Health checkup: Offering spiritual guidance to student athletes

Kelsey Davis; photo courtesy of Davis

Editor’s note: The following Q&A is one of several featured in this week’s Wellness, Part 1 issue. Additional Q&As will appear in next week’s Wellness, Part 2 issue. 

Kelsey Davis, the director of Blue Ridge Service Corps and the missioner for Campus Ministry at Western Carolina University and UNC Asheville, discusses providing college athletes spiritual guidance and the challenges these students face.

What distinct challenges do you face while providing spiritual guidance to college athletes?

Offering spiritual care to collegiate athletes is a gift and privilege. Walking alongside collegiate athletes means that I get to care about their holistic well-being, particularly their spiritual life, mental health and vocational discernment.

One of the challenges for college athletes is finding the time and space to nourish their spiritual life. Their schedules are so full with classes, practices, work, relationships and more. They have a lot on their plates and do an incredible job navigating all of it.

Another challenge is vocational discernment. Most collegiate athletes do not continue playing their sport after college at a semiprofessional or professional level, though they have played a sport their entire lives. Accompanying college athletes as they discern who they are and what they are called to is sacred and good work.

How are you able to overcome these challenges?

It is my hope to equip our college athletes with spiritual tools — such as ancient Christian practices and mindfulness techniques — that they can carry with them and use in daily life wherever they are, in addition to the invitation to gather and connect with one another in spiritual community.

It is also my hope to humanize our college athletes. I ask about and care for their lives — hopes and dreams, joys and sufferings — not simply their performance in sport or classroom. We do intentional exercises around discovering identity and vocation, and so much of it is lived out through listening and reflecting back what is heard in conversation.

Which obstacles regularly prove most difficult to overcome for students, and how are you working to make those challenges more manageable?

Connecting with self, others and God (Divine/Life Source) is always a courageous act. It can be so vulnerable, even for those of us who spend our lives pursuing nourishing the spiritual life. Saying yes to our interconnectedness and reaching out to one another is difficult with so many options to stay in a silo. So, we have to choose to develop the muscle of connection to self, others and the Divine. Nourishing the spiritual life is a daily practice.


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