Embracing Our Identity in Christ

Thoughts from a Coach, Embracing our Identity in ChristThe Journey

I am a professional coach, and that is a big part of my identity, but that wasn’t always the plan. Originally I moved to Germany to be the European Director for NRB, to run youth camps and help grow this ministry. But the way God chose to use me to accomplishing this was different than I ever expected.

One thing I’ve learned serving God over the last 16 years in Europe is that God’s plans for us really are beyond anything we ever hoped for or imagined! He has opened so many doors, and given me so many opportunities to glorify Him and love on people.

I have seen what can only be described as His hand of blessing all over what has turned into a pretty crazy professional coaching career in the top leagues in Europe. The stories God has given me – the ‘Coach of the Year’ awards, the championships, the opportunities – I live my life surprised!

I’m surprised because I know ME. I know all my issues. You know the ones I’m talking about. You probably have a couple of your own. The ones you don’t want anyone else to see. And I am amazed that God, who knows me better than I know myself, would still choose to use someone like me! The battles He has won for me, the seas he has parted for me – my heavenly dad has never failed. And that is why, when I share my story, His highest praise is the real story to tell.

The Struggle is Real

It hasn’t always been easy! The grind is real!

The constant pressure to win and the unbelievable stress that accompanies it are real!

The losses, and the criticism that follows are real!

The insecurity of not knowing if I will still have a job after a tough loss is real!

The manipulative politics are real!

The struggle and the pain and the disappointment are real!

And to make it worse, players and coaches have to handle all of this on one of the most public stages imaginable.


I have seen the best and the worse of professional sports over the last 16 years.  A couple years ago I was named ‘Coach of the Year’ for the German ProA after taking the team I was coaching to the Final 4, and one of the most successful seasons in club history.

Seven games into the next season I was fired for reasons completely out of my control – injuries, budget, bad planning. And I’m not alone.

Unbelievably great coaches like Doc Rivers and Mike Budenholzer got fired this summer because they lost a play-off series to another really good team, after achieving so much success with their teams over the years.

It doesn’t seem right or fair, but it is this job. I’ve seen corruption and bribes. I’ve seen what might best be described as a socially acceptable system of athletic ‘human trafficking’, or what Bobby Knight once described as a “a profession that is a step above prostitution”. I have seen players used and abused by this system that sometimes doesn’t seem to care about human decency, where money and prestige and power make the majority of the decisions.

The Joy is Real

I have also felt the pure joy of celebrating unbelievable movements with teammates I went to battle with on a daily basis, guys who have become like family.

I have felt the sense of accomplishment for reaching hard-fought goals.

I have seen sports become one of the last places in our world today where ‘positive’ is still the focus.

I have made amazing friends all over the world.

I have been able to use this platform to bless the lives of many, and glorify God in ways I never imagined possible for a very average guy like me.

I have felt the embrace of thousands of fans I have grown to love.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being criticized by thousands of people all at once. And there is nothing quite like the feeling of being hugged by thousands of people at once. Often just days later.

Identity Crisis or Clarity?

What does this have to do with my Identity in Christ?

What difference has who I am in Christ made in my career?  This is one of the biggest questions God has been working on in my heart over the last couple years.

  • When I am treated unfairly or my career is on the line, why does it bother me so much?
  • Why does the insecurity of this career still make me worry after I have seen God do so many amazing things and open so many doors for me?
  • When I face tests every weekend in front of thousands of people, and I am being critiqued all the time – why do I get so nervous?
  • Why do I get so upset and say things I’m not always proud of with the refs or my players make a mistake that hurt our chances at winning a game?
  • How does my identity in Christ effect how I coach?
  • How I treat the guys who play for me?
  • How I handle reporters? Fans?
  • Why do I care so much what people think about me?
  • How do I live out my faith in such a high-stress, very public, roller-coaster ride environment?


I am excited to go on this journey together, and my prayer is that my experiences can be a blessing for all of us as we learn how to deal with this crazy life in a healthy, others-oriented, and God honoring way.

Picture of Mike Mai | News Release Basketball
Mike Mai | News Release Basketball

Mike has been part of NRB for 20+ years. For the past 16+ years he has been been a professional basketball coach in Germany at nearly every level.