My first impressions of Sarawut are of a quiet, introverted guy — not necessarily the type of person you could imagine coaching football with a bunch of difficult teenagers.
But as he begins to speak, his character, passion, and vision shine through.
One third of the population in Thailand are under the age of 25, and fewer than 0.5% are believers. This younger generation has many
issues to confront: sexual immorality, HIV and AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, excessive internet gaming, as well as gambling.
The Church in Thailand faces the challenge of helping young people address these issues, as well as reaching them with the Gospel of Christ. Sport is a powerful and effective tool for building relationships with youth outside the Church.
Sarawut works full time for his local church and he previously focused his sports ministry efforts on adults. After attending a Sports Friends training event, he caught the vision for football coaching with the local unreached youth.
He used posters in the local community, inviting young people to come along to his football training sessions, and seven teenagers responded. Addicted to computer games and the internet, they were initially quite aggressive but, as Sarawut invested his time in their lives, their characters began to change and develop.
The young people now know what is expected of them and the boundaries. As a result, they seem to be thriving. Initially sceptical, their parents and the rest of the community are seeing the fruits of Sarawut’s work, and they support his efforts wholeheartedly.
To encourage a sense of commitment and to cover his costs, Sarawut charges 100 Thai baht a month (£2) for three sessions of football training a week. He also enforces the “swear box” system, where each word of bad language costs the players five baht.
As Sarawut gained their trust and respect, he introduced an extra Sunday morning session, where the boys come to church and join in the morning worship, followed by some football “theory” and sharing of his faith. Sarawut is a great example of how sport can be used to build relationships, as a bridge to reaching young people with the love and Word of God. Like music, sport is a universal language which crosses the barriers of age, culture and religion: a tool to which people can really relate.
A respected, godly coach can have a great impact on those whom he coaches. His Christ-like character, his values and his motivation will all shine through in everything he does. The Sports Friends team in Asia is training hundreds of leaders in the local church to reach out to young people in their community with the love of God through sport — just like Sarawut!