The balance that college athletes make between practicing, studying, and other activities would make even the best tightrope walkers sweat.
This balancing act makes support systems and support groups even more important. One of these groups, Penn Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Action, does exactly that.
“[We] help athletes and coaches walk in their faith journey,” said Jordan Lozzi, a staff member with FCAIA responsible for the ministry at Penn. “[Our focus] is on introducing them and helping them grow in their relationship with Jesus and the Good News of the Gospel.”
The group also allows student-athletes to forge unique relationships with students that share their faith, something that has given them a support system extending beyond FCAIA and Penn's campus.
"From building relationships within FCA, it's been awesome to then go to sporting events and just see people I know there and cheer them on," Jared Elters, one of FCAIA's student-athlete leaders, said. "The community aspect of the group goes beyond the meetings...this community doesn't have walls, it doesn't have barriers."
In order to build such a strong community, Penn FCAIA has used the power of sport. The group's website describes sports as “a universal language” that can be used to unite people and cross barriers. Using this connecting power, the group has been able to further its mission by finding a common ground on which to discuss their beliefs.
“Sports is such a great vehicle,” Lozzi said. “You can go across the country, you can go to a different part of the world, and you can roll out a ball, and there’s a universal language. FCAIA uses that universal language to help deepen and strengthen our faith in God.”
Exactly how does FCAIA pursue its mission? It uses its student leaders to hold events and study groups to build a faith community for its members to partake in.
“When we are on campus, we have a meeting every Tuesday night,” Lozzi said. “[It’s] a Biblically based study, and we have some food, we hang out, and we study.”
Having a safe space to relax and connect with others who share their beliefs can help athletes deal with the pressures they face on a daily basis. Lozzi, who was a student-athlete himself at Wesley College, detailed the pressures that Penn athletes face specifically.
“Penn has academic pressure, and there is a lot of pressure to do well,” Lozzi said. “When you’re an athlete, you already have the pressure to do well. It’s kind of like a double burden. This is an opportunity to be able to kind of unload those burdens, and the Bible says that we can do that.”
Like many other things in the era of COVID-19, Penn FCAIA has been forced to adapt the way it gathers for its fellowship. Their normal Tuesday night Bible studies have transitioned to Zoom, and they have supplemented the meetings with virtual guest speaker events. Recently, the group hosted Tim Tebow, who gave a presentation on “Leading a Life of Significance.”
While the group has still been able to meet in the virtual environment, there has been no substitute for the real, in-person connections that they forge under normal circumstances.
“One of the great things about meeting in person is that there’s just that relationship there,” Lozzi said. “It’s been hard to do that virtually, to not see people for a year but to still try to stay connected with them. We haven’t seen the reach we have in the past. The focus has been on continuing to invest into [our current members].”
As the group eyes a return to in-person gathering, it will continue strengthen the bonds between active members while also branching out to recruit new individuals to its study. Though it may be difficult for them to enjoy the same reach in spreading the message about their group and their beliefs in this current climate, the group has still been determined to make a difference in the Penn student-athlete community.
"We are able to continue to support each other and to have opportunities to grow with each other, not just with our athletic pursuits, but with our faith," Elters said.
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