Your heart starts to beat a little faster as you hear the snap of the chin strap being fastened to your helmet. You hear the roar of the crowd as you exit the tunnel and the lights are as bright as anything you have seen and the unreal atmosphere is splashed with eye popping lights and ear exploding music. The adrenalin hits its highest level as you get ready to line up on the field. This is it… You have trained your whole life for moments like this and this could be the last stepping stone to “IT”… the big show, the big payday, the NFL!
Unfortunately there are a bunch of guys on the other side of the ball who want the same thing, and the only way they get their golden ticket is to do things to you in this arena that would land them in jail outside these walls. Welcome to indoor football. Like the NFL, success is usually measured by wins and losses and for a lucky few, a chance to play in the NFL. For the Green Bay Blizzard however their leader Chad Baldwin has a much higher standard for his players and the team.
Chad Baldwin was born in Shelby North Carolina, but after his parents split up he spent a great deal of his life in Minnesota with his mother. He was raised as a strict Catholic until he turned 16 and refused to get confirmed. “I almost lost my life!” Chad said slightly joking. “I just didn’t believe in a lot of the things I was being told. I am a very logical person and if things make sense and the puzzle pieces fit I can believe it, but things just didn’t make sense. So when I turned 16 and someone wanted me to commit to believing in something I took it seriously. When I was asked by the pastor leading the group to do so I said ‘I can’t… I just don’t believe in all the things you do.’ Now coming from a strict German Catholic family, that was like committing suicide! My mother was so upset I had to actually stay with other family for a while because she was just not having it.”
This marked the beginning of a huge transition for Chad but it was not for the better. “I was being pushed into something that I just didn’t believe in and I rebelled. I kept pushing the faith and God further and further away.” This went on until he was in his 20’s. During this period of his life Chad was becoming a master of counting on himself for his success and chasing the dreams of the world. “I had a feeling that there was a God, but I just told Him, ‘Hey I’m a man. I’ll stay out of your way and you stay out of mine. I really don’t need anyone else.’ I kept it that simple.” Chad didn’t want to give in to the idea of surrendering to someone else and letting them take control.
The fact that his parents were split up and all the bad events that happen on a daily basis caused some bitterness towards God. “I remember thinking, ‘God if you are ok with just letting all this stuff happen, then just stay out of my way’.” Chad became the “typical athlete” where training and physical fitness became his life. The success achieved from being part of the teams and the awards and praises became his gods.
During this period of time, training became an obsession and addiction. “I was in the best shape of my life. I would work out 3 hours a day 7 days a week. And I would push myself to some extreme limits. One day I wanted to see how long I could sprint uphill until my body stopped working! I got to 13 minutes and my vision narrowed and that was it. That’s pretty intense, and not normal!”
Eventually a turning point happened. “My body started to break down. I started to get injuries that I could no longer control and overcome. I was in a dark place and I became even angrier with God and was mad because I didn’t feel that He had been there for me at all! Why was He letting this happen to me?” Chad became diagnosed with severe gout which led to surgeries that severely affected his ability to continue working out and play sports the way he desired. This didn’t diminish Chad’s intensity for sports. Chad would transition all his drive into coaching. “We didn’t lose very often and as a matter of fact we won a lot of championships. My drive was insane and I just wanted my teams to get on my coattails and I’d lead them to victory!”
During this “head down knees up” time in Chad’s life he lost his father in a car accident, his grandmother passed away and 9/11 all happened in a very short span. “I was just trying to coach more football and fill all the voids with this addiction but all these events kept trying to derail what I was trying to accomplish. I had my twins out of wedlock and along with everything else, my life was spiraling and I didn’t have control. I didn’t like that at all!” Then one last event would throw Chad’s train off the tracks completely.
“In 2003 I was involved in a severe car accident. Now I had at this time started a personal training business, because I didn’t have anything else to do with my time!” Chad joked. “That car accident cost me everything. I had just started the business, only had so much funding to run it, and then I found myself spending six months in a pool doing rehab just so I could hold my head up. I went through all my money lost my house and my credit score was like a 400. Everything was vanishing before my eyes.
One day I was in a gym forcing myself to work even though I was not supposed to and this kid walks in that I had not seen for years. Jason is his name and he was in his 20’s then and had just had back surgery. We started to talk and he starts crying. ‘I can hardly walk or bend over to tie my shoes! I’m going to lose everything.’ He told me. Well I said, ‘ Let me help! I can train you so please let me help you get back to where you need to be.’” Chad was able to get the workers compensation case manager to approve the training and Jason became his full day project and source of income. This got Chad back on track financially.
