Today marks the 4th consecutive year that the Colorado Rapids, the team where I serve as chaplain, will begin the season campaign on the road. After spending nearly a month away from Colorado during the preseason, for some it is just another trip – part of the grind of professional soccer. For others, those with family, it might resemble more of a last hurdle before settling into a more “normal” rhythm of the season. This week, I reflect on what life “on the road” looks like for many of those in professional sport.
On the Road Again: Away from Home
The statistics usually support the team that is at home. Whether it is the fans in the stands, not living out of a suitcase, or some other particular advantage, the home team is usually the odds-on favorite to win the match. Most home teams try to make the most of their particular advantages – from a different timezone, to climate, to altitude, to crowd energy.
The road can be a hostile environment – off the field, as well as on it. From opposing fans who discover the team hotel and set off fire alarms at night to keep the team from getting sleep. Or, the “groupies” (predatory women looking for a sexual encounter with athletes) that linger around hotel lobbies or local night “hotspots.” The road offers many different temptations and lures for those involved in professional sport (athletes, coaches, and even staff).
On the Road Again: Reconnecting
After so much time spent away from family, it can be difficult to reconnect – whether a player or coach or an executive. When you are on the road you learn to live independent of the typical rhythms and routines of home life. Meals, rest, training, meetings – all these things happen in a vacuum. The preseason can be helpful to eliminate distractions, but it can also be difficult to connect once returning home.
While many fathers use FaceTime to stay connected with their family, it doesn’t replace the physical and tangible moment of presence. Assimilation back into family can take time when husband or daddy return from the long stints away.
On the Road Again: Frequent Flyer Miles
Many argue that playing in Major League Soccer is tremendously difficult because of the air travel that teams must take on during the course of the season. As this blog once estimated, the travel in a given season means a lot of time spent waiting in airports and on team buses.
For those that dislike air travel, MLS is not the league for them. In addition to inter-league travel, many clubs have preseason travel and one or two tournaments a year where the team will travel within North America and sometimes South and Central America, as well.
On the Road Again: Scriptural Reflection
The travel life for the professional athlete is often rigorous and while MLS teams may not face as much travel as their hockey, basketball, and baseball counterparts the challenges can be compounded with the team size and lack of private flying.
The travel reminds me of Jesus’ response once to a man who said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied,
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Jesus was giving that man an idea of the cost of following. Many times, in the professional sports world there is a cost to play professional sport – and the travel demands are one of those costs.
For those who are chaplains in professional sport is behooves us to come alongside and try to undergird this particular challenge. For those who are connected into the pro sports world have difficulty connecting into other, authentic communities like church or other locales where support for life is usually garnered (school events, nights out with friends, and the like).
As a chaplain, part of my work is to help those who find themselves “on the road again” to get connected and teach self-sugfficiency in developing life-long relationships and communal bonds amidst the transitory nature of the world of sport. As a chaplain, part of my work is to help teach those “on the road again” how to live out their faith, how to be a good husband, father, or friend – in spite of the travel demands.
So, perhaps you are reading this and you are in a business where you have known the challenges of such travel. Perhaps you resonate with some of the difficulties that come from being “on the road again.” Maybe you can lift up a prayer for those that face a lot of time on the road, away from the their families, away from authentic community. And while it might be understood that this is part of the price of being in professional sport, maybe God can supply just what is needed to help these men and their families survive and handle it well.
Rev. Brad Kenney