The winningest coach in the history of Elon University women’s basketball says her ultimate goal is to impact her players with the love of Christ and to use her platform “for God's glory.”
Charlotte Smith, a former WNBA player who will be entering her 13th season at the helm in 2023-24, was honored at the K-Love Fan Awards last month with the Sports Impact Award. Under Smith, Elon won back-to-back conference championships in 2017 and 2018 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the only time in program history.
“The life of sports, it's a life where you live your life on a performance treadmill,” Smith told Christian Headlines and other media members. “And if you're not grounded in your identity and who you are, you can get lost, you can get swallowed up. And too often as athletes, we find ourselves in the measuring cup where we feel like we don't measure up [and] we feel like … we haven't performed to our best ability.”
Smith is the author of two devotion books, When Coaches Pray and When Athletes Pray. She was a standout at the University of North Carolina, where she hit the game-winning shot in the 1994 national championship game.
Basketball, she said, is “not who” she is. She played eight seasons in the WNBA.
“I remember my [WNBA] laundry list – it was like my Christmas list to Jesus,” she said. “I wanted to be an MVP, I wanted to be an All-Star. … And in the WNBA, I never was an MVP, I never was an All-Star. And I can just remember one day, I felt like the Holy Spirit was whispering to me, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Because I had gotten so consumed in worldly success. And that changed the whole trajectory of my perspective, in terms of thinking about: I have this awesome platform, what can I do to use it for God's glory?”
“... When we surrender to God, there's nothing in our lives that we lack.”
The acronym “LACK” helps her remember her place in God’s Kingdom, Smith said, adding that Christians are “loved,” “accepted,” “chosen” and “kept.”
“And so those are the things that I try to reiterate to my players so that they know who they are in Christ,” she said.
Smith recounted the story of a losing season – “one of the worst” of her career – when her team achieved very few of its goals. At the end of the final game, a loss, the mother of a little boy told Smith that he wanted her to lead him to Christ.
“I call that the best championship that I've ever won right there courtside at Elon University,” she said. “I was able to lead that kid to Christ.”
Photo courtesy: ©Kayla Schoen for K-LOVE Fan Awards, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.