During this process Jason was becoming stronger and by the time Chad was done Jason could not only tie his shoes, but could lunge walk the entire length of the gym with dumbbells in his hands. Little did Chad know however, Jason was also getting stronger in his faith as well. Jason had started a Bible study, and after many weeks of talking and debate Jason convinced Chad to finally go with him to a bible study. “Jason said that since I was doing so much for him he wanted to give something back to me. I had saved him, but as time went on he would actually save me too.”
During the series of Bible studies Jason and another friend Sam would help Chad with questions and get him to go to church. “I started going to church and it happened. I was at a church that Sam had gotten me to go to and there was a little fire ball South African preacher leading the services. I just loved his intensity. He talked to ‘me’ through one of his sermons. He said that all the things I was putting in the way between me and God were being slowly taken away so that I could see Him clearly. He wanted complete surrender. I was not able to do that throughout my life. At that time though, I stopped and broke down and cried… The emotion overwhelmed me because God was flat out telling me that I was missing the point of what He wanted from me. I wasn’t even able to see Him because I kept putting stuff in the way that I thought was more important. It’s not that He wasn’t there I just would not look and listen. I was like that little kid who would purposely look away from his dad, and say ‘I can’t see you or hear you!’. He was there the whole time and it was just silly that I would not notice.
So I allowed myself to surrender.” Chad ‘s personal life had been transformed and he allowed God to slowly take over the playbook. God would provide the woman of his dreams in his wife Angela and in addition to Colton and Taylor they were blessed with a little girl Annabel.
Chad started coaching with a new focus as well. “When you coach or play just for the win and there’s no foundation of God it is so empty. You keep chasing and chasing but you never have the same level of purpose as you do with God.” In 2012 Chad was asked to be the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Blizzard and was excited at the opportunity, and after a lack luster start of 1-5 for the Blizzard in 2013 Chad was promoted to the role of head coach. He was now able to truly let God take the wheel.
For the 2014 season Chad has the entire team built with God as the foundation. “When I look at a player, I am not concerned where they come from. I have some guys that come from some pretty tough places and have some pretty tough stories. In fact some come from places that if you make it to the age of 20 you’re pretty lucky.
All I cared about is their openness to open up and pursue this way of life. Very simple… I have three phases I explain to the players.
First: you have to know how to play football, but that’s the easy part.
The second phase: professional development, how to communicate and get a player personnel guy to believe in them and invest in them for an NFL team. How to act and conduct themselves professionally. So I’m teaching them these skills as we go along.
And third: Their Faith part which I call balance and order in faith. I explain to them that I made a lot of stupid mistakes in my life because I had no balance in my faith. I explain that the way they are on the field is a specific way, but the way they are in life is another. I mean let’s face it, since we are kids we are given awards through sports for kicking peoples butts. If we did the same thing on the streets we’d be thrown in jail! We need to know how to act in each specific situation.
You see athletes throughout sports that can’t make that distinction and get in trouble. It’s because they don’t have the faith and the balance in their lives. And that’s what I am trying to put into my players lives. I am putting the faith in their lives from the inside so they can walk on the field and knock a guy out and afterwards see a kid and give him a hug.
Do you know how hard it is to turn it on and off? Mentally you will get worn out but with God it is possible to balance the warrior from within. I want them to be the best football player they can be of course, but I also want them to be the best father and husband as well and without God it’s impossible. When I get a call from an agent I let them know that we will be having Bible studies and we will be introducing their player to God.
Now that player doesn’t have to be a Christian coming in, but if they have a problem with us sharing that message then we don’t want them here .” As a result of the new focus Chad also sees a different composition and focus from his team. “I see the players not so much focused on themselves but as a team. Some of them really had a problem not focusing on “me” and that can kill a team. With us, someone can have a bad game, but the “team” is there for each other and will cover his backside. Because of this we win. The funny thing though, the score is rarely our focus. Don’t get me wrong, if we’re down by 3 with 10 seconds left we have to focus then. But, a lot of the time we’re focused on working together and helping each other be successful and playing on faith and working together to make the team successful.
It’s just like with people on the team that are not as strong in their faith. They are lifted up by the ones who are. Iron sharpens iron on and off the field.” As a Christ focused team you might get the idea that there may be a less intense approach. “Absolutely not! We are still playing football, but we are doing it for God’s glory not just our own. We care more about the process and the reason why we do what we do and how we do what we do verses just focusing on the end result no matter what the cost. It’s so much more rewarding when God is in charge.”
As the season takes shape and unfolds for 2014 for the Green Bay Blizzard the media and fans will be immersed in the unending amount of numbers and stats that define all of sports. For Chad his coaching is dictated by a very differ playbook, and the success will not show up not in a paper or evening news. It will show up in the success of the lives that with God he hopes to impact for the better both on and more importantly off the field.