How a College Basketball Team is Benefitting from the Rooted Experience

Rhett Soliday is the Associate Athletic Director and Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Vanguard University. We recently had the opportunity to ask him about how he uses the Rooted experience in his men’s basketball program and how God is working in the lives of his student-athletes.

How are you using Rooted with your team? What does the Rooted experience look like in an athletic program?

To me the most amazing thing about Rooted is that it does two things so well. First, it is such a beautiful on-boarding experience for the young, 18-22 year-old men on our team to be able to engage in questions about God, their purpose, and the Church that are not only relevant, but also so accessible from a learning and growth perspective when they begin to dive into God’s word.  Second, I love the way Rooted and all the curriculum points to the value and validity of EVERY individual’s experiences and asks simple questions like, “Where have you seen God show up in your story?” or perhaps “Where have you questioned if God is even in your story?”  There is nothing more powerful to me than a group of men taking bold steps with each other in total vulnerability when they share their story.  I am always reminded that EVERYONE has pain, and EVERYONE needs Jesus. Vulnerability within our team is always the gateway to building trusting and lasting relationships, and Rooted has been such a valuable tool for us to do that with our team.

What benefits do you see from Rooted in a sports team context? Do you find it helpful for building teamwork/team dynamics?

In my leadership position as a coach and mentor to young men trying to find their way in life, the charge of Romans 15:4-6 feels like it carries extra weight in a world that seems to be going in all different directions. “For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.  Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” 

So, while Rooted is very much an individual journey for each student-athlete on our team, it is also a very collective endeavor in terms of our desire as a group to create the kind of like-mindedness that makes any team special.  Our desire, whether it is in the way we play on the court or in the way we serve in the community, is for people to look at our group and sense that something is different.  We say that this is our D.N.A. = Different, Noticeable, Appealing.  We want others to see, feel, and experience with our team a sense of collective unity and encouragement, under the banner of Christ.

College basketball is a very competitive environment, and last time I checked they are still keeping score when we play.  So, are we pursuing victory?  The answer is yes – every waking and working moment we are pursuing victory, excellence, and championships. If they’re keeping score, we’re trying to win. 🙂 I believe pursuing victory is foundational and missional.  We have hungry, intelligent, type-A competitors that want excellence from a transactional perspective.  Our joy in leading them is getting to utilize tools like Rooted to model for them how putting first things first is always the better way in the pursuit of goals. Goals are great, but goals without a mission will leave us all empty.  Our mission is about who we are becoming in light of who God says we are and has called us to be, and Rooted is foundational for us in creating the kind of vulnerability, trust, and perspective that puts a team in position to max out as a group, even in the battle of competition. It is so cool to see our team communicate with more patience with each other after learning some of the layers to each other’s stories. Two guys that might have been somewhat allergic to each other on the court all of a sudden have compassion and grace for each other and begin to encourage each other and search for solutions to challenges together instead of fracturing and disengaging. 

What is one example of life-change you’ve witnessed through Rooted?

Man, we’ve had so many incredible stories of impact, where God has just shown up in powerful ways, calling young men to himself and giving them a new heart, breaking strongholds, and doing what only He can do.  But one story in particular stands out to me, and that is a young man in our program several years ago who had no relationship with his father and lost his mom to cancer his freshman year of college.  He transferred to us after that year from a local junior college. We knew he was navigating such deep waters in terms of his pain and sadness, but we didn’t realize just how deep it was until he told his story. His mom was everything to him.  She loved the Lord and so he was confident she was with Him in heaven. But, this young man was very honest in acknowledging that he was so hurt and so angry with God that he didn’t want anything to do with pursuing God’s purposes for his life if all it did was take him down a road of pain and suffering like he had experienced. That day, I got to see our entire team surround this young man and pray powerfully over him for God’s promises and God’s presence to be felt in his life in real and tangible ways.  As the days and weeks passed, this young man acknowledged that since that time of getting prayed over, he experienced so many “coincidences” that had occurred where it just seemed like God showed up in unique ways. He ultimately was moved to accept Christ as his Savior that season and got baptized with a couple of his teammates. Rooted facilitated an environment for God to show up. That’s the stuff right there… Only God.

 What do you think is the players’ favorite aspect of the Rooted experience?

To me, the player’s favorite aspect of Rooted is hearing each other’s stories and then being able to either ask good follow-up questions or be able to encourage them. Additionally, I believe that while we are at a wonderful Christian university, it certainly doesn’t mean that every student who comes to our campus has a deep understanding of God’s word, His purposes, or His story of redemption. We get a unique opportunity to dive into the hard questions and wrestle with them in a safe environment to do so. And with the support of amazing communities, between Vanguard and Mariners Church, there is such wonderful care and support for each one of them.  I am so excited to see what God will do as we continue through the fall session.