When Brent Sapp shared his vision with me, several years ago, to provide a unique training tool for fathers to launch their sons into young manhood, I eagerly offered to test the program with my twelve-year-old son, Curtis. Two events from my past convinced me that Brent was on to something. Both my upbringing, and my contact with noted speaker and professor, Donald Joy, played a role in my desire to take a closer look at Brent’s idea.

I was raised in an uncommon environment. While growing up in Southwest Virginia, surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, I often heard stories of how my parents and extended relatives performed adult responsibilities during their early teen years. My grandmother, for example, married when she was thirteen. At the age of sixteen, my dad dropped out of school to take a full-time job. As a result, both my grandmother and my father bypassed most of adolescence. They quickly moved from childhood to young adulthood, without experiencing the anxiety associated with pimples, prom nights, or anything else that would effect their acceptance, or lack thereof, from the "cool" group at school. Make no mistake, this rural mountain culture certainly created its own set of problems. But the perils of puberty were not among them.

I wanted to capture the positive lessons from my family’s past, while creating a more natural transition for my son to enter young adulthood. I did not want Curtis to experience frustration from having the physical and mental capacities of an adult, while receiving the responsibilities and social treatment of a child. I knew it would be impossible to replicate to context of my agrarian ancestors. But in this Champion Study, I saw a framework to accelerate the time my son had to spend in the no-man’s land of pubescence.

The second reason I saw Curtis as a prime candidate for Brent’s project, was the influence of my mentor, Dr. Donald Joy. Dr. Joy, Professor of Family and Human Development at Asbury Seminary, is an expert in the area of adolescent development. He believes that today’s teenagers are "all dressed up with no place to go". "We don’t accept them", he would remark in my classes at the seminary, "into the adult community, and we don’t want them to act like kids".

Dr. Joy has long advocated the need for a rite of passage to celebrate a young person’s biological and mental advent into young adulthood. I was fired-up when I discovered that the Champion Study not only advocated a rite of passage ceremony, but also included character building, as well as practical suggestions on how to make the process an unforgettable experience. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Now, the only missing piece remaining was implementation.

A Rough Beginning

I decided to introduce Curtis to the whole concept of Champion Training one night at his favorite restaurant. I had three goals for this first meeting:

  1. to affirm my love for Curtis, and to express how proud I was to be his father
  2. to dialogue about the physical, emotional, and mental changes he was starting to experience
  3. to inquire about his desire to engage in a rigorous, yet rewarding, program that would solidify our relationship, help equip him for manhood, and culminate in an unforgettable rite of passage celebration

Curtis was intrigued by the idea, but had one major concern - "Dad, am I ready for this?"

My son was twelve-years-old. Brent and I had discussed the fact that boys reach puberty as early as ten or eleven, and as late as fourteen or fifteen. I should have read between the lines and realized that what Curtis was really saying was, "Dad, great plan, but could you give me another year?" I should have listened to Curtis. But I was so excited about the Champion Study, I plowed ahead anyway.

After a few lessons, I knew I had made a mistake. I realized I had started Curtis too early. He was a late bloomer, and I should have been more patient. We stopped our study, and made a commitment to resume after his thirteenth birthday.

Wow! What a difference a year made. During the next twelve months, the small changes I had seen in Curtis exploded into major alterations. Puberty had arrived! Now, it was Curtis who was coming to me with questions about everything from science to sex. When I suggested that we revisit the Champion Study, he simply commented - "Dad, I’m ready!"

My advice to fathers preparing to embark on this adventure is to take time to "read the signs" and make sure that your son is at least in the beginning stages of puberty. Casey, Brent’s son, was ready at an earlier age than Curtis. We wanted our sons to go through the training at the same time. The timing, however, just wasn’t right.

Mutual Commitment

If someone were to ask me the secret to making the Champion Study a high impact, life-changing curriculum, my immediate response would be mutual commitment. This program demands as much from the father, or significant adult, leading the process as it does from the son. I am a professional speaker and, as a result, function under a crazy schedule. Sometimes I’m gone for a week, and then I’m home for a week. There is no pattern. Consequently, Curtis and I covered three to four episodes in one week; but then we would skip a week or two. Our primary goal was to complete the lessons together. We were not concerned if it took us six months or twelve months. We viewed the Champion Study as a process, not an event. We wanted to enjoy the ride.

