Jeff Clark has been on the coaching staff at IWU for 10 years, serving currently as the Associate Head Coach.
“Repeating a championship is the hardest thing to do in sports.”
It’s a line we have heard many times this offseason, and it’s been attributed to multiple Hall of Fame Coaches.
In his book about the Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls ‘Playing for Keeps’ David Halberstam talked about the pressure that comes with success. “The more you won, the more the pressures against sustaining success grew—not just from other teams that wanted what you had and came at you with even greater determination, but from the forces on your own team produced by that very same success. Success almost always creates a greater need for individual recognition. Everyone wants a greater part of the glory. Egos that had been suppressed at least partially during the original championship assault surface.”
Pat Riley called it "the disease of more," arguing that success was often "the first step toward disaster" as each member of a championship team started to look out for their own interests rather than the interests of others.
We just call it the 'elephant in the room' and we are deciding to attack it head on. Rather than pretending like the pressure isn’t there, we went straight to the source we always go to when we are looking for answers for our next steps—the Bible.
What we found as we opened the Word doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface. The path for us to become bigger and better is for each person in our locker room to get smaller and weaker!
Confused? Like everything else that our program is built upon, the insight we found goes against our human nature and what culture puts in front of us as ideal.
We aren’t claiming to have all the answers, and we are not giving a Pat Riley guarantee of a repeated championship. But we do know that if we aren't growing as a program, than we will definitely getting passed. We want to invite you along for the ride through this blog, and allow you to hear from the coaches and players in real time as we try to grow bigger and better.
The ride to becoming bigger and better is starting for our team. Will you join us in the journey of getting smaller and weaker?
Buckle up, and check back often for updates!
Jonny Marlin is entering his first season on the IWU Coaching Staff after being named a 1st Team All American in each of his two seasons for the Wildcats.
If we want to become bigger and better, then I need to get smaller and weaker.
One way I am called to get smaller is by following Christ in obedience, because when we bow in obedience, we rise in God’s blessing.
If we look at Scripture, God often asked people to step out of their comfort zone, go against the status quo, and be bold in their faith. Not surprisingly, God honored these acts of obedience. We see the promises in Deuteronomy 28:1-2 proven true in the life of Noah, Abraham, Paul, Peter, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the list could go on.
As encouraging as all those stories are, it is easy to question whether those examples are only from the past or if we can expect the same God in the Bible to move in miraculous ways today. The answer is a resounding yes! God is the same as He was back then and He is able and willing to move in big ways today if we will follow Him.
Our God honors obedience! Our God receives honor and glory when we do so too. These past few months, our team has already begun setting a pattern of obedience in reading, worshipping, and hearing God’s voice, and I expect it to continue throughout the season. I know starting this week that there will be stories from our team that are unexplainable without the existence of God.
Our team began to experience this in June. We dove in to the Word as a team as we began to look at Biblical examples of getting smaller and weaker. One of the coolest stories happened this summer after the team did a devotional on the topic of bowing in obedience. That same week, Lane Mahurin’s wife, Taylor, felt a nudge from the Lord to write an encouraging note to someone expressing their worth. Little did she know, this person was dealing with suicidal thoughts and was planning to kill himself that day when they read Taylor’s note. Her encouraging words were exactly what was needed!
Taylor gave our team a real life example of the importance of obedience. Taylor had no idea this person was contemplating ending their life, so she could have easily made an excuse or avoided the nudge and stayed inside her comfort zone. Instead, she allowed God to speak, and then she took a step of action toward what she felt God was asking her to do.
I can’t wait to see our team learn this truth in greater ways this week in the Dominican Republic. God may not save a life every time we follow Him, but there is no doubt that every time we get smaller by bowing in obedience that God will honor it in greater ways than we can ask or imagine!
Ethan Whaley has been an assistant coach at IWU for 6 years.
If we are going to become bigger and better, then I need to get smaller and weaker.
As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” While that sounds great in theory, it has always left me wondering, ‘How am I supposed to be weak without sacrificing all the gifts God has given me?’
Aaron Murray showed me what this looked like for a basketball team last year in the national championship game. I could even argue we would not have won a National Championships if he wasn’t willing to be weak!
