Paul Putz

‘Tis the season for end-of-the-year book lists. Earlier this month I decided to join the fun by conducting an informal survey of people connected in various ways to our Faith & Sports Institute network. I limited my list to twenty-five people and I tried to represent a variety of roles and perspectives, ranging from scholars and sports ministry leaders to coaches and athletes. Here’s how I made my request:

I’m collecting end-of-the-year book recommendations from Christians involved in sports for the Faith & Sports Blog. Is there one especially good book you’ve read this year that is either related to sports or that is particularly helpful in sports contexts? It doesn’t have to be a brand-new book, just something you read in 2020.

Below are the responses. As you can see, some people included a brief explanation for their choice, and some included more than one book. Browse through and let us know if you would add anything to the list. You might find some new reading material too!

Mike Austin
Professor of Philosophy, Eastern Kentucky University

Book: Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography.  Mike’s explanation: “I love the insight into life at the elite level of sport, where often it seemed like the joy of sport just wasn’t there. He says, numerous times, that he hates tennis. But to see a redemptive arc for the sport, to a degree, and for the man, to a much greater degree, was very good.”

Ed Jones
Director of Player Development, University of Kansas Football

Books: Jason Romano, The Uniform of Leadership: Lessons on True Success from My ESPN Life; John Maxwell, How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

Diane Vampatella
Sports Chaplain, Athletes in Action

Book: Michele Weldon, Escape Points: A Memoir. Diane’s explanation: “All of the author’s sons wrestled at a highly competitive level, and her experiences as a single mom doing whatever it took to support them provides her readers with a peek into the lives of many young athletes (and their families). Her need for help in raising them as their toxic father floated in and out of their lives was met by their coach, whose commitment to his athletes exemplified the healthiest of coaching mindsets. Her account is real and raw, but infused with grit and gratitude.”

John Vaughn
Executive Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church

Books: Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts, Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcom X; Etan Thomas, We Matter: Athletes and Activism. John’s explanation: “Though not overtly a faith and sports book, he [Etan Thomas] is a Christian and there are some good interviews where athletes discuss their faith. He also interviewed people who have lost family members at the hands of law enforcement and white vigilantes.”

Roger Lipe
Sports Chaplain and Character Coach, Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Book: Barry Zito, Curveball: How I Discovered True Fulfillment After Chasing Fortune and Fame. Roger’s explanation: “I highly recommend reading this book. It is candid, vulnerable, and insightful re: performance based identity in sportspeople.”

Chad Carlson
Professor of Kinesiology, Hope College

Book: Kurt Edward Kemper, Before March Madness: The Wars for the Soul of College Basketball. Chad’s explanation: “This book isn’t about the Christian faith at all, but it is a really nice exposition of the ways in which the NCAA came to be what it is today.”

Editor’s note: Check out the excellent new website that Chad helped to launch focused on the intersection of sports and Christianity:

Marcus Sedberry
Senior Associate Athletic Director, Baylor University

Book: Todd Gongwer, Lead . . . for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership. Marcus’s explanation: “I’m much more of a professional/personal development guy. The one book I have read that has some sports references is Lead…for God’s Sake.”

Aviry Reich
Counselor and Athlete Mental Health Advocate

Book: Nick Foles, Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds. Aviry’s explanation: “It was published in 2018, and he wrote it after winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles. The book is about his journey as a person/athlete, and the ups and downs he has experienced personally, spiritually, and athletically. I really enjoyed it, and I think someone who is a Christian athlete would find it to be an engaging and meaningful read.”

Chris Hobbs
Director of Athletics, The Kings Academy

Books: Jordan Raynor, Master of One: Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do. Chris’s explanation: “A great read on the Biblical mandate to be excellent which requires focus on a few things.” John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Chris’s explanation: “A product of the Dallas Willard tree, it’s a convicting read on how carelessly we fill our lives with things that don’t matter.”

