Clash of the Coaches

By October 18, 2011 Sports In Focus

Jim Harbaugh charged across the field, lifting his shirt to expose his belly to attempt a chest bump. He extended his right hand to Jim Schwartz for a shake and slapped him on the back with his left hand. Schwartz didn’t like what was done or said – claiming he heard an expletive – and went charging after Harbaugh. What an emotion-filled scene following a meeting of turnaround teams that matched pregame hype in San Francisco’s 25-19 victory over Detroit.

Following the incident, both coaches offered apologies for their actions. “That is totally on me,” Harbaugh said. “I shook his hand too hard. I really went in, and it was a strong, kind of a slap-grab handshake.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Schwartz told reporters. “The game is played by the players on the field. We certainly don’t want things like that to occur. There are competitive people in the league, and I think we need to do a better job of just leaving it to the players on the field.”

Former NFL coach Dan Reeves, who knows a bit about postgame handshakes, said, “It’s certainly something if you asked those guys now, they both, I would hope be embarrassed by what happened.” Reeves recalled a 1983 game, when as the coach of the Denver Broncos, he refused to shake hands with Kansas City Chiefs coach John Mackovic, who he felt was running up the score in a 48-17 blowout. “I didn’t feel like shaking John Mackovic’s hand at the end of the game,” he recalled. “And I regretted it. I learned a lesson: You’ve got to be gracious, regardless. Hopefully, both these guys will learn from this situation.”

Hopefully, both coaches will learn from their lack of self-control just as Dan Reeves did in 1983. For the Christian, discipline or self-control are essential as well, but the the motivation and attitude are different because of the sacrifice Jesus paid on the cross for our sin.

Developing self-control isn’t easy. Pastor John Piper said, “Following Christ isn’t magic. It requires repeated actions on our part, which develop into habits and life disciplines.” While the key to self-control isn’t easy, it is possible for the Christ-centered believer who develops habits, such as Bible reading, memorization and prayer.

Coaches and athletes who have great ability to concentrate, to focus, to define and stay consistently within their priorities tend to be very successful in sports. And self-discipline is an essential component in that. The bridge between a wish and reality is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul taught this in Galatians 22:-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

It is possible for discipline to produce self-control only as we yield to God’s Spirit. This results in new habits and behavior. Spirit-control and self-control are connected in the Bible. Godly self-control is only possible by submitting to God’s Spirit.


1. What stood out to you in this story?

2. Is self-control easy or difficult for you? (James 3:2)

3. What has been the biggest test of your self control? Did you pass or fail?

4. Do you feel that frustration (with official’s call, cheap shot, rude fans, etc.) is often a primary cause of your losing control? What can you do about this?

5. How does the Bible speak of self-control as a Christian trait in a positive way? (1 Timothy 3:2)

6. Which spiritual disciplines do you practice?


Gordon Thiessen has served on staff with the Nebraska FCA since 1986 He has also founded Cross Training Publishing ( He has written Team Studies on Character and edited The Athletes Topical Bible. He is married to Terri and has four grown children.



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