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Coach Profile Q&A: Bryon O'Brien

Published on June 20, 2024


This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue 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.

Byron O’Brien has coached for more than 28 years, building deep relationships with community rec leagues, churches and school districts in Fayette and Tipton counties in Tennessee.

As O’Brien began serving with FCA in FCA Sports, he saw God move in the counties through club teams and the formation of leagues. Now, FCA Sports is taking the greater Memphis area by storm, with six church partners and leagues in football, softball, soccer and basketball. O’Brien has big dreams for further development of the leagues, partnering with the local public school system to expand programs in the counties and access their athletic facilities. There’s even talk of starting developmental programs in elementary schools.

But the road for O’Brien has not been smooth. When he started losing feeling in his arm in November 2022, he began a journey to discover troubling medical issues while still focusing on ministry. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in November, O’Brien has come face to face with difficult realities, holding to the Lord while still investing in FCA and making the most of every day.

Q: How has FCA impacted your coaching and faith?
I started coaching youth baseball at 20 years old, and early in my faith, like every coach, my focus was to win. As I began to grow in my faith, competition didn't change, but what began to change were my goals in what victory was. I would say in the last eight years, getting connected with FCA was really when that transformation changed to not just fundamentals of the sport, but fundamentals of life and helping players and coaches understand that the victories off the field are much longer lasting than the victories on the field.

z7quggogQ: What were some challenges you faced as a coach?
The hardest year I ever had to coach was when I was coaching high school baseball and working toward coming on staff at FCA. I really had to change my perspective of not just being a coach that was a Christian, but being a Christian that coached and how my behavior changed. It was difficult in that season [thinking], I can’t destroy my testimony, and [being concerned about] how I react and respond to things.

Then two seasons later, I brought in a coach to take my spot as head coach and transitioned to assistant coach while I was coming on staff with FCA. It was difficult for the players I had coached for so many years to now redirect that leadership to somebody else. It was only by the grace of God and having a Christlike spirit to be able to humble myself and say [to the new head coach], “Look, you’re called to this. Don't let me be in your way. I’m here to help.”

Q: What value has FCA brought to your league and clubs?
One of the most powerful tools we have with FCA is 360 Coach. In our community with FCA Sports, we require coaches to go through 360 Coach, and for most of them, it’s like a light bulb comes on of, “Wow, this is more than just teaching a game; it’s making an impact on somebody’s life.” I have yet to meet a coach that’s gone through it and not come back to me and said, “This has changed my entire perspective on how I coach and what it means to coach.”

Q: How have you seen the value and impact of FCA Sports in your community?
Between our leagues, we have 35 teams. We have almost 300 athletes alone participating in our basketball program. And we have the blessing of local church partners coming alongside us, offering their spaces to play in. Every week, we have a Huddle with our players and walk through FCA material, whether it’s the annual theme or the CORE. We are intentional for evangelism or discipleship. We’ve seen lives changed and students come to faith in Christ through our FCA Sports program.

Q: What does it look like for you personally to be renewed in Jesus for daily living?
What I’m going through right now is a prime example of one day, that"What I'm going through right now is a prime example of one day, that athleticism, that competitiveness that you're so tied to, is going to be stripped away. It's nature. We will lose the ability to compete, but our faith will always be there." 
-Bryon O'Brien
athleticism, that competitiveness that you’re so tied to, is going to be stripped away. It’s nature. We will lose the ability to compete, but our faith will always be there.

Toward the beginning of the year, I try to really saturate myself in Psalm 51. David’s heart is broken, he knows he’s sinned against God, and David is praying to God that He will restore him. What makes David the man after God’s heart is the fact that he was repentant. He asked God to cleanse his heart. As I’m going through this ALS battle, I think it’s good for us to reflect on our life and take an inventory—see what we’ve stored up [that] we might need to let go of, or if there’s anything more beneficial to add to our days.

Q: What has God been teaching you in this season of life?
I think the biggest thing God’s teaching me is faithfulness. Honestly, I don’t know how someone could go through this disease without faith and without a faith family. Life is short; we’re not promised tomorrow. We’re not promised the rest of the day. In July 2022, my family went on vacation, and we hiked 150 miles. Now, I can’t walk, my right arm is completely paralyzed and having a conversation is like running a marathon. Seeing everything you worked hard for—to be Superman to your kids, being self-sufficient and fixing anything in the house that breaks—to have that gone in a matter of a year and people come cut your grass and do things for you, God’s faithfulness to provide through this has been what I’ve had to cling to. All He asked me to do was to give Him glory.

But what I hold on to as well is that my fight is not over. One thing about being a United States Marine is that we never retreated from battle. I can’t retreat; I won’t give up. Even as my body is deteriorating, I can invest in people as much as I can. I can pray for people. Colossians 3:23-24 [says], “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.”

Bryon passed away in April 2024 after a courageous and inspiring battle with ALS. His legacy continues in the lives of the coaches, athletes, and communities he impacted with his kindness, love, and service like Jesus.


Photos courtesy of Bryon O'Brien
Donor publication page 22.