How the Mormon mission age change is affecting female college athletes

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 8:00 a.m. MDT

She offered a quick prayer, asking Heavenly Father to send her a feeling of peace if he wanted her to serve a mission.

“Right then an overwhelming sense of peace came over me and I just knew I could not deny that experience that I had just had,” Chatman said. “From that point on, I knew without a doubt that I needed to serve a mission.”

The rest of the meeting was a daze as she contemplated her future. Telling her parents would be easy. Telling BYU was harder.

She plans to submit her paperwork in March when she turns 19 and hopes to leave by June 2014.

A coach's perspective

While initially unconcerned, the missionary age change began to weigh more on Judkins' mind when a player told him she was planning to go. This led him to address the team a short time later.

“I support it 100 percent,” he told his squad. “The only thing is you’ve got to let me know; you’ve got to give me advance notice so that I can prepare.”

Are you thinking about a mission? When?

Many coaches have asked the same questions since the announcement.

Utah State volleyball coach Grayson DuBose estimates that more than 60 percent of those he recruits are Latter-day Saints. The thing that caught him off guard was the speed with which everyone wanted to go. Following the announcement, three Aggies left the volleyball program to go on missions, although one ended up getting married instead. His staff had to scramble to find new players.

Fortunately, DuBose and two of his assistants are returned missionaries. He was also able to draw upon his experience as an assistant with the BYU men’s volleyball program to implement a new recruiting model.

“(At first) we were reacting instead of acting,” DuBose said. “Now we have to be more proactive with it.”

Junior college

Several coaches at Salt Lake Community College and Snow College agree that the missionary age change has only had a minimal impact on women’s sports at the junior college level. They also agree it is too soon to predict a trend for how the missionary age change will affect their programs overall.

SLCC women’s basketball coach Betsy Specketer has had one player leave for a mission and one high school recruit talk about going.

SLCC softball coach Cyndee Bennett said she lost two sophomores to missions and doesn’t know if they will return.

Snow College women’s basketball coach Natalie Visger said the missionary age change will make recruiting more complicated, but anticipates a positive impact overall.

“All players have issues and concerns. A mission is just one of the things we deal with as coaches. … In past years I have watched several young men come back to play with added maturity,” Visger said in an email. “It will be interesting to see if the ladies respond the same way. … There are lots of questions that we don’t have answers for at this time.”

Snow College volleyball coach Keven John has had three athletes leave on missions since the change and several are going at the end of this season.

“We have embraced it,” John said. “We feel like a two-year college is perfect for those contemplating a mission.”

Advice and coming back

Since the announcement, two of Judkins’ players have left on missions while two others graduated and ended up on missions. Two more are thinking about it. Judkins likes the fact that young men can depart right after high school. It’s harder to plan for at 19, he said.

“I can see this getting bigger and bigger, with more players wanting to go on missions,” said Judkins, who recalled similar situations when he recruited young men at the University of Utah. “I have to prepare for it. The first couple of years may be hard because you can’t cover yourself fast enough. Hopefully I’ll be prepared.”

Judkins sought advice from BYU men’s head coach Dave Rose, who told him to stagger the missionaries out so they aren’t all going and returning at the same time.

“Get it where you can spread them out. You can’t have four girls out at once,” Judkins said. “Balance it out.”

What kind of condition will they be in when they return? Good question, DuBose said.

“It would take guys a year to get their legs back, where they were jumping as high and as athletic as they were before,” DuBose said. “With women, this is uncharted waters for all of us.”

Judkins is not worried about how they will perform. He holds up former Cougar Melanie Pearson, an all-conference transfer from UCLA, as an example. Following her mission, Pearson led BYU to the Sweet Sixteen in 2002.

“She didn’t lose a beat,” Judkins said. “I’ve had three girls that have had babies. It’s a lot harder to come back physically and mentally from that. It can be done, but it’s difficult.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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