Professional Soccer Player Aaron Tredway
Spreading Hope Through Soccer: Aaron Tredway
Written by Henry Ortlip
Aaron Tredway was a typical kid with hopes to become a professional athlete. Little did he know that not only would he achieve his dream of playing pro soccer, but the story wouldn’t end there. Tredway’s commitment to Jesus Christ didn’t change his profession, but it changed his purpose. He connected with Ambassadors in Sport to use soccer to share the gospel around the world. Within the organization he started the American pro team, The Cleveland City Stars in Ohio, and continues to travel the world with a recent soccer tour to Asia. Risen was able to join Tredway on the trip in Nepal to learn more about social media backlash overseas, the writing project that led to him to meet his wife, and how he ended up a “soccer missionary.”
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Kathmandu, Nepal
Risen Magazine: What was your life like growing up?
Aaron Tredway: I think I had a pretty normal childhood. I grew up outside of San Francisco. From an early age soccer was everything to me. I remember when I was five years old and my dad came home from work one day and told me we were going to play a brand new game, well, new to me at least; he called it soccer. I remember arriving at the field and seeing all these kids chasing a ball. They were kicking each other, they were screaming, they were yelling, and it looked like they were having the greatest time of their life. I remember looking up at my dad, who had played minor league baseball and saying, “Dad, this is what I want to do with my life… I want to be a soccer player!” I guess that was the beginning of what shaped much of who I was and what I did growing up.
Risen Magazine: Your father was a baseball player, but you chose soccer. I guess you were only five years old when you made the decision, but how did that go over?
Aaron Tredway: Yeah, he’s never told me if it was his dream or not for me to become a baseball player. I think I’ve been blessed with amazing parents that really gave me the freedom to be whoever I was supposed to become. But, he probably did want me to play baseball. Like I said though, from that first day soccer was the only thing I wanted to do. I did play other sports growing up, but soccer was my passion.
Risen Magazine: When did your career start to take shape and your dream of becoming a professional turn into a reality?
Aaron Tredway: When I was 13 years old I started to travel internationally with the youth national team. Our first trip was to Europe, so from an early age I began traveling with soccer. I didn’t care what other people thought or told me, I wanted to become a pro soccer player. At the time I didn’t understand what that meant, or how to make that happen, but I assumed if I kept practicing I would play for Manchester United [Most popular soccer team in the world]; the MLS [Major League Soccer] didn’t exist at the time. I never played for United, but that was my vision growing up.
Risen Magazine: Professional soccer had been your main goal in life. However, in college you had a change of focus?
Aaron Tredway: Yeah, I think that is probably an accurate way to describe it. You know when you dream about something for a lot of years, or in my case from the age of five, in some ways it can become an obsession. It was the only thing I thought about; it was the only thing that I really applied myself to. So, growing up I didn’t do too well in school and I think my mom thought I wasn’t very bright because my grades were never good. My freshman year in college I won a significant playing award, and for me, at that time, I thought winning that award would validate myself, or help me understand my purpose in life. That might have been the case for two or three days, it was a great feeling, but when the buzz wore off, that feeling of satisfaction and contentment went away. For the first time in my life, at age 19, I started to wonder, “Is there anything more than soccer?” That question sent me on search for something more. There had to be something more. For the first time in my life I opened my mind and heart to examining the claims of Jesus. I grew up thinking I was a Christian. I went to church and I generally tried to be a good person, but in retrospect my life was all about me until I met Jesus my freshman year of college through reading a book called Mere Christianity, by C.S Lewis. That was the first time I started to understand who Jesus was, what he came to do, and what he wanted to be in my life. That radically changed everything that I believed about who I was, and everything that I aspired to be in the future. It didn’t take away my desire to play soccer, but it definitely changed the objectives that I would one day have as a professional player.
…when I do trust in the Lord and I don’t trust in my own understanding, he is faithful and he provides exactly what I need in exactly the time that I need it.
Risen Magazine: In becoming a professional player, how did being a Christian effect your career?
Aaron Tredway: I came to know Jesus three years before I became a professional soccer player and those were very formative years for me. I devoured the Bible in those early years. I was just hungry for truth, so when I started playing soccer professionally my greatest ambition became the glory of God in everything I did as a player. I wanted my life and profession, which happened to be soccer, to be about glorifying God, not about glorifying me. I wanted it to be about making Jesus famous, and not necessarily how much money I made or what kind of car I drove. That really dictated the decisions I made and the clubs that I played for. I had a fairly different route through the world of professional soccer. I had a very brief time in the United States in the top league, but ultimately I went to Zimbabwe and played in the top league for a team called the Black Aces. I wanted to play there because I felt I could have a big impact in a country that absolutely idolized the game of soccer. Those were two crazy and amazing years in Zimbabwe; I was then sold to a team called Hellenic in South Africa, in their top league. [In soccer players aren’t traded like traditional sports, they are sold from team to team.] I played there for three seasons. I saw God do some amazing things, not because I was anything special or had life figured out. I really believe that God will use whatever we offer for his glory. Early on I remember saying to God, “If you can use soccer to glorify your name, then use me.”
