Sports Chaplaincy Book Review


The book, “Sports Chaplaincy,” authored by Andrew Parker, Nick J. Watson, and John B. White, was published in 2016 by Routledge. Andrew Parker is a Sport, Culture, and Theology Professor at the University of Gloucestershire. He has authored and edited several other books on the intersection of sports and religion. Nick J. Watson is an Associate Professor of Sport and Social Justice at York St John University with a background in sports ministry and sports science. John B. White is an assistant professor of youth ministry and practical theology at Baylor University, Texas, focusing on religious faith, spiritual formation, and the contemporary context of sports. Throughout their analysis, the authors argue that sports chaplaincy has evolved from a marginal pastoral role to a significant force for improving the well-being of athletes and their societies. As such, the purpose of this book review is not only to provide a detailed summary and critique of the book but also to evaluate its importance, relevance, and implications for the field of sports chaplaincy and its potential impact on those engaged in this area of ministry and academia.


The book has three parts: Contexts, Practices, and Issues. In Part I, titled Contexts, the authors explore sports chaplaincy’s historical, theological, and sociological dimensions. They offer a summary of the progress of sports chaplaincy in the opening chapter, discussing its early beginnings and tracing its evolution through time. The importance of sports chaplaincy and its role within the broader context of sports is emphasized, shedding light on why this specialized area is gaining significance within contemporary society.1. Chapter two delves deeper into the

1 Andrew Parker, Nick J. Watson, and John B. White, Sports Chaplaincy. (London: Routledge, 2016)

theological aspects of sports chaplaincy. The authors examine the relationship between sports, religion, and culture from a Christian perspective, exploring the concept of play and leisure.
They highlight the significance of engaging with and understanding the spiritual dimensions of sports and recreation for individuals and communities. From a pastoral perspective, sports chaplaincy is viewed as a beneficial response to sports’ growing role and impact in contemporary society.
In Part II, named Practices, the focus shifts to the practical aspects of sports chaplaincy. Chapter three discusses the role of a sports chaplain as a counselor, mentor, and spiritual advisor, providing care in various sporting contexts. By examining elite athletes’ unique challenges and needs, the authors illuminate how sports chaplains utilize grace, compassion, and understanding to guide and support these individuals.2 Chapter four continues this examination of sports chaplaincy practices by discussing differing contexts in which sports chaplains serve. From localized clubs to international competitions, models of chaplaincy are highlighted, allowing sports chaplains to function in various capacities, such as team pastors, club chaplains, or sports mission workers. The chapter also highlights integrating sports chaplains within diverse sporting environments, including school settings, recreational clubs, and professional sports organizations.
Part III, titled Issues, delves into the ethical challenges sports chaplains face while navigating the complex world of sports. Cultural competency and diversity within sports chaplaincy are discussed in Chapter five, emphasizing the significance of understanding and sensitivity toward the cultural backgrounds, faiths, and genders of athletes. The authors argue

2 Parker, Watson, and White, Part III: Athlete Advocacy: A Model for Chaplaincy in Professional Sports, 56

that building cultural competence is crucial to providing athletes with appropriate and meaningful spiritual support, especially in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic world.3. Chapter 6 examines the power dynamics and politics that can affect the work of sports chaplains. This chapter brings potential ethical issues and conflicts of interest to light as the authors explore the challenges of navigating relationships with team officials, marketing departments, and various stakeholders within the sporting environment. Sports chaplains must strive to maintain their core pastoral responsibilities and calling amidst the complexities of power dynamics and politics.


Sports Chaplaincy stands out as a comprehensive and informative resource that addresses a subject matter that has, until now, lacked significant representation in academic literature. The authors’ extensive backgrounds and experiences in sports ministry and academia establish their credibility and expertise in this specialized area, evident in the book’s thorough analysis and exploration of the topic. One of the book’s strengths is its historical and theoretical examination of sports chaplaincy. By tracing the origins and development of this practice, the authors establish a strong foundation for readers better to comprehend the reasons behind its growth and significance. Additionally, their in-depth examination of different models and approaches to the practice of sports chaplaincy offers practical insights for those engaged in this ministry.
In Part I, Contexts, the authors delve into sports chaplaincy’s historical, theological, and sociological underpinnings. A salient strength of this section lies in the authors’ ability to interweave various dimensions into a coherent narrative, effectively creating a solid foundation

