Former soccer captain Kathleen Meacham ’13 talks about leadership, Kingdom-building through athletics, and what it means to “play for Christ.”
Q: In your experience, what are the distinctives of athletics at a biblical university?
A: I went to a public high school, where I played soccer on a secular team. My first year [playing Cairn soccer], the girls kept saying, “We’re playing for Christ. We’re playing for Christ.” And I was like, “Okay, I don’t know what that means, but I’m gonna play soccer and I’m gonna pray. Maybe that’s what they mean—just pray with it.” It took two years of playing Cairn soccer for me to really understand how different a team is that’s centered on God.
For us, playing for Christ meant that it was about more than just soccer. It’s more than going out there thinking, “Okay, this is a good team” or “This is a bad team.” It’s about asking, “How can we honor Christ in this game?” Sportsmanship is key. I remember teams that fouled a lot, and I remember teams that played hard but were fair. If sportsmanship is what I’m noticing about other teams, it’s probably what they’re noticing about our team, as well. But we’re all supposed to be building the Kingdom here, and part of that can be through athletics.
Q: So how can athletics help to build the Kingdom?
A: My second year here, before every game, Coach Behnke started giving us cards – like birthday cards – that say “Cairn Highlanders” on the front and [are] blank inside. She would assign us two or three players on the other team, andwe’d write “Dear whoever it is” and their number, so we would know at the end of the game who we’re giving it to. And we’d just write a note to them, saying “Glad we were able to play with you today” and encouraging them for the rest of their season. We tell them they can contact us on Facebook or through email. Some girls include a favorite Bible verse. It’s a witnessing opportunity – to show that we play for more than just soccer; we play for Christ. After the game, we shake hands and give them their cards and invite them to come pray with us. Usually, whole teams come. There are just a few coaches that refuse and don’t let any of the girls come. So we huddle up, mixing up our team and their team, and have one of the captains or the seniors say a general prayer for the game, but also summarizing [the Gospel]. And if they’re interested or asking “Who is this Jesus guy they’re playing for?” the cards make a way for them to contact us.
It’s tough to give them those cards sometimes, when one of you just lost by a goal or something. But the cards really help us to keep our testimony on the field. Coach always assigns us girls that we’re playing against – so you keep in your mind, “Oh, I’m giving them this card afterward; I probably really shouldn’t be pulling their jersey,” or even if they’re doing that to you, to keep your testimony.
Q: Looking back as an alumna, how did your involvement in soccer impact your Cairn experience?
A: Sports was definitely a huge part of this University for me – not only getting to know other people, but also to really break out of my shell. I started out quiet, not really talking – the team’s all “Hi! What’s your name? Who are you?” and I’m like, “Um… I’m Kathleen… I play forward…” I was very shy in the beginning.
But through getting to know my team and coach, it really brought me to realize not only that talking isn’t scary, but that you can go beyond that – you can really lead, as well.
My junior year as captain, I was able to see how it’s done and try some things out, but my senior year as captain was really a growing experience for me. Working closely with Coach Behnke definitely helped me to become a strong leader – not only seeing how she coached, but how she presented herself to the team and to other teams. Coach has really taught me a lot about how to be a good leader, and as a captain, being on the same page with her was really key.
It helped that we have a coach that really supports our team. If we have a question, we can ask her. She meets with each of us every other week to go over our goals. She definitely pushes us to do more than we honestly think we can do. You know, you think you can’t run anymore, but yet you find yourself running another 10 minutes. Determination is one thing that I really learned through soccer — that mentality that “you can do more than you think.”