’s cup in 2033. In 2018, Major League Rugby launched as a professional North American league with 12 teams in the U.S. and one in Toronto.
Still, to truly marinate in the game and its passions, you must travel to European countries such as England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Or to the South Pacific, where Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa all loom large in the sport. And also, of course, to South Africa. Rugby’s history there dates back to the first stages of British colonization in the early 1800s.
These days, in South African cities like Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria, you can’t throw an oblong ball in any direction without hitting a rugby fan. Hundreds of thousands of fans flock to stadiums each year to cheer on their favorite team. The Springboks, South Africa’s men’s national team, are the reigning Rugby World Cup champions, and South Africa is currently ranked third in the world.
“In some of the Afrikaans schools, they call it a religion,” Spies says.
Spies is the CEO of Sports for Christ Action South Africa (SCAS), a nonprofit based in Cape Town with a mission similar to FCA—to use sports to spread the good news of Christ.
After attending FCA Camp in Zambia in September 2018, Spies (and SCAS) became an FCA ministry partner, opening up significant cross-cultural opportunities.
In March 2020, Spies learned about FCA’s coaching ministry while attending FCA’s International Capacity Conference in Dubai. With FCA’s help, Spies and SCAS partnered with South Africa Rugby Union, the sport’s national body, to implement a new coaching strategy at all levels, including youth, shortly after the outbreak of COVID-19.
In South Africa, sports are played primarily at the school level, with the majority of coaches doubling as school teachers. It’s a tightknit coaching community, and word about a new coaching strategy spread quickly.
By summer 2021, 433 coaches had completed a 12-week program that included online weekly Huddles to watch and discuss the training videos. The response from coaches was “amazing,” according to Spies.
“They said it helps them in the classroom because the principles are the same. It’s getting to the hearts of their students.”
To make disciples who make disciples, Spies encouraged local coaches to continue using 360 Coach to engage with athletes in Huddles at their schools as in-person gatherings resumed. The biblically based model takes a holistic heart/mind/body approach to each athlete, highlighting spiritual growth.
The well-rounded framework of 360 Coach is attractive to local facilitators who want to go much deeper with their athletes than skill development alone.
“I realized only coaching the technical and tactical aspects to the athlete does not make them better performers,” said Pieter Terblanche, co-owner of Sports Coach Global in Durban and a sports performance specialist for The Sharks, a local professional rugby team. “The simple truth was, if I wanted to improve the athletes as a strength and conditioning specialist, I first needed to change the way I coach and equip coaches with the skills to impact athletes.”
AN EASY CHOICE
South Africa has an interesting religious history. A nation that was once dominated by traditional African religions has been significantly influenced by European settlement, starting in the mid-1600s. These days, a remarkable 81% of South Africans claim to be Christian, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center report. Yet as Spies notes, the majority of citizens “don’t read Bibles.”
“In Afrikaans culture, you’re sort of ‘born a Christian’ in traditional churches,” he says. “If you ask teams, 95% would say they’re Christian. Every team I’ve been with, we pray before the game. It’s a tradition. To say how many are believers, that’s really tough.”
"If we want the biggest and most consistent change in South Africa, FCA's 360 Coach is the way to go. It's a biblical approach to coaching the heart, mind and body, and it's an easy choice for our coaches."
-Coach Peter Terblanche The ministry has a long track record of creating unique, sports- related bridges into international communities to share the saving message of the Gospel and make disciples. Take, for instance, the story of Jaco Marias, a U-14 rugby coach in Potchefstroom. After Marias completed the coaching course during COVID-19, his team went undefeated and won its league. Meanwhile, he and his players hosted a praise and worship event at their school, and several students committed their lives to Christ. Marias, who has since been promoted to the school’s senior team, was asked to lead the mental development of all teams at the local institution.
“The whole school was impacted,” Terblanche said.
Spies and ministry partners are continuing to minister to coaches. They have planned a marriage retreat for coaches and their wives, and they’ve also given out FCA Coach’s Bibles to former Springboks players who completed the course and are now coaching.
“They couldn’t believe it,” Spies said. “They were in tears. That’s another support from FCA. The impact is much bigger than one can think.”
All across South Africa, the green playing fields continue to bustle and hum with energy, passion—and lots of scrums. There’s no telling what God will do there through 360 Coach in the coming years. But for men like Spies and Terblanche, it’s exciting to watch the work unfold.
“I’m convinced that Jesus Christ is the best coach and has impacted and equipped more people than anyone ever has—and ever will,” Terblanche said. “His ability to capture someone’s whole being—body, mind and spirit—is the foundation that 360 Coach is built on. So if we want the biggest and most consistent change in South Africa, FCA’s 360 Coach is the way to go. It’s a biblical approach to coaching the heart, mind and body, it’s an easy choice for our coaches.”
Learn more about 360 Coach at 360coach.fca.org!
Photos courtesy of FCA South Africa