John Maurer
Associate Chaplain/Director of Sports Ministry, Baylor Athletics

Books: Dane Ortland, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers; Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope

Tracy Hanson
Retired LPGA Pro and founder of The Tracy Hanson Initiative

Books: Lisa Fenn, Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family; Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Jessika Caldwell
Head Girls Basketball Coach, Valor Christian High School

Book: Jess Connelly, You Are the Girl for the Job: Daring to Believe the God Who Calls You. Jessika’s explanation: “Although not a sports book, this spoke strongly to my heart to live out the calling that I believe the Lord placed on my life. I especially love her ability to challenge my thinking in terms of believing my calling is related to my capacity. Rather, ‘it has everything to do with His capacity and our willingness.’ I think this book would speak to many women in coaching or sport careers!”

Kevin Washington
Director of Player Development, University of Texas Football

Book: Ed Welch, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? Answers to the Big Questions of Life. Kevin’s explanation: “It’s a re-write of another one of his works, When People Are Big & God Is Small, but written for teenagers and to be more concise. Definitely practical for athletes I believe.”

Brian Smith
Author and Sports Ministry Leader, Athletes in Action

Book: Chad Simpson, The Freshman: 15 Lessons to Ace the Next Semester of Your Life. Brian’s explanation: “Simpson’s spiritual fable does an outstanding job of giving practical application for athletes looking to grow in their faith within the context of sports.”

Editor’s note: Check out Brian’s website, where you can find his writing and resources for Christian athletes and coaches.

Keith Wahl
Assistant Athletic Director and Head Baseball & Softball Coach, Valor Christian High School

Book: Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World. Keith’s explanation: “What Goff does brilliantly is this – he tells a story and then connects it to Jesus. Every chapter is that easy. He’s simply saying, ‘This story from my life is like this idea from Jesus.’ It’s awesome.”

Brandon Crooms
Ph.D. Student in Physical Education, The University of Texas

Book: William Rhoden, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.

Art Remillard
Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Wolf-Kuhn Ethics Institute, Saint Francis University

Books: Louis Moore, We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality; Lane Demas, Game Of Privilege: An African American History Of Golf

Jay Sedwick
Student-Athlete, Baylor University Football

Book: Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World

Drew van Esselstyn
Director of the Virginia Capital Region, Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Books: John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Drew’s explanation: “Picked it up within the first month of COVID, and it has largely shaped my mindset for much of this year’s chaos and swirling, spiritually and mentally.” Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. Drew’s explanation: “Simple, allegorical and exceptionally poignant in this mysterious world that is so addicted to comfort and norms. That’s me, too.”

Stewart Hardy
Co-Founder, All In Sports Outreach

Book: Todd Gongwer, Lead . . . for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership

Joel Hueser
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Papillion-La Vista South High School

Books: Craig Groeschel, Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus Was Never Meant to Be Safe; Pat Williams, Character Carved in Stone: The 12 Core Virtues of West Point That Build Leaders and Produce Success; Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Brandon Matthews
Assistant Athletic Director and Head Girls Basketball Coach, Pike Liberal Arts School

Books: Jason Romano, The Uniform of Leadership: Lessons on True Success from My ESPN Life; J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer

Taneka Rubin
Professional Basketball Player and Author

Book: Taneka’s explanation: “I actually have a book I released this year that speaks to athletes from the Christian perspective. It’s titled Winners Win: Unlocking the Potential to Live Your God-Given Dreams.”

Logan Simmons
Assistant Football Coach, Lampasas High School

Book: Todd Gongwer, Lead . . . for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership.

Editor’s note: Logan included eight other books on his list, but this was the only one marked as “highly recommended.” Hit him up on Twitter if you’d like the rest of his list!

Anthony Maranise
Religion Instructor, St. Ann Catholic School

Books: Terry Frei, March 1939: Before the Madness—The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions; Chad Carlson, Making March Madness: The Early Years of the NCAA, NIT, and College Basketball Championships, 1922-1951; Larry Haeg, St. Benedict’s Rule for Fair Play in Sports 

Faith & Sports Institute/Truett Sports Ministry Staff and Student Recommendations

Editor’s Note: These recommendations come from John White, Cindy White, Elizabeth Bounds, Brian Gamel, Shelby Livingstone, Abby Lee, Joshua Ehambe, MK Harrah and me (Paul Putz). 

What books did you read and enjoy in 2020? Let us know on Twitter what you’d add to the list!