Risen Magazine: Talk to me about how you went from your pro career to getting involved in the global soccer ministry called Ambassadors in Sport?
Aaron Tredway: From early in my playing career I had decided I wanted to serve God in soccer. At that point I had very limited experience with people who called themselves missionaries or pastors. I just wanted to serve God through my sport. One day I went to see a pastor at the church I was attending in California and told him I wanted to be a soccer missionary. As it came out of my mouth we both started to laugh at the thought, but then, to my surprise he said, “Ok, cool, let’s go for it!” The church commissioned me and said I was their missionary sent into the world of professional soccer. After four to five years, I started to pray and really believe that God was leading me to be a part of a larger community of people who were using soccer to share the gospel. A community that was bigger than just Aaron Tredway. At that time I made a list of all the organizations I knew who were using soccer to share the gospel and the Lord lead me to an organization called Ambassadors In Sport (AIS). They are this amazing organization that has been around for over 20 years. People ask us all the time, “What does Ambassadors In Sport actually do?” The simple answer is that we use soccer as a vehicle to build relationships with people to share the love of Christ. However, Ambassadors looks different in the 20-plus countries we work in. Every country has a different culture and a different context. For example, in South Africa we work in different prisons with inmates who love soccer. In the United States we do soccer camps and we have a youth soccer club. In England we work in schools and with the homeless. In Haiti we train physical education teachers to run soccer tournaments in their villages. So there are many different approaches, but our vehicle is always soccer and our message is always Jesus.
Risen Magazine: What’s the goal of Ambassadors in Sport?
Aaron Tredway: Ambassadors’ goal is simple – football, faith, and future. We have a deep passion for the disenfranchised and underprivileged, but we desire to work with people from all nations, ethnicities and backgrounds around the world. You might not like soccer, but it is a language that many people seem to speak. Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” It crosses all sorts of barriers, racial, social, and financial, which little else can break down. I have seen that soccer has that ability. It’s a global language and Ambassadors is just trying to harness that for the good kingdom and the fame of Jesus.
It’s similar to what I said about my playing career. Really the goal for me as a single guy, and professional soccer player, was to glorify God with the gifts, talent, and time he gave me.
Risen Magazine: Stepping outside of soccer, I understand you have written a few books. Your first book was “Season of Singlehood.”
Aaron Tredway: [Laughing] I’m glad you know about the books, I don’t know if many people do. Yeah, I have written a few books and actually, my first book, Season of Singlehood wasn’t ever published, but I seemed to do quite a lot of speaking on that topic over the years. My friends like to tease me because I was on the cover of Christian Singles Magazine a few years ago. So yeah, I was single for 35 years, but it wasn’t necessarily my goal to stay single. I believed that when the time was right the Lord would bring the right girl into my life. I was always open to marriage; I never kissed dating goodbye. I did go on a few dates over the years, but the Lord took 35 years to bring somebody and I wrote a book about it with a simple message. Message being, there is a time and a season for everything. That’s what it says in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. There is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, and time to sow. So I thought to myself, surely there is a time to be single and a time to be married. I guess my time to be single was longer than others, maybe shorter than other peoples’ too.
Risen Magazine: You started a professional soccer team a few years back, the Cleveland City Stars. How did that come about?
Aaron Tredway: After several years playing and using soccer to do ministry I thought, “If there are other Christian pro soccer players out there, they need to be using the platform of soccer to share their faith as well.” And so it became my goal to try and understand how I could connect with, encourage, and maybe even equip some of those players. That’s why within Ambassadors in Sport we started the Cleveland City Stars. I was fortunate to help found the team, and I served as the Executive Director throughout the lifespan of the club. The Lord granted us some success on the field, we actually won the Division II National Championship our second season, but really our objective was to use the team to train Christian players to glorify God through soccer; winning was just an added bonus.
Risen Magazine: After moving on from the City Stars, your career took a major shift?
Aaron Tredway: Yes, in early 2010 the board of Cleveland City Stars decided the team was an amazing ministry tool, but the finances to run the team might be leveraged more effectively elsewhere. We had an annual budget of over a million dollars and that was the lowest budget of any team in the league. So we all unanimously voted to close the City Stars in 2010, which opened up a door for me to go to the World Cup in South Africa. I had written a book that was just sitting in my computer at the time. The title was To Who. I do realize that is grammatically incorrect. Many people like to point that out to me as if I had not considered that. [Laughing. In soccer opposing fans will chant “To Who” as a taunt when a pass misses the intended player.] To Who is a book born out of my experiences playing soccer and my experiences reading the Bible. I really believe that God has created everybody to exist for his glory and To Who is really a question. The question is, “Who do you live for?” To whom does the glory in your life go?
