A Follower of Christ. A Leader of Athletes.
Most boys have big dreams: to make it to the big leagues, to be selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft, to be the captain of an NHL team, or even to be coach one day, leading his team to a successful winning season. For one boy, all these dreams came true. New Westminster born Ryan Walter strived to achieve his athletic goals. In the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, Walter was selected second overall by the Washington Capitals. In his sophomore season, Walter was named captain of the Capitals, the youngest NHL captain ever to be named at the time.
Eventually, Walter was traded to the Montreal Canadiens where he won a Stanley Cup in 1986. In 2008, Walter was named assistant coach for the Vancouver Canucks under Alain Vigneault until 2010. Currently, Walter is working as the President of the Abbotsford Heat, the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames.
Walter has been a devout Christian throughout his career as a player, coach, and president. When asked who influenced his Christian faith, Walter answers, “Jean Pronovost.”Walter states that, “he’s an old timer.” Pronovost was a veteran teammate of Walter’s during his early years in Washington. “He’s a wonderful guy,” Walter says, “he and his wife, Diane, very quietly lived out their faith. And I probably came into the Kingdom because of the way Pronovost loved his wife. I saw what the other guys did; I was on the road with the whole team. Jean was real, his love for Diane was real, and that is what attracted me to his faith.”
During his career in Montreal, a hockey town, Walter was basically a rock star. He could have had anything, “but is that what we really want?” Walter asks. “That’s the key. It’s not about what the world offers; it’s about the values we Christians hold and to act in them.”
Of course, as a born-again Christian, obstacles obstructed Walter’s walk in Christian faith. “There were many challenges,” Walter says. “I’ll give you one example: My roommate in Montreal was Guy Lafleur, a wonderful guy. He was retiring and our team was going to have a retirement party for him, and they picked a place called Chez Paree which was a local strip club.”
Staying true to his faith, Walter backed out and decided not to join his team at the party. “I wanted to go, I wanted to be with Guy, he was my buddy. I wanted to be with my team. But I just felt that it was a very hard decision,” he says. “I just didn’t want to go to that place, you know, as a husband and as a guy who says that he’s a Christian. I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me.”
With professional athletes today exposed to fame and wealth, life as a Christian professional athlete can be very difficult. Walter encourages Christian athletes to stand up for their beliefs and to be faithful to God. But at the same time they should know what they believe.
“Know your core,” Walter says. “If something is really important to you then stand for it. But know what you stand for because that’s going to get tested.”
When asked what Bible verse he sticks to, Walter doesn’t hesitate. “Philippians 4:8 is what I’m focused on right now” Walter says.
“‘Whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is pure, if there is any excellence, any great stuff, think on these things.’”
Walter believes this verse teaches the greatest skill any Christian can have. “I really think that the Bible gives us an amazing story of not only the greatest person that ever lived, the savior of the world, but also gives us opportunity to really focus on things of work,” he says. “So you 'be', 'do', and 'get' but some people only focus on the ‘do’ and ‘get’, where the Bible focuses on the