The Pay-off

One of the marks of a CHAMPION is developing the ability to practice delayed gratification. Curtis and I worked hard to understand the meaning of manhood. This endeavor did not stop us, however, from pausing occasionally to fantasize about our upcoming "celebration trip". When Curtis finished his training, we planned to be standing in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. We knew that Calgary, Banff, and Lake Louise would be hosting an event in January 1998, more significant than the ‘94 Winter Olympics; namely my son’s rite of passage.

The thought and preparation you put into your son’s celebration is as significant as the program itself. The celebration is the reward for your son’s hard work, the culmination of his intense training, and the seal of his transition into young manhood. It will also become a memory that you and he will treasure forever. Curtis and I are still talking about our trip. Here are some of the lessons I learned during the process of creating a meaningful celebration:

Make it unique. If you live in the south, go north. If you live in the north, go south. If you live in the country, try New York City. If you are a city dweller, go country. If you live near the ocean, go to the mountains. There is always a sense of adventure when we experience the unknown. We live in Orlando, Florida. Curtis and I wanted to go somewhere that was radically different. Brent took his son, Casey, on a wild boar hunt on thousands of acres that looked exactly like it did when the Seminole Indians hunted game years ago. Casey and Brent are about as sophisticated as they come. There were completely out of their element during the hunt. It was the perfect adventure for them.

Make it meaningful. It is the little details that make a trip like this truly unforgettable. My roommate from college is a pastor in Calgary, so I lined up a special service for Curtis at his church. We ate elk on Sunday afternoon, and had fun joking about the fact that since Curtis was now a man, he could eat a man’s meal. I followed the advice your will read in this parent’s manual, by having several of my closest friends and relatives send audiotapes, videotapes, or letters to Curtis. He reflected upon their wisdom and advice about growing up during the entire trip. I want to emphasize how much this touched Curtis. I saved everyone’s response for Curtis to enjoy for years to come. He sent personal thank you notes to each adult.

Make it affordable. You may be getting the impression that you have to be related to Bill Gates to have an effective rite of passage. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am a professional trainer, so I have access to frequent flier miles. My roommate from college housed us for several nights in Canada. His wife, an employee of Chrysler, got us premium seats to our first professional hockey game. Be creative. One of Brent’s friends hosted the wild boar hunt. Other men will be so excited about what you are doing that they will want to help you out. Sure it will cost something. This is why it is important to plan and save for months in advance. Allow your son to help you plan for, and pay for, the event.

Keep it Christ-centered. The Champion Study is designed to reinforce the truth, that apart from Christ we can do nothing. It is only fitting, therefore, that a rite of passage have Christ as its center. Curtis and I accomplished this by taking Sunday off from skiing, snowboarding, etc., to focus on God.

Brent accomplished this by having those of us participating in Casey’s ceremony take him on a private walk and pray with him. We also shared about our own relationship with Christ and reminded Casey that we would be there for him in the future as a brother in the Lord. Asking your son to recite the CHAMPION Creed or close out the ceremony in prayer is another way to honor him as a young man capable of taking on spiritual leadership.

The Impact Now

One father heard about what Curtis and I were doing and asked a very legitimate question. "What exactly will your son do differently when this thing is over?" It is important that you think through the different roles and responsibilities of a young man compared to that of a child. The first thing I said, however, was
"It will not be over".

Building character is a lifelong process. The depth and nature of my relationship with Curtis has been altered forever. The following are some concrete ways that Curtis’ roles and responsibilities changed after participating in the training:

  • More financial responsibilities
  • A different discipline plan
  • More spiritual leadership
  • Wider boundaries
  • Input and inclusion in my own decision making

I am confident that your experience with this material and process will be as meaningful to you and your son as it has been for Curtis and me. You already have the desire to be a "difference maker" in the life of your son. Why else would someone engage in so rigorous a project?

Use this study as an instrument to accomplish your objective. The Champion Study puts fathers and sons together to enjoy both quantity and quality time, with character building and Christ at the core. This is a winning combination.

Focus Points to Remember:

  • The Champion material advocates a rite of passage for a boy into young manhood.
  • The program helps you, as a Father, to build specific character traits into your son.
  • Take time to "read the signs" to make sure your son is ready for the program.
  • Take notice of you son’s learning style so that you can keep his attention through the Warrior Sessions.
  • Reward your son with a special ceremony and trip at the end of his training.

Sam Bartlett