Jeff Friday leads the Xenia Scouts, a baseball team sponsored by Athletes in Action® and composed of college players, through a stretching and mobility session in AIA’s Sports Performance Center.

Strengthening Faith Step by Step

words by

Mark Winz

photos & video by

Joel Pfahler

Jeff Friday, an assistant strength and training coach for the Northwestern University basketball team, visited the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp. After he helped some athletes work out, wide receiver Chris Carter, a team leader, shouted to one of the Vikings’ coaches that he should hire Jeff. Two years later, a job with the Vikings launched Jeff into a 20-year NFL career.

His career as a strength and conditioning coach developed over time, step by step. His faith in Christ came about the same way.  Now, he’s executive director of human performance at the Athletes in Action® Sports Performance Center in Xenia, Ohio. He trains athletes who take part in a variety of sports: soccer, basketball, baseball and more.

Tommy Roadley Trohatos played college football at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec and hopes to play professional football. In this video he tells how the Athletes in Action® Sports Performance Center helped him physically and spiritually.


Jeff’s coaching career started early. During high school and college, he coached basketball as a student volunteer. While earning his exercise science master's degree at Illinois State University, he was a graduate assistant. After earning that degree, he was hired at Northwestern University.

After three years with the Minnesota Vikings, Jeff coached with the Baltimore Ravens, then the United Football League, and after that the Cincinnati Bengals.

As his coaching career developed step by step, his faith followed along. Although he had grown up attending church, faith wasn’t a priority.

“When I went to the NFL,” Jeff says, “I was with athletes who were my age, my peers, who were professed Christians who I respected professionally. I started attending the pre-game chapels. I started asking questions.”


“In the weight room there’s periods of rest and recovery and there’s periods of work. Life happens in the weight room.”

Jeff Friday

When he moved to Baltimore, he found a church that fit. An assistant coach he hired was a Christian who also answered some of his questions. One Sunday, the pastor invited people to pray and receive Christ. “I responded,” Jeff says. “My life was changed.” 

In 2019, he met Athletes in Action staff members, who invited him to speak at events and to volunteer as a coach. In early 2022, he became a staff member.  Now, Jeff helps athletes at many levels, from high school to professional, build physical and spiritual strength.

Athletes in Action® staff members use online tools to offer training to athletes in different places without traveling.

While athletic training is a physical experience, it doesn’t need to be done face-to-face.

 “The Sports Performance Center helps us develop athletic potential (speed, explosive movement, strength, flexibility) through applied functional science in an atmosphere and a staff that is faith-driven,” says James Mathews, executive director of AIA’s Total Athlete Design Lab.

 “The SPC is designed to support athletes locally as well as digitally,” he continues. The staff team recently trained athletes in five locations outside the U.S., including some places where a traditional Christian outreach would not be welcomed. They connected with athletes online four times a week over an eight-month period.

 “Most of those who participated were non-Christians,” James explains. More than 70 indicated decisions to trust Christ as Savior and are now active churchgoers, and 400 in all had some contact with a local church.

Athletes in Action uses the concept of the Total Athlete Experience, which includes body, sport skill, mind and faith, explains James Mathews, executive director of AIA’s Total Athlete Design Lab.

During athletic training, opportunities for conversations about faith, discipleship and evangelism abound. “Within [a] sport, there’s the wins, and there’s the losses,” Jeff says; “there’s the joys; there’s the disappointments. 

“You get the whole spectrum of life in the weight room. And so, the opportunity to minister is unlike any other opportunity.”

Next Steps

Athletes in Action’s influence in the world of sport includes presenting the NFL-sanctioned Bart Starr Award at the end of each NFL season. Trent Dilfer won the award in 2003. Two years earlier, he had won the Super Bowl on a team whose head strength and conditioning coach was Jeff Friday. Click below to learn more about the 2023 award event.


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