Athletes in Action mixes religion, sports and academics

Whether it’s a sports team, an a cappella ensemble or a political party, Yalies often identify themselves by the groups to which they belong. One such group, Athletes in Action, a Christian ministry for athletes on campus, combines two niches that some may find surprising — athletics and religion.

The ministry is geared toward helping Elis balance their spiritual lives, athletics and academics, said Colby Moore ’09, one of the group’s student leaders and a member of the men’s golf team.

About 30 students gather each week for AIA’s Tuesday group meetings, which are held in the Branford College common room, and up to 60 people may come out for special events such as a senior night, members said. The group also holds several Bible studies throughout the week.

Beyond seeking to foster Christian spirituality, AIA works to fit the Christian way of life into a typical Yale athlete’s lifestyle.

Nicole Perkins ’08, who plays on the volleyball team, said athletes are competitive by nature, and balancing the aggressiveness in sports with the teachings of Christian friendliness is one challenge that members of AIA attempt to tackle.

Both Moore and Perkins stressed the importance of shared experiences in relating to other athletes, as well as the idea of a support network of friends.

“As athletes, we’re not always surrounded by Christians, so AIA allows Christian athletes to connect with each other and have a close-knit support group,” Perkins said. “It’s especially hard when teams go out [to party] together, so AIA is a place for those who choose to abstain for drinking or going to certain parties to commune with each other.”

Perkins said the image of Yale athletes as partyers is a stereotype on campus, but one that may be based in part on reality.

She said athletes, who have very structured schedules, may only have Saturday night free and so are loose on their nights off, making it seem that they party harder than the average Yale student. Non-athletes, on the other hand, can often spread their partying over a greater number of days, she said.

Finding balance between a social life and a Christian life is something that they often struggle with, members of AIA said.

For athletes who decide not to drink, it can sometimes be challenging to be a part of a team whose members go out and party together. As a way of combining a social life with Christian values, Moore said he and his friends from AIA get together to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.

But Moore and other members of the group stressed that they do not judge those who choose to drink and party.

“A lot of the times, we can fall into the trap of becoming too legalistic and too moralistic,” he said. “The great thing about AIA is that no one is going to condemn you, and we want everybody to feel comfortable and welcome to our ministry.”

Perkins added that it is important for Christian athletes to be available and show their teammates and others that Christians can stand by their faith and still have fun when they go out. When students self-segregate based on faith, they often come off as judgmental, which alienates them from those that they want to reach, she said.

“The most powerful message that a person in AIA can say is, ‘Yes, I’m Christian, and I’ll go out and have fun in a way that is respectable and will honor God,’ ” she said. “We want to be a light for God on our teams, and part of that is being out there, showing people that you don’t have to be blackout drunk to have a good time.”

But addressing partying is only one aspect of the AIA experience and not something the group necessarily discusses on a regular basis, members said. The main purpose of AIA is to provide an opportunity for Christian athletes to connect with one another — a goal that is reflected in the group’s people-centered approach and encouragement of friendship-building, members said.

Tracy Timm ’10, a softball player, said she became involved with AIA after a teammate brought her to the large group meetings and connected her with a smaller Bible study group as well. She said she was able to best relate to fellow athletes in AIA, which differentiates it from other Christian groups on campus.

While other Christians may not understand the demands of being an athlete, and other athletes may not relate to the Christian faith, AIA provides a group of friends who understand the importance of both parts of her life, Timm said.

“I feel like the group’s main draw is that everyone there is an athlete just like you are, so they know what you’re going through,” she said. “People who have similar outlooks on life and similar schedules are probably the ones who understand you the best, and that helps us as a support network of friends.”

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