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Balancing Religion in Sports: Part 1

January 16, 2018

Megan McCuistion is one of my oldest friends in the industry. We met when Utah State’s women’s gymnastics team was visiting San Jose State for a meet and, along the press table, we bonded instantly.


I admire a lot of things about Megan but most notable is her commitment to her faith. She’s a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and is heavily involved in her church, in addition to her duties working with women’s soccer, women’s basketball and softball. I talked to Megan about how she manages to balance her faith and her career in athletics.


How specifically are you involved in your faith?

MM: “The basic involvement in the church means a three-hour block of meetings on Sundays, including individual assignments within the various auxiliaries of the church. For me, that means spending my time teaching music to the kids, ages 3-11, and I LOVE it! My husband helps oversee the men's group in our church, so we both have responsibilities that require time outside of Sunday as well, through meetings and individual preparation for our Sunday jobs. There are definitely ways we could be more involved, activities we could attend, extra stuff to participate in, etc., but as newlyweds without kids, we've found a really good balance for us.”


In general, how does your involvement conflict with your career in sports?

MM: “Throughout my years of adulthood, my involvement level at church has varied, a lot of which has been influenced by work. The biggest issue has been the Sunday games and travel. I work with soccer and softball, so there are frequently games on Sunday afternoons. During basketball season, we're often traveling home from games. It makes it tricky to make it all fit! Another surprising issue was on the social side of things. As Mormons, we don't drink alcohol or coffee, which turned out to be a big part of the behind-the-scenes part of athletics. It took me a long time, and a few trials by error, to find the balance and still be able to hang out with people outside of work without compromising my beliefs.”


How do you mediate when you have conflicts between your career and your religion, whether the conflict is due to an event or your religious beliefs?

MM: “For a long time, I let work be my excuse for not being a part of church. I would get there every once in awhile, but I didn't make it a priority and let games and travel get in the way. After a couple years of laziness, I was roommates with one of the soccer coaches who was also a member of the same church. Even when our meetings conflicted with games, she made a way to be there and got me going with her. I stayed in that habit when softball season hit and one of the softball coaches was in my same congregation. Whether it was going to another ward (basically the Mormon version of a parish), or just leaving early and showing up to games in church clothes if we needed to, we made it a priority to be at church before we had to work. If I'm on the road and missing church, I try and still get some spiritual upliftment in the day, whether through the music I listen to, what I watch, or what I read. Church materials are readily accessible, so it's easy to get a taste of what I would be missing. I also make it a point to not do work on Sundays unless I absolutely have to. I spend the morning at church, then spend the rest the day at home with my husband relaxing and getting ready for the next week. My attitude toward making the time to focus on church has completely changed, and that has made everything else click.


“Luckily, I've never found myself in a particularly compromising position. I live in Utah, where a high percentage of the population belongs to the same church as I do. Though those numbers go down in athletics, administrators, coaches and student-athletes all know that it’s a part of what they signed up for when they came to Utah. I've been lucky to work with people who are understanding and flexible and know that my religion is a big part of my life. They know what I do and don't believe, and what I do and don't participate in (drinking alcohol, coffee, etc.). They don't push me to do anything they know doesn't fall in line with what I believe, but know I'm still wanting to be around them when they believe differently.”


What would you tell others who are struggling with balancing their religious beliefs and faith and their career in sports?

MM: “Just like everything in this kind of job, you have to figure out your priorities. You absolutely have to do what works for YOU. Not everyone is going to handle the balance the same way. I spent a lot of time struggling with the balance until I took the time to really think about what I wanted and how I wanted my life to feel. I went through a lot of trial and error, trying out both sides of the line. Living the way I knew I didn't want to made me miserable. When I started to make the effort to make both sides work, I became much happier and had such a better balance in my life. I don't get as burnt out or overwhelmed by work anymore, which is just better for everyone.”


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