A Unique Culture Leads to a Unique Ministry
Off-season weight training, futsal, and spring season are all things you would expect to find a NCAA DIII soccer program having during its off-season months.
For the Men’s Soccer Team at Maranatha Baptist University, the off-season looks pretty similar to other soccer programs across the U.S. in some ways, but with one big difference.
They sing together.
The “Tonal Defenders”, now in its eighth year, is a group entirely comprised of the student-athletes and staff of the MBU Men’s Soccer Team that rehearses music and ministers to churches during the off-season in song and soccer clinics.
For many, a soccer team singing together in the off-season wouldn’t make much sense. However, after some insight into the history of the Men’s Soccer Program at Maranatha, this type of ministry becomes more understandable.
Strong leadership, defined core beliefs, and a strong unity makes the team culture of MBU Men’s soccer what it is.
Do credentials and experience make a good leader?
If you judge just on experience and credentials, the Men’s Team at MBU has one of the best leaders in the U.S. Coach Jeff Pill, who has coached the Mens’ Soccer Team at MBU since 2008, has brought a wealth of soccer experience and knowledge to the program. Pill has experience in multiple “levels of the game,” including time with the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Experience isn’t the only thing that makes Coach Pill a great leader, though.
The man loves God, people, and ministry.
Coach Pill, when asked why he was coming to MBU, made it clear that he was coming to develop athlete-leaders to use what they learned on the soccer field to impact others for Christ. Coaching at MBU is not about just winning soccer games to him.
Culture does not come by accident.
During the 2012 season, the coaching staff for the Men’s Team started asking questions of the players. What was their motivation? What were their goals? How should they, as Christian athletes, conduct themselves on and off the field?
What followed was the players drafting the team’s “core belief document”. In it, the players outlined guiding principles to live by. These core beliefs are all grounded in scripture and are the backbone of the culture of the team.
Unity and Traditions
The Men’s Team unity can be seen through the buy-in to the culture, core beliefs, and goals of the team.
One tradition that has formed under Coach Pill, and is in line with the culture of the team, is singing Arise, My Soul, Arise before every meeting or game. This tradition is a testament to the unified heart of the team to be Christ-focused and Christ-dependent.
Another vital piece of the team’s culture is something that is generally common on most sports teams, van rides. Although the activity is not unique to the team, the intensity and subjects covered can be somewhat of an oddity. (How a proper PB&J is made is commonly posed to wide-eyed freshman who are forced to defend their peanut butter/jelly ratio with their life.)
Many a freshman has decided to come out of their shell during these van rides.
Van-ride conversations can often have a serious nature as well. Coach Pill shows his dedication to his players’ development even to and from away games by showing genuine interest in each player’s individual life. Whether it is advice on a career path or relationship advice, players know Coach Pill is willing to listen and advise.
With all of those things in mind, you can visualize Joe Zoller, a junior on the team in 2010, exclaiming in a van ride that “we should sing together as a team in the off-season.” Dave Anderson, a three-year soccer player and former Tonal singer, recalls the excitement of that van ride when the idea was taking root and the players were thinking of all the fun it would be to sing together.
Dave points out that “Joe’s energy combined with Coach’s backing got this thing off the ground, so to speak.”
Having an idea or a theoretical van-ride conversation sets nothing in stone, however.
Turning a soccer team into a choir is quite the bold move.
Coach Pill and Dave Anderson both remember the feeling of uncertainty about what Tonal would do or what it would become. Dave, who led the actual music rehearsal side of Tonal during his time with the group, enjoyed the challenge of this uncertainty to push the team toward musical excellence with the mindset of serving others.
“I’ll never forget the looks on some of the guys’ faces – guys who would have never darkened the door of a choir rehearsal – when they started hearing the sounds we could make as a collective group,” Dave said.
Since its inception, there have been several musical leaders, different players, and different practice schedules and itineraries. Tonal has, however, had one constant throughout its growth since 2010. Coach Pill, from day one, took responsibility of details such as organizing practice schedules, finalizing church outings, and even things like motivating players to be involved.
The success and growth of Tonal is a true testament to the consistent optimism of Coach Pill. He was the one who infused various guys with the confidence to get involved or take leadership roles within Tonal for the sake of their own development and ministry to others.
Coach Pill’s vision for the men’s soccer team is to provide a way to serve others by developing all the talents God provides. He believes that it is his responsibility to develop his players as leaders and not just soccer players.
Coach Pill is often quoted saying to his players, “Be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
This culture motivates players for service and to live out their beliefs even if it requires leaving their comfort zone.
So, while a singing soccer team might be an oddity, the Tonal Defenders simply is a result of a group of men seeking to live a Christ-like life through the motto, “Life is ministry, and ministry is global.”