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Grace Under Pressure
Posted 09/10/2018 09:36AM

A religious studies teacher at the Prep for 29 years, Joseph Lovett becomes an author

Joe Lovett on the football field

Joe Lovett made notes for 35 years about a book he intended to write. Now, a dream that dates back to the 1980s has become reality within the pages of “Coach God: The Mystery of the Game Plan.” The final product—a 110-page semi-allegorical, semi-autobiographical work about loss, grief, empathy, appreciation and faith, all penned in the context of sport—is not the book Lovett envisioned. But it’s the book he feels he was called to write.

“What I thought I was going to write about wasn’t what I wrote about,” says Mr. Lovett, the Prep’s Ryken Award winner in 2004. “I knew it was going to be about youth sports, but everyone I interviewed had such real and personal experiences that I felt compelled to share their stories. The book isn’t about me or any individual, but rather, it examines how God is present in our sporting lives.”

A longtime football, basketball and track coach at St. John’s, Lovett believes every sporting moment is a moment of grace. By relating true stories as told by both big-time and ordinary hometown athletes who bear witness to the presence of God in their lives, the book takes the reader on “a journey of faith in God’s Spirit” and reminds them that, when it comes to the large and small lessons of life, “we’re always in the game and God is always with us.”

The subject matter that permeates Lovett’s thesis runs the gamut of lives lived in sport. From the pain of cutdown day to a fumble late in a state championship game. From the power of a team bond to the importance of a good cry.

On any given Sunday

The book does an effective job of communicating Lovett’s central messages. First, that God knows us and loves us as we lead our sporting lives; secondly, that there’s “a familiar pattern of God’s game plan” in our spiritual lives; and third, the spiritual component of human existence can become evident to us at a New England Patriots game on Sunday just as readily as in a church pew. “God doesn’t only communicate to us at 10 o’clock Mass,” explains Lovett. “(He) also reveals to us through our imagination. There are ways in which people encounter the Sacred other than your own way.”

Once he finally sat down to write the book, Lovett says the prose spilled out of him. Perching in front of his laptop from 5:30 to 7:30 every morning, he began writing in February of 2017. The final chapter was done about six weeks later. Former St. John’s student-athletes, about and with whom Lovett conducted extensive interviews, are featured prominently throughout: from public figures like Pete Frates ’03 and Pat Connaughton ’11, to alumni well known within the Prep community like Rob Konrad ’95, Steve Langton ’01, Jared Coppola ’11, and the late Chip Schreunder (who would have graduated with the Class of 1993) as well as coaching personalities like Brian St. Pierre ’98, Jim O’Leary, John Klein, Bill Britton and Dave McHenry. 

Another crux of “Coach God” is the notion of sports being a supportive environment to guide us through grief and a sense of loss. Folks shouldn’t sublimate or be afraid of feelings of defeat and devastation that are a part of every athletic career, the book posits. Indeed, even in a setting as innocuous as a pre-snap huddle or a relay baton handoff, “God is with us,” says Lovett. “You just have to listen.”

Of course, like every writer, Lovett can put his finger on that kernel of inspiration that got him thinking about putting pen to paper all those years ago. “I don’t think humility is emphasized enough in sports. When you see it on display, you recognize it. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something, and everyone on a team can go home from practice every day feeling good about themselves.”

Has the research and writing process influenced his own approach as a coach?

“Oh, definitely,” he says. “My faith deepened in God’s presence in peoples’ sporting life, and writing the book has made me more attentive as a coach. Of course, you want to coach them, correct them, and demand the best, but you can single out the good in all of us.”

While Lovett knows everyone will experience his new book in their own way, he hopes that readers will come away with a basic understanding of where he’s coming from.

“Ideally, we have coaches who coach with integrity, players who play with humility and parents who trust the process,” he says. “I’m not perfect as a coach. And as players, neither are you. And as parents, neither or you. That’s how God made us. Our own spiritual head coach is the most forgiving of our mistakes and believes in us even when we don’t have the courage to believe in ourselves. It’s up to us to figure out how we can be our best selves. And we shouldn’t presume a game plan. That’s where Coach God comes in.”

“Coach God: the Mystery of the Game Plan” is available for purchase as an e-book or paperback by clicking on any of the following direct links to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. It is also available at the Barnes and Noble store in Peabody as well as the St. John’s Prep bookstore, and will soon be available on iTunes.

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