Within a week after we closed Cleveland City Stars I was invited to publish To Who and use the book for evangelism at the World Cup in South Africa. About 2,000 churches distributed the book and I got to speak at many churches in the months leading up to the tournament. It was an amazing and life changing experience. The first day I spoke in South Africa I visited four churches in Johannesburg. I remember walking in the door of the fourth church that first day. I was tired and I probably had a bad attitude as I walked in. I thought to myself, “I just want to get this talk over with and go home and sleep.” But walking in, I also noticed somebody, which was weird because I don’t recall ever noticing someone in particular anywhere else I had spoken. That night I noticed a girl who I thought [laughing] was pretty cute. I immediately rebuked myself. I was there to share the gospel, so I had to focus, but after the talk was over it was amazing; that cute girl came up to me and wanted to respond to the message I had shared, and I guess I had a response for her as well. [Laughing] Nine months later we got married.
Risen Magazine: So after you finished your second book, the conclusion for your first book was resolved?
Aaron Tredway: I guess you could say that, Season of Singlehood came to an end with the introduction of To Who, but that was the story that the Lord was writing and it was a definite message to me. When you wait on the Lord and you trust in him, certainly I’m not an expert in that, I get that wrong so often and yet I have seen in my life that when I do trust in the Lord and I don’t trust in my own understanding, he is faithful and he provides exactly what I need in exactly the time that I need it. I guess in some respects I had kind of given up on getting married and I just thought, well I’m perfectly okay to be single if that’s what the Lord wants, and then out of nowhere the Lord brought Ginny into my life and she has been an amazing blessing. We have been married now for two years and I’m still working with Ambassadors living in South Africa with Ginny in Cape Town. I love the season of marriage as much as I enjoyed the season of singlehood.
Risen Magazine: Risen had the privilege to come on your latest professional players tour to Nepal. What was the objective of the trip? And how did it compare to other tours?
Aaron Tredway: We have been doing professional players tours for several years and I have been fortunate to play on many of them. On this particular tour I was injured. I’m getting to be an old guy in the world of professional sports. I’m retired now so they probably didn’t miss me on the field anyway. Our objective in Nepal was really two-fold. Number one we wanted to be a blessing, we wanted to encourage the church, encourage followers of Christ in that country where it’s hard to be a Christian. Also, as much as we wanted to outreach, we wanted to “in-reach.” So we use these types of tours to get together 15-20 professional soccer players from many different parts of the world, from many different leagues and spend ten days together. We hope to expose players to the platform that they have and hopefully give them some tools so that they can be more effective in terms of their pursuit in the glory of God once they go back to there respective clubs.
The tour was a little bit different than most tours because during our first match which was played in a stadium of 10 to 15 thousand people, a few of the local believers hung banners with Christian messages. I thought the messages were fairly non-threatening; “Jesus Loves You“, “Jesus Saves” types of messages, but many people in Nepal, or maybe just a select group of people, took offense to that. There was a major backlash on social media, Twitter, Facebook, even newspapers, and it led to the cancellation of the remaining matches. In the end we were able to play our remaining matches without spectators, but that didn’t matter because our objective on tours like this is to use the big stadium matches to create awareness about the team, but the outreach we really want to do is off the field. On this trip it just so happened that we only needed to play one big match to accomplish that objective. That one match got people throughout Nepal talking about Jesus. One influential pastor commented to me that for the first time in his life he was hearing Jesus on the lips of Nepali people and he was moved to tears. And so, as the team had been discussing on the trip, Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” We experienced that in Nepal, and I have seen that throughout my playing career and my life. I’m just in a process, I’m on a journey just trying to figure out how can I trust God more, because the more I trust him the more he shows himself to be faithful.
Risen Magazine: You have been to over 100 countries. Is there one country that stands out to you?
Aaron Tredway: I think that God’s creation is amazing. Different countries and cultures fascinate me. I have been to places like, Iceland and Tajikistan and Outer Mongolia. [I’ve seen] the vastness of God’s creation and his creativeness is amazing. So, is there one single place that stands out? Cape Town is probably my favorite city, but there are some amazing parts of the world and I feel blessed to have visited some of those places. But more than that, [I’m blessed] to meet with so many amazing people in each of these places.
Risen Magazine: What’s next for Aaron Tredway, “Season of Parenthood?”
Aaron Tredway: [Laughter] I don’t want to be pinned down by that question. You are going to have to ask my wife Ginny if you really want an answer to that one.
Risen Magazine: As you continue life together with your wife, in what direction do you see your lives moving?
Aaron Tredway: It’s similar to what I said about my playing career. Really the goal for me as a single guy, and professional soccer player was to glorify God with the gifts, talent, and time he gave me. As a married guy it’s the same thing. Now that we have joined our lives together, that’s our ultimate goal, whatever God would grant us, whatever he trusts us with, that we will be faithful with those things and use our time, talents, resources, relationships and whatever else makes up our life, for God’s glory, for his fame, and that his name would be made known and seen as the most significant in this world.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2013