Three Leadership Lessons from being A Football Coach That Has Helped Me as a Pastor!

This article is dedicated to the memory of two great coaches in my life:

Jim & Debbie Rios




My friend and brother Coach Jim Rios: Jim not only loved the game of football he embodied a unique blend of discipline with love in the unselfish way that he would love his players. My own sons have been impacted by the life of Coach Jim Rios. I miss you Coach Jim and your legacy lives on in your Championship Team – “Team Rios!” In the lives of your Son’s and daughter and in your grandchildren! Debbie is one of the most courageous women that I have known. Cancer did not beat you! God needed a Head Coach in Heaven!

My Dad Al Soto




My father, Al Soto, Sr. He coached hundreds of players who today still about how their lives were impacted by you. One of the statements you would always say was “A Life that has meaning always is out for the success of others.” Little did I realize that my first experience knowing what a Pastor did was modeled in how you treated your players? Your legacy is being lived out in your sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Your life was short but your influence lives on!

coach with players

I do love the game of football! My father was a football coach and I grew up watching my dad write out his defensive schemes on a big chalk board that he had in his back office. Before I ever knew the names of the Saturday morning cartoons I understood terms such as “Monster-Strong,” “Eagle-Shift Weak,” and “Cover- Two- Press.”  My father had a strong attention to details and I would remember him teaching both me and my brother that if you have a system every change you make in one position has an impact on your entire scheme. Many of the most inspiring people that I have known are football coaches. They know how to motivate and inspire a large group of people to work together toward the same goal.

Whether you like football or not allow me to give you Five Leadership Lessons from almost thirty years of Coaching Football and how it has helped as a Pastor.

Principle #1: Believe and instill confidence in the members of your team.

Bill Walsh


In 2001, I was invited with a group of High School Football coaches to the San Francisco Forty-Niners, Santa Clara facility. I was able to spend a few hours with a small group of coaches with then Head Coach, Bill Walsh. He broke down the West Coast offense and we even were exposed to the nuances of the forty-three slide defense. The most memorable occasion came when Bill Walsh began to tell the story how they had to fire an Assistant Offensive position coach. Like a professor he began to give the details of how this coach came into his office and for a lengthy period of time was criticizing how a particular player would never learn his position. Calmly, Bill Walsh, went looked this coach in the eyes and said, ‘You are saying that you do not believe in this player so you have tendered your resignation.” I am sure there was not a coach in that room that was shocked at the abruptness of Coach Bill Walsh’s action. Coach Walsh went on to say, “We have a Philosophy that begins with me and my coaches to all of our staff here with the Forty-Niners and that is if you do not believe in the people you are serving with or whom you are serving you cannot stay as part of our organization.” If you are going to have a successful Ministry Team you have to believe in them as the Senior Leader. It is important that you encourage and instill confidence in those you serve with as well as those who serve. By the way when Bill Walsh spoke of his staff and players you could feel and see the passion he had for them.

Football taught me that I needed to change my mindset for the people whom I serve with as simply being employees but rather they are “God’s Masterpieces.”  Just as a coach identifies with his players because that coach was a player – Pastors and Elders should smell like sheep!

Principle #2: Teach using Progressions – Because it is the Little Things That Really Influence in a Big Way!

dwight clark the Catch






Pastors are great visionaries and when it comes to mobilizing people to a big vision but they are often terrible at teaching people on the particular steps of getting it done. Great football coaches teach every skill set rom how a player does a particular stance to how a player tackles. Most people are not aware of the hours of practice doing progressions influenced how Dwight Clark made the catch in the back of the end zone in the 1981 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. It was after the game that both Joe Montana and Dwight Clark stated to news reporters that they practiced that particular play with repetition with Coach Walsh breaking down every progression of that play covering such details as Dwight Clark planting with his right foot at the end zone and then jumping with his arms up because Montana was going to throw it high and to the back of the end zone. Often times Pastors inspire people to a vision only to see people become confused and even disheartened because they don’t know how they are going to help see the vision realized. Volunteers often times will quit simply because they have not been shown what to do! Sermons can become overwhelming when there is allot of what people should do and there are not specific steps outlined that help people to digest and apply what you are teaching.

By the way- Teaching Progressions does not mean treating people in a condescending way what it does mean is that you are adding value to who the person is and what they are going to do that is an important part of getting a vision accomplished.

Principle #3: Create a Winning Culture.

I as a coach see this as we are a community a family on this journey together. I equate a winning culture with learning community. Coaches show respect to their players and care for them even when they are off the gridiron. A Winning Culture is everyone is out for what is best for the team. You have heard said, “There is no I in team.” I had a player this last years that could play three or four positions and play them well. I asked him if he would consider playing “Strong-Side Defensive End” during key moments of a game because his speed would allow us to do some things that we would have to do during critical times of a game. I knew this was a sacrifice for this young man but he said, “Coach I will do anything that will help the team.” In a key game when we had the opposing team with their back up against their own goal-line and we were behind by ten points this young man went in at that defensive end position and we called a stunt which allowed for him and the Linebacker to cause a safety. It also helped us win the game.

In a winning culture such as a church people begin to adopt the mentality that we are all in this together and we will do whatever it takes to help the team. In the current church that I am honored to serve in that is what makes our Summer Children’s outreaches so powerful. They are called “Breakaways.” I have done everything from setup to squirting water at kids (Which by the way- I found to be a Blast). Why? Because my Senior Pastors Vision inspires me with the whole idea that “During the summer he who is influencing kids will be the ones to inspire them to a Goal.” The goal is seeing kids come to Christ which I have seen more than I can count in my last three years because of breakaway. It is these moments that it’s not my job description that drives me it is the passionate mission of seeing kids come to know Christ.

Finally a winning culture does not allow for conflict to be triangulated meaning that people do not air their complaints to other people versus going to the person and speaking directly to them. In a winning Culture complaints are aired in such a way that everyone trusts each other. So when it comes to game time we are in unity.

There is so much more that I will cover in future blog articles but let me give you one side principle that has been huge for me. Being a Football Coach means: “It does not matter what the score is at Half-Time we still have an entire half to play the game.” I have coached teams that have come back in the second-half and won the game. There is not a Pastor who does not reflect on the past and has faced difficult times and even failures. Here is what I know about Jesus Christ who is the Head Coach of this wonderful agency of the kingdom of God, CALLED THE CHURCH! The game is an eternal one and it is not over yet. Get refreshed! Daily Connect with Jesus and do not isolate yourself. This is called HOPE! My Pastor Ray Johnston often times states, “”Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”  Let’s allow the Spirit of God our trainer to maintain our Hope because we have a great future and

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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