What is an Audience of One Coach?

What is an Audience of One Coach?

Audience of One. Often abbreviated and branded as Ao1. What does it mean?

The intent of the phrase is to help Christian athletes remember that everywhere in life “we live and move and have our being in Him,” and it’s His pleasure we should pursue above all else.

At its core, it’s a present day application of the first command God gave to Moses in Exodus 20:3 when He said “You shall have no other gods before me.” It’s a countercultural way of living within an idolatrous sports world that says, “I will not make this a God.” I already have a God worthy of all of my worship and attention.

For athletes used to competing with fans in the stands, Ao1 becomes a simple, yet profound way to communicate at least two things:

  1. A desire to play for God’s glory over the glory given (or withheld) by the crowd.

  2. A simple way to share with others that they value, at some level, integrating their faith with their sport.

And while the conversation about what it means to practically live out an Audience of One mentality can mean many different things to many different kinds of players, the focus is always centered around the athlete.

But what about coaches?

Is it possible to coach with an Audience of One mindset?

I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think it was possible. More than that, I think it should be the aim of every Christian coach to prioritize an Ao1 coaching model. So, what does it look like to be an Ao1 Coach?

It means prioritizing His presence

An Ao1 Coach doesn’t leave God in the locker room. They talk to Him throughout the game. They acknowledge God’s presence before practice and games, during practice and games, and after practice and games. This acknowledgement doesn’t need to be public. It can look like Nehemiah when he approached the King, asking for to be sent back to his homeland to rebuild the walls. We see this interaction in Nehemiah 1:2-5, the King says:

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king.

Ok, surely Nehemiah didn’t stop his conversation with the king and pray out loud. He prayed in his heart. In the middle of a conversation with someone else, he was praying to God asking for wisdom on how to respond. Why can’t we do the same thing as coaches? All of these are “presence prayers” you can use as any time as a coach:

God help me.

God forgive me.

God calm my spirit.

God give me wisdom.

God thank you for that experience.

God heal this injury quickly.

You get the point. Prioritizing His presence means staying in relationship with Him instead of getting so caught up in the moments that sports provide that we forget about him altogether.

It means not manipulating His presence

An Ao1 Coach checks their motives often. They realize that “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and push against (and oftens repent from) practicing the presence of God as a back door way to being blessed with prosperous results.

The line of thinking goes like this. God likes and rewards obedience. If I show Him obedience, He will reward me on my terms. And my terms include a successful team.

Even an approach that prioritizes God’s presence because “it probably won’t work but it can’t hurt” is an attempt at manipulating God. Coaches, our intentions matter to God. Our true intentions reveal much about what we are worshiping. Are we worshiping success? Are we attributing more worth towards worldly things than a vibrant relationship with God? To be clear, I think we can do both. I believe it’s possible to integrate your faith into your life as a coach where you can stay connected to—and worship God—while still pursuing championships.

Are we making an effort to be aware of His presence while we coach because we truly want the relational connection? Or are we acknowledging His presence in hopes that He will reward this attempt with results that show up on the scoreboard?

It means prioritizing Biblical values

Here’s the thing, if my son is playing with me as his primary audience, he better compete in a way that makes me happy. To play and compete for an “audience of dad” means he needs to lock in on what dad values. Should he do the griddy after he scores a touchdown? Everyone else does it. But what does dad value? Ah, humility. So, to play as if I am his primary audience means he needs to practice humility to please me.

It’s the same with God. If we claim him as our Audience of One, then it would make sense to coach in a way that pleases him. Or said differently, coach in a way that glorifies Him.

And we do that by valuing the things that He values. How do we know what He values? It’s all in the Bible. An Ao1 Coach spends quality time in the Word to be with God and learn about God. What are some of the values we learn about God through the Bible? Here are just a few:

Forgiveness: Ephesians 4:32

Love: 1 John 3:18

Prayer: Luke 6:12

Sacrificial Giving: Mark 12:41-44

Kingdom Building: Matthew 28:18-20

As you read the Bible, begin highlighting what you learn about God and asking yourself “what does it look like for me to take this same value of God and apply it to how I coach?”

It means understanding that being a coach is not your primary identity

Your identity as a coach is probably reinforced every time you’re greeted by another person.

“Hey coach!”

“What’s up coach?”

“How we doing coach?”

“Good luck coach!”

“Great game coach!”

Coach. Coach. Coach.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a reality that you need to be aware exists. And you need to be aware of it because it can be really easy to believe that your core identity comes from being a coach.

You’ve probably heard it said at some point: coaching is what you do, it’s not who you are. The truth is that it’s both.

You coach. And you are a coach.

The problem is that you can’t run to that as your primary identity. It’s the same with the other identities you have in life. Husband. Wife. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. None of those are bad, but if you over identify with one of those—and then it gets stripped away—what do you do?

So what is your primary identity? God’s child. That identity, bought for you (in full) through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, is who you really are. And being God’s child comes with some pretty sweet perks. Below is a list of truths about who you are in Christ that Athletes in Action has curated over the years:

One final point here. I know this can be hard as the stakes are often high in the coaching world. There is immense pressure placed on you from parents, boosters, ADs, and critics.

Consistently remembering our identity is not about ignoring all of the other voices around us and categorizing them as insignificant or meaningless. It’s about reframing those voices and opinions.

It’s about allowing them to help us see potential blindspots on the field and humbly take criticism. And at the end of the day, giving more weight to what God declares true about you.

It means bringing your identity to the game, not taking it from the game

Continuing our conversation from above, this means you don’t need a win to validate yourself—to you or to others.

This means the result of a competition or a season may hold earthly weight, but it doesn’t do anything to tip the scales of the heavenly identity assigned to you before you even existed.

It means you can enjoy the wins humbly because you know a deeper identity for you is found beyond the scoreboard.

It means a loss is still allowed to hurt, but it doesn’t have to disrupt the core of who you are.

When you bring your true identity (God’s child) to whatever athletic space you enter, you have the opportunity to see the world around you with a renewed perspective.

To be clear, this does not mean that you no longer care what anyone else thinks about you or your team— or that you’re not fully committed to winning.

Grounding yourself in who you are in Christ just means you can coach with complete freedom because you place a greater emphasis on God’s opinion of you than those who (probably) only care about what the scoreboard reads.

It means coaching the total athlete

It means you coach the total athlete, putting an emphasis on the physical, mental, and spiritual training they need to reach their full potential. Again, an Ao1 Coach values what God values. And God values mind, body, and spirit.

I think what’s scary for most coaches is the mind and spirit aspect of the total athlete. I’m going to assume you’re already owning the physical aspect.

Let’s talk about the mental growth needed for an athlete to thrive. Mental health is not just a buzzword or a unique cultural phenomenon. It’s biblical. We are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This does not mean you need to get your counseling degree. It just means you need to grow in your competency with how you think about and speak about mental health. It means, when one of your athletes keeps messing up, or just looks….off, at least being open to the category that mental health could be playing it what is going on.

Linsey and I gave a “Mental Health 101” talk at a highly successful athletic department this fall that provides a framework for thinking Christianly about the challenges of mental health.

What about the spiritual component of the total athlete? Depending on your context, having some sort of spiritual training plan is required of you as a coach. For many of you, however, that’s not the case. I have a good friend who coaches in the BigTen who bluntly told me that she does not have any capacity (or permission from the athletic department) to pursue the spiritual side of her athletes.

Sometimes the best way to own the spiritual component for your team is outsourcing it to someone who has the capacity to run after it faster and better than you can.


That’s why chaplains exist. And sports ministers. And pastors. And trusted volunteers. You don’t need to do everything. Some of our best coaching advocates in the past gave us access to their team after practice to tell them about the resources we offer with Athletes in Action. That’s outsourcing!

Do you want to be an Ao1 Coach? If so, remember this: it’s more than just a statement to a watching world that we are aiming at pleasing God first and foremost. It’s a commitment we are publicly and privately making to our God to prioritize what matters most to him in everything we do.

Questions to consider:
What does a coach do when its not necessarily their performance that is evaluated, but the performance of those they coach?

How does a coach continue to pursue the Ao1 mindset when their job is continually on the line or when they get fired when they were doing a great job but the head coach or coordinator gets fired and the whole staff has turnover?

How do you have an Ao1 mindset as a coach when things at home are suffering because of your job’s commitment?

How does a coach find their total worth in Jesus rather than the opinion of fans, players, administrators, other coaches?