What Mark Pope said about faith and sports at BYU

BYU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope looks over practice on the university’s campus.
BYU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope looks over practice on the university’s campus. | Nate Edwards/BYU Photo

Mark Pope has been known for “keeping the faith,” but over the past few days he’s been sharing it nearly every chance he can.

Immediately after toppling No. 7 Kansas earlier this week — arguably the best win of Pope’s five-year BYU tenure — the Cougars’ head coach reflected on the principle of Sabbath day observance and how he views briefly resting from basketball preparation as a blessing.

“Sundays are pretty special for us,” Pope told BYU radio broadcasters Greg Wrubell and Mark Durrant. “I’m believing more and more that our prep on Sunday is probably more important than our prep on Monday. It doesn’t guarantee wins or losses, but I’m just a believer ... we’re fortunate that we have these guidelines to follow.”

Pope is currently fielding one of the most religiously diverse rosters in school history, with Muslims, Baptists and others joining the standard crop of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Despite the differences in beliefs within the locker room, Pope feels that BYU’s foundation of faith allows for Cougars of all spiritual backgrounds to be uplifted and strengthened throughout the grind of Big 12 competition.

“Clearly BYU is an institution that’s all about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that permeates through everything we do,” Pope told Wrubell during his weekly BYUtv appearance Thursday evening. “(Faith is) a place where we can all find peace, and our guys are finding some peace in our various faiths. It’s playing a huge part in our ability to manage stress, manage anxiety and put our whole hearts into competing.”

Pope said he has long viewed faith as a major aspect within athletics, with such an intersection creating “a beautiful thing” to observe as a coach.

“There’s got to be some component of faith as a general concept in every athlete’s mind,” Pope told reporters Thursday afternoon. “You do all this work and have to have this irrational faith that in the last two seconds you’re gonna shoot a shot and it’s gonna actually go in the hoop, right? You kinda have to carry that around.”

Pope continued: “Certainly we’re familiar with those concepts here, but on a larger scale, one of the beautiful things about BYU being in the Big 12 is that this university has a very clear mission. ... Athletics has a lot of purposes, one of them is to go win, and one is to give these young men an incredible opportunity to grow ... and certainly to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.”