- How many years have you been coaching basketball and football? Please note which teams: Bobcats, Bearcats, Razorbacks.
This is my sixth year as head coach for high school boys basketball. Time flies! My first year I coached the FA Bobcats, and now I’m in the fifth year of the FAM Bearcats program. I also spent the last two seasons as head coach for the Razorbacks high school football team.
- Tell us about your experiences
I’m in my sixth year coaching high school sports. Prior to moving to South Dakota, I helped coach college football for one year as assistant offensive positions coach. In college I played two years of football before a neck injury forced me to the sidelines. I continued to be a part of the team and athletic department throughout college, helping out with the football and soccer teams, taking stats for all varsity sports, and helping as an assistant athletic director. I graduated with a degree in Mathematics and a minor in Business Administration with a secondary education endorsement. In high school, I was a three-sport athlete competing in football, basketball, and track.
- After six years of coaching here, how has your perspective or approach changed over time?
I’ve definitely matured in every aspect of my coaching. I’ve learned so much just from experience and the everyday occurrences when working with student athletes, but I’ve also worked hard to better myself through coaching clinics, watching other more experienced coaches and trying to learn and emulate from what they do, reading and watching great coaches discuss the game and their approach to coaching, and listening and reflecting on my own experiences. In the end though, my passion still remains focused on the same thing: create a safe, positive learning environment where a student is able to practice, compete, succeed, fail, grow, and learn the game of basketball
- Sports programs are geared for athletes to develop their skills, but what about faith?
A person’s faith journey doesn’t start or stop depending on where they are, what they are doing, or who they are with—a person’s faith is a part of who they are. To be in tune with your faith, to be rooted in faith, means that it should be an active part of guiding decision making, thought process, attitude, and motivation in all you do. So as the team works together towards a common goal, as a player pushes themselves to improve, their faith is pushed, stretched, tested, grown, and strengthened at the same time. Being on a team can be easy when things are going well, but every person and every team goes through times of trial, and this is where faith can be tested. What or who will we turn to when times are hard?
- Please share a favorite basketball coaching memory from on or off the court.
To me, the best memories, the ones that last the longest, are the friendships and relationships formed on the team. Sure, there are games and moments that stick out to me, but the one thing I value more than anything are the lifelong bonds made with the team members.
- You feel strongly about great grades and great athletic experiences. Where does that passion come from? Why are athletics this important for young men?
My passion is driven by my desire to be the best person I can be each and every day, no matter what. I strive for excellence in all I do, and this comes from my desire to live my life as a constant prayer, trying to live in tune with God’s call and follow the example set by Jesus in all I do, spreading Jesus’ unconditional love. I want to share this love of life with the athletes, to help them learn how to walk in tune with their own faith and instill a passion for life through the love and teachings of Christ. Out of this comes a desire to be the best they can be: in school, in the community, at home, at work, in athletics. And this in turn will hopefully translate into an ability to set, strive for, and achieve goals they set throughout their lives be it family, career, education, or athletic goals.
Austin Unruh, Freeman Academy’s boys basketball coach, shares his thoughts about faith on the court:
“At a young age and continuing through today, I have been exposed to the positive side of athletics and its ability to create powerful bonds between people,” Unruh said at chapel. “It’s been the work and love of Christ in action in my life.”
Unruh told students about his successes and defeats when he was in their shoes, playing as a student at a small school in Kansas. “I was able to experience the power of God’s love through my shared experiences with my family and friends, in this case through the lens of athletics,” he said, referring to the power of Christian mentoring. “My parents, coaches, teachers, and other community leaders clearly had this mission in mind from the onset, and they shaped me into the person I am today.”
“Now as I have moved from the playing side to the coaching side, I am striving to do the same: to create a safe, positive, loving environment where all of you are free to do the things I was able to do: play, work, sweat, laugh, cry, and experience the joy of exercise and competition with friends and family around you,” Uhruh said.
Colossians 3:12-17 serves as Unruh’s guide for coaching and for life in general, he told students. “These verses challenge the mainstream notion of athletics, a notion that is driven by the desire to win at all costs, the inflating of one’s own self-image at the expense of others, and doing whatever is necessary to achieve success. But Paul challenges us to ‘clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’”
Unruh was transparent as he continued, “One way I seek to follow Christ is to live my life as a constant prayer to God, trying my best to listen to his direction and follow the example of Jesus in all I do. This is why I find it hard to talk about faith, discipleship, and athletics: it can be so easy, especially in the heat of the moment, to get caught up in what is going on and lose grasp of the larger picture. So much of athletics is counterintuitive to [God’s] message of love. It can be so easy to shed our compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and trade it in for revenge, pride, and arrogance. I will be the first to admit that it is not an easy thing to do. I know I definitely struggle myself sometimes.
“It is my challenge to you, as disciples of God, to take these verses and live them out, even in the heat of competition,” Unruh concluded. “It is our goal, our mission, as disciples of God, in all we do, whether word or deed, to do it in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God.”