With under ten minutes in the game and our team holding an eight point lead, Aaron checked in to the game. A foul was called almost as soon as he was in, and while both teams lined up along the free throw line, Aaron frantically tugged on his jersey. The staff looked at each other confused, because this is the sign that our players give when they need to be taken out for fatigue. As Aaron ran to the bench and sat down, he explained that our opponent had subbed in a guard for their post player, and he wouldn’t be able to match up well with anyone on the defensive end. He explained to us with a sense of urgency that ‘we NEED a stop on this next possession!’
Most post players would have tried to match up with the worst shooter and stayed on the floor—why wouldn’t they?! It’s their time to shine! Not Aaron. He understood his ‘limitations’ when it came to containing quicker guards. He knew that our best chance to get a stop was if we brought in a better perimeter defender. With an eight point lead, it may have been easy to take that next play for granted, but when we looked back after we won the game by a single possession, the stop we got that next play turned out to be critical! We’ll never know what would have happened if Aaron had stayed on the floor. What we do know, in a world of ‘me-first’ athletes who love to show off their strength, Aaron was willing to make the team stronger by recognizing his weakness and a championship was a by-product.
We see this pattern in Scripture with another man who made himself weak—John the Baptist. To give some context, this is a man who was on the highest pedestal in ministry in his day. If he were preaching in today’s generation, he would be more transcendent than famous preachers like Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, or Tim Keller!
In fact, in Matthew 11, Jesus proclaims “of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.” If Jesus was saying that about me, I probably would have been trying to show off to everyone how great I was!
In John 3, a Pharisee named Nicodemus is trying to stir up trouble with John by asking, ‘Why is everyone going to be baptized by Jesus? Is your baptism not as cleansing as His?”
John responded with the humility it takes to recognize weakness. “I’m doing the best I can with what I have been given. I am not the Christ, so no, my baptisms aren’t as cleansing as His.”
He goes onto say, “I am not the Christ, I am just the one who has been set before Christ to pave the way and prepare the hearts for Him.” As if that wasn’t enough, John gives the ultimate statement of humility, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
Such powerful acts of humility leave no doubt as to why I need to grow weaker. Becoming weaker doesn’t mean I need to stop improving. It simply means to recognize my weaknesses and limitations apart from Christ. Apart from Christ I am nothing, but through him I am strong!
Greg Tonagel is entering his 12th season as the Head Coach at Indiana Wesleyan, where he has twice been named NAIA National Coach of the Year.
If we want to become bigger and better, than I need to get smaller and weaker.
Psalm 146 promises, “the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” When we kneel in prayer, we can change the course of history!
Over the years, one of the greatest areas of change within our organization has been the way in which we pray. We used to talk to God whereas now we focus on talking with God. We used to ask for things, now we find ourselves mostly asking for Him. My focus was on expanding my kingdom, now I'm praying His kingdom advances through our work.
To be honest, sometimes I used to wonder if my prayers mattered. After all, isn't God sovereign? Does he really need my participation to get things done? Well, I do believe that we can't do God's part but I also believe that He won't do our part. Yes, that means you and I have an important role to fulfill and it cannot be done without prayer.
Here's the narrative-- God stirs our hearts, we respond in prayer and he accomplishes something in and through us that only happened through our prayers. We've seen this pattern on the hardwood. The coach motivates his players, they respond by listening and the team accomplishes something great.
God's been stirring our hearts at IWU over the years. We have responded by praying over our recruiting efforts. I've learned God is much better at knowing who to bring to our team than I am.
We pray for donors and those who would want to enhance this experience. We've learned God has connections.
We fast and pray for true transformation in our players lives. I know you are not supposed to talk about fasting, however, I'm sure glad a man talked with me about it years ago because it's been an absolute game changer for our program. Coaches aren't the only ones in the game--in preparation for the upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic, players are fasting in various areas of media, technology and meals. Talk about an example for us all that the path to bigger and better starts with becoming weaker and smaller.
And what has been the result of all this? Two National Championships in the past three years tell only a fraction of the story. God is at work accomplishing things here that only happen through prayer!
How's God stirring your heart? How should you respond in prayer to see him accomplish something bigger and better?!