The media is often fascinated by young Mormon athletes. Not only are many of them recognized for living healthier lifestyles and engaging in fewer risky behaviors, but many also leave their college teams for two years to serve as volunteer missionaries for their church.
Two such Mormon athletes were recently written about in the media. Tyler Haws was recently featured on ESPN.com. Although his accomplishments had been overshadowed by teammate Jimmer Fredette at BYU, he was racking up remarkable stats for a freshman. A shooting guard, he started in 33 of 35 games and he made 91.7 percent of his free throws. Despite his success, he applied for an unpaid missionary service opportunity and was sent to the Philippines. Missionaries agree to go anywhere they are sent. To his surprise, he learned that people there love basketball. Nearly every day, someone would ask to him to shoot a basket for them. Of course, he wasn’t there to play basketball, so other than these random shots, he played only casual pick-up games on his one day off each week.
Many people feel serving a mission will harm an athlete’s future in sports. Haws demonstrated there is no truth to this. He returned home and again began to play for Brigham Young University, the Mormon-owned university in Provo, Utah. He demonstrated his break hadn’t hurt a thing—he scored more than twenty points in six consecutive games. He is BYU’s second sophomore to ever break 1000 career points and is on track to break the school’s record for most points ever by graduation.
Part of his secret is that Tyler Haws knows how to work hard. When he was cut from his middle-school team, he asked his father to help him develop a plan to improve. He studied other players and worked hard until he started attracting attention. Missionaries work six days a week, keeping long hours and maintaining strict discipline, and this is excellent training for any athlete. There is more to being a great athlete than just the physical skills. He told CNN:
“The mental side of basketball has been a lot better for me after my mission than it was before. I used to stress out over lots of dumb things, but now I have a different perspective on life and what’s important.” (See Points coming easy for Tyler Haws, Anna Katherine Clemmons, ESPN.com.)
While many famous athletes end up in trouble because of fame coming before they can handle it, many Mormon athletes are noted for their lack of interest in the fame that goes with the job and in their unwillingness to get pulled into immoral behavior. Jabari Parker was once searched for by reporters anxious to talk to him after a winning game. They found the rest of the team flirting with girls or talking to reporters. They found Parker serving water to the JV team.
They know who they are and consider themselves Mormons first and athletes second (or even third, since many put school second).
Mormon athletes returning to sports are encouraged to go slowly and work on strength training before moving forward to full-strength. Most find they return at full-speed and many go on to a career in professional sports as a result of their self-discipline and determination.
Read more about the impact of missions on Mormon athletes.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.