By Kathy Day
Dave Austin, a former professional tennis player who now coaches athletes in mental performance, believes he has found a way for players to go beyond their games.
It has taken form in an organization called Players of Faith, a nonprofit that is marshalling the forces of professional athletes and some musicians to provide financial support to programs that share their mission “not to provide fish for one meal, but to demonstrate how to fish for a lifetime of meals.” All the while, they are also demonstrating they have a higher purpose than merely their own success, said Austin.
The Rancho Santa Fe resident is the son of a Navy chaplain, who in a video on the Players website describes how his father’s spirit lives within him. The story is riveting – his father, “Hammerin’ Hank Austin,” was among the first to land on the beach at Iwo Jima even though chaplains traditionally brought up the rear.
“Sports was always my calling card,” said Austin, who will be at the Drew Brees Celebrity Championship at La Costa Resort May 17-20. A football and baseball player in high school and at Cuesta College, he switched sports when he transferred to San Diego State University and got a tennis scholarship. He went on to gain a world ranking before taking his pro sports experience and applying it to psychology and mental performance coaching.
He has worked with Major League Baseball and NFL players and with the U.S. Olympic field hockey team, and while he didn’t highlight other parts of his past in a recent interview, an Internet search shows he also has had an acting and singing career, surfed in the Makaha International Surfing Championships and was a managing director for a record label.
He’s also a published author and has run charity events in the past.
Through the years, he said, he noticed that it was always the negative news about the athletes that “sells.”
That’s what persuaded him to want to make a difference and show the good things athletes do, but until December 2010, he didn’t know how to do it.
But on a trip to Israel with Cathy, his wife of 26 years, they visited the Sea of Galilee.
“I heard the message, ‘With one seed you can feed a million,” he recalled, adding that he wasn’t sure what it meant at that moment.
Next they traveled to the Mount of Beatitutes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon the Mount.
It was there, he said, that he wrote the words “players of faith” and began thinking that by gathering two or three organizations together they could all be stronger.
Shortly thereafter, he went to Hawaii to watch his son Shane – a quarterback who has hopes of finding a spot in the NFL or Canadian Football League – play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The thoughts started gelling.
On Christmas Eve, he called Luke Scott, at the time with the Baltimore Orioles and now with the Tampa Bay Rays, and told him what had happened in Israel.
Describing Scott as a “giver who really cares … his faith is really strong,” he said the player told him he had had a similar experience and liked the idea.
Austin called a few more people – Kameron Loe, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher; Page Odel, Lowe’s and Scott’s agent; Terry Williams, a former banker and Scott’s business manager, and Dave Hannah, founder of Athletes in Action. They all said they were “in” and, along with author Tony Amaradio, are founding members.
With momentum building, he said, they focused their mission.
“Our reason is not so much to preach,” Austin said. “It’s about the strength beyond strength.”
Their website www.playersoffaith.com describes them as “warriors of faith” and tells the players’ stories in video clips.
While they haven’t done any fundraising events yet, relying on founders’ and others’ contributions, they are looking for places to help “with their names or their money.”
He talked of the partnerships they’ve formed, including with the Unstoppable Foundation, which is building schools for girls in Uganda; Cadence International, an international Christian ministry that serves military personnel and their families; L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. 1st, dedicated to restoring “character driven” leadership.
Austin recently participated in an Unstoppable Foundation event where he helped line up singer Nelly Furtado to perform and auctioned off an opportunity to go on the field and meet a Player of Faith before a Dodgers or Angels game.
“We raised $44,000 – enough to build schools in two villages in Uganda,” he said.
Last year, the group contributed to the Drew Brees golf classic and his son Shane came out from Hawaii to help. This year, they were asked to do videos for the tournament, including radio and TV spots.
He’s getting a solid hand from son Chase, 16, a sophomore at Torrey Pines High School who plays football.
“He has a gift for editing,” Austin said. Their other two sons are Jason, 34, a farrier who lives in Santa Ynez, and Daniel, a seventh-grader at Roger Rowe who is following in his dad’s tennis footsteps.
While none of the Players of Faith will be participating in the tournament, Austin said, the baseball players “will be here in spirit” and he plans to auction a few opportunities to meet the players.
“It means a lot for all of us to give back,” he added.
For more information of the Players of Faith, visit www.playersoffaith.com
Visit them on the putting green at La Costa Resort during the Drew Brees Celebrity Championship May 17-20: www.celebritychampionship.com.