3Parker, Watson, and White, Part III: Sports Chaplaincy and Gender, 143

from which readers can cultivate their understanding of this specialized field. Remarkably, the introduction chapter detailing the historical landmarks of sports chaplaincy development assists in illuminating the profession’s importance in contemporary society. The authors adeptly discuss the various religious influences on sporting traditions, including the Christian underpinnings of the Olympic Games and the emergence of muscular Christianity in the 19th century.4
They further trace the development of sports chaplaincy from its initial pastoral function to the modern-day practice of providing spiritual and emotional support for athletes and their communities. The in-depth historical analysis strengthens the book’s argument by demonstrating the long-standing relationship between religion and sport. The authors effectively show that sports chaplaincy is not merely a modern phenomenon but a practice rooted in centuries of religious tradition. By providing this context, the authors lay the groundwork for their subsequent exploration of contemporary sports chaplaincy practices and challenges. Despite these strengths, the analysis would benefit from a more diverse examination of religious and faith-based perspectives and the inclusion of non-religious viewpoints.
Transitioning to Part II, Practices, the focus shifts to the practical execution of sports chaplaincy in various contexts. In this section, the authors excel in illustrating the diversity of roles performed by sports chaplains, such as counseling, mentoring, and offering spiritual guidance5. The detailed exploration of different chaplaincy models and discussions of their applicability in diverse settings offers valuable insights for those seeking to implement sports chaplaincy across different contexts. The authors effectively describe the work of chaplains in professional, amateur, and community sports environments, highlighting the various support

4Parker, Watson, and White, Part I: “Sports Chaplaincy: Definitions and Concepts, 17
5 Parker, Watson, and White, Part II: Athlete Advocacy: A Model for Chaplaincy in Professional Sports, 58

services they provide. The authors maintain that sports chaplains can play an essential role in fostering a positive culture within the sport, promoting ethical behavior, and offering spiritual guidance to athletes and their communities.
The section’s strength lies in its detailed exploration of the various functions of sports chaplains and the challenges they encounter. The authors discuss the unique difficulties faced by chaplains, such as serving in a competitive environment, dealing with ethical dilemmas, and navigating the complexities of sporting organizations6. These discussions provide valuable insight into the day-to-day experiences of sports chaplains, making a compelling case for their importance and relevance in contemporary society. Nonetheless, Part II contains room for improvement. Including more detailed case studies, personal testimonies, and real-world experiences from active sports chaplains could elevate the discussion and help readers better understand the practical implications of the field. Additionally, examining other pastoral roles in sports, such as sports ministers or para-church organizations, would offer a broader understanding of the collaborative landscape of spiritual care in sports.
The final section, Part III, Issues, addresses the ethical challenges and complex relationships that sports chaplains encounter within their professional responsibilities. The authors astutely delve into themes of cultural competency, diversity, power dynamics, and political influences, all essential for ensuring effective and compassionate pastoral care.7. The discussion on cultural competency and the increasing role of diversity in sports proves particularly noteworthy and successful in driving home the importance of ethical considerations within sports chaplaincy. The section excels in engaging with critical issues that confront sports

6 Parker, Watson, and White, Part II: Sports Chaplaincy: Contexts, Challenges and Contributions, 87
7 Parker, Watson, and White, Part II: Sports Chaplaincy: Ethics in Sports Chaplaincy, 132

chaplaincy, providing balanced and thoughtful analysis. Moreover, despite these concerns, the authors convincingly argue that sports chaplaincy still has a pivotal role in modern sports environments. By addressing potential criticism and suggesting strategies to overcome these challenges, this section adds depth to the book’s overall argument.
However, the Issues section could also benefit from further development. A more thorough exploration of how chaplains can actively address power dynamics and political challenges would provide practical advice and strategies for navigating the complexities in contemporary sports environments. Furthermore, a deeper analysis of interfaith relationships and cooperation and a more extensive investigation of challenges and opportunities related to diversity strengthen Part III’s capacity to educate readers on the importance of ethical decision- making and awareness in sports chaplaincy.


Sports Chaplaincy is an invaluable resource for those in sports ministry, religious studies, sports sociology, and individuals exploring the intersection of sports and religion. It sheds light on an underrepresented and significant area of sports culture and pastoral care, offering in-depth insights and historical perspectives while addressing contemporary challenges faced within sports chaplaincy. The book offers a thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the role of sports chaplaincy in contemporary society. Despite various shortcomings, the book’s rigorous analysis and engaging discussion make it a valuable resource for individuals interested in the intersection of religion, pastoral care, and sport. As a result, this book is highly recommended for scholars, practitioners, and students in sports studies, theology, and pastoral care. Additionally,

individuals involved in sports chaplaincy or those considering a career in the field will find the book enlightening and thought-provoking.


Parker, Andrew, Nick J. Watson, and John B. White. Sports Chaplaincy. London: Routledge, 2016.

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