How to Do a Team Talk

Whether your local high school campus consists of a few hundred students or a few thousand, the prospect of trying to share Jesus with every student on that campus can seem overwhelming. How can we maximize our time and energy and connect as many students as possible to the life-changing love of Jesus?

One strategy is to recognize that on any campus, students tend to spend a significant amount of time operating within smaller “natural groups”- groups of students connected by common interests or activities. On most high school campuses, team sports provide some of the most interconnected relationships, as teammates spend hours each week practicing, training, and competing together.

As a result, team outreaches can often be incredibly fruitful in connecting with dozens of students at once as well as building a relational bridge between that team, students, and leaders in your movement. One time-tested strategy for reaching high school sports teams is “team talks.”

In a team talk, a Cru leader will offer to give a short (usually 10-15 minutes) secular motivational talk for the team before or after practice. The talks are designed to add value to the team and serve the coach. If the coach allows, the Cru leader then invites the team out for a voluntary meeting where food will be provided and the leader can share more about the spiritual side of the issue. Because it is a voluntary meeting, legally, the leader can bring up spiritual things, including sharing the gospel.

In this article, we hope to provide an overview of how you can use a team talk to reach athletes on your campus. It is also worth noting that we will be emphasizing how to prepare a team talk with an athletic team in mind. But the principles in this article could also be creatively applied to reach a variety of natural groups on your campus (clubs, theater, band, etc.).

When planning a team talk, there are a few key priorities to keep in mind:

  • Build trust with coaches.
  • Demonstrate care by meeting a real need.
  • Remember how the team talk fits into the big picture.
  • Be prepared for the next step.

On any campus, students tend to spend a significant amount of time operating within smaller “natural groups”-smaller groups of students connected by common interests or activities.

Build Trust with Coaches

Before we ever stand in front of a team, we need to earn the trust of the coaches. Coaches are the gatekeepers of the team, and they have been entrusted with the safety and well-being of their players. If you have been serving on campus for a while, hopefully, you have established yourself as a part of the campus community and gained some trust among the staff members at that school. If you are new to the campus, it will be important to introduce yourself to the coach and make a good first impression.

Ideally, it is best when another member of the campus community is able to make the introduction. This could be a player on the team, a parent, or another coach or teacher. Do your best to work around the coach’s schedule and arrange to meet at a time and location that is convenient for them. This is often just before or after practice or during a planning period if they are also a teacher on campus. It is best not to show up unannounced, so have your mutual contact coordinate the meeting if possible, or send a brief email to introduce yourself and coordinate the meeting.

Once you have the opportunity to meet with the coach, introduce yourself and explain that you are looking to serve students on the campus in a variety of ways. Explain that one way Cru has been serving student-athletes across the country for several decades is through “team talks,” covering a variety of relevant topics designed to encourage and inspire teams toward greater success on the field and greater unity in the locker room. If you have done a team talk with another team before, it could also be helpful to have that coach write a letter of recommendation explaining how the team talk was a benefit to their program.

Discuss with the coach what he or she thinks is the biggest need for their team at the moment. What challenges are they facing? Where would the coach like to see growth on the team? Where do they need encouragement? This will be very helpful for you in selecting, or creating, a team talk to speak directly to those needs.

It is also important to be up-front with coaches so that the team talk will address whatever needs you decide on together. At the end of the talk, students will be invited to a second, voluntary event where they can learn about other ways Cru seeks to serve students on campus. At this second event, students who are interested can learn more about the ways Cru can help them develop the spiritual side of their lives through mentoring, Bible studies, camps, and more.

On most high school campuses, team sports provide some of the most interconnected relationships, as teammates spend hours each week practicing, training, and competing together.

Provide a Helpful Service Meeting a Real Need

As we mentioned above, we are truly seeking to serve the school community by meeting the real needs of the campus. During your meeting with the coach, you will gain valuable insight into the current realities of the team. It will be important that the team talk speaks to those needs and provides a valuable service in the eyes of the coaches and players. Over the years, Cru has developed a handful of team talks that you can use, or adapt, to address the needs expressed by the coach.

While you do not need to be a professional speaker, it is very important to be prepared and confident in your presentation. So prepare well and be sure to honor the time agreed upon by you and the coach. This will communicate value to the team and lend credibility to the ministry. It will also prevent your presentation from becoming a distraction to the message.

In some situations, it may be possible to bring in a speaker with presentation experience and/or some experience related to the team you are meeting with. This could be a current or former college or professional athlete, a well-known coach, or another person of influence with a greater level of instant credibility. This is not always possible, but when it is, it can sometimes provide greater access or increased receptivity when coordinating and presenting the team talk.

As simple as it may sound, it can also be helpful to bring some sort of “treat” for players to enjoy during the team talk. This could be sports drinks, water, popsicles, etc. This simple gesture communicates that you are there to bless the team, not just push them toward your own agenda. Plus, who doesn’t love a popsicle?

It is so important to stick to the agreed-upon time for presenting. Today’s high school athletes have rigorous and demanding schedules, and coaches are often reluctant to give up practice time unless they see the alternative as adding value to their program. By preparing well and sticking to the allotted time, you can meet a real need, honor the other commitments of the team, and hopefully win favor with players and coaches.

Remember How the Team Talk Fits Into the Big Picture

When giving a team talk, it is important to remember that this is not the time to share the gospel or begin spiritual conversations. While Cru remains committed to sharing the gospel at the earliest opportunity, it is important to recognize that when working in public high schools, there are certain considerations we must take into account. Team talks typically take place in a “mandatory” setting, such as a practice, in which the entire team is required to participate. In this setting, it is important that we honor the legal and cultural expectations of the school. In this type of setting, we are not allowed to share our faith or engage students in spiritual conversations. To do so would violate laws and could place you, team coaches, Cru, or others at risk.

Team talks must be non-spiritual in nature. Occasionally, we may utilize quotes from famous athletes and players who are followers of Jesus. The speaker may briefly allude to some spiritual experience as part of their story. But overall, the content of the team talk needs to align with the agreed-upon topic, and honor the boundaries established by the law.

The hope is that as a result of the team talk, players will attend a voluntary second event planned in the very near future. At this second event, the speaker, a player or coach, or someone else can share more about how Jesus has made an impact in their life as an athlete and a person. The gospel can be shared clearly, and students can learn more ways to connect with their local Cru movement.

This is a critical distinction to maintain between the two events. When done well, we can continue to have favor with school officials, bless and interact with far more students, and stay true to our vision and mission to build spiritual movements, so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.

There are literally millions of high school athletes in our country, many of whom have not yet surrendered their lives to Jesus and experienced His love.

Be Prepared for the Next Step

Speaking of this second, voluntary event, it will be important that much of the legwork for that event is completed before you give the team talk. At the conclusion of your team talk, you will want to be able to invite the players to the follow-up event. You will want the event to take place in the very near future, while relational connection and focused interest are at their highest. Strike while the iron is hot!

It will be important to determine:

  • Who will be sharing?
    This can be the same speaker from the team talk or someone different. It is often a good idea to have a student-athlete who is on the team and involved with Cru share during this event, as well.
  • Where and when will the event take place?
    As mentioned previously, you will want this second event to take place very shortly after the team talk. In most cases, no more than a few days should pass between the two events. The second event will typically take place off campus. If you have a student whose family is willing to host, that can be a great option, especially if that student has a good reputation among his or her teammates. If not, nearby restaurants, coffee shops, the locker room, or even a local church with a comfortable fellowship area can be good options.
  • What can students expect?
    In addition to the time and location, students will want to know what to expect. Will there be food provided? How long will it last? Think about the questions you would be asking if you were in the student’s shoes, and make sure you have as many answers as possible to address their concerns.
  • Prepare comment cards for the team talk.
    Comment cards can be an extremely effective tool for gathering feedback and critical contact information from students. A simple comment card could include questions such as the following:
    • What was one thing you will take away from today’s talk? What was most helpful for you?
    • What question or concern would you be interested in hearing about at a future team talk?
    • Would you be interested in receiving a text reminding you about the follow-up event on _____?
    • If, so please provide your name and phone number.
    • Any additional comments or questions?

So now that you understand the key steps to giving a team talk, pray and ask the Lord what team He would have you reach out to first. Then, go for it! There are literally millions of high school athletes in our country, many of whom have not yet surrendered their lives to Jesus and experienced His love. A team talk could be just the tool God uses to bring them into His family and change their lives forever!

Next Step

What team do you have contact with through students, parents, or teachers? Ask one of them to introduce you to the coach and offer a team talk. 4 Characteristics of Successful Teams is a good option to present to a coach.

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