At first glance, the life of a college athlete can appear ideal. The chance to compete at a high level and fulfill dreams of stardom appeals to many. However, the real life of a student athlete is often accompanied by unique challenges: pressures to perform athletically, juggling academic and team responsibilities, and sometimes, pressure from peers toward partying and unwise choices.
Athletes in Action’s campus ministry provides a safe place for athletes facing these challenges. In both large and small group settings, AIA offers opportunities for student athletes to connect with one another, learn how to integrate faith and sports, and to be developed spiritually.
Elle and Sean Petty understand these struggles firsthand. Both were college athletes (Elle at UCLA and Sean at the University of Miami) and active with AIA on their campuses. Now graduated and working full-time in health care, the couple is using their experience to impact current students.
After helping to run one of AIA’s Ultimate Training Camp two years ago, “[We felt that we] should be doing something more with this unique background that we have,” Elle says. Eventually, they reconnected with AIA staff in the region and sensed God’s leading to launch AIA in Nashville.
Elle and Sean began by reaching out to local friends and acquaintances who also had a heart for sports ministry. When 30 people showed up for an initial interest meeting, it was clear that God was already drawing people to this new outreach.
A core group of volunteers began to meet regularly. After connecting with other college ministries in the area, the team decided the best strategy would be to focus on one-on-one discipleship with athletes, while partnering with established ministries for larger gatherings. In September, AIA Nashville officially launched.
Currently, Elle and Sean each lead a group of four athletes (representing a handful of local universities) whom they meet with as a group and individually. As they have studied the Bible and together grown spiritually, Elle has been surprised by the ways God has enabled them to provide support in a myriad of practical areas, too, like modeling a healthy marriage or writing a resume and preparing for a job interview.
Ultimately, the Pettys’ goal is to see their disciples grow into leaders who can teach others what they are learning.
“The best success is to start with girls discipling [other] girls on their team one-on-one,” Elle says. About half are already doing this, with the goal of some starting to lead their own small groups next school year.
This model of multiplying disciples is at the heart of AIA’s campus ministry. To date, AIA has a presence on 180 college campuses, which represents about 7.5% of athletic departments in the U.S. To realize the vision of reaching every team in every sport, AIA campus is seeking to launch 25 new ministries by the end of August.
Ultimately, Elle says, the goal in Nashville is to continue growing their volunteer network so that more athletes can be discipled, with the movement expanding to the point of reaching more athletes who are new to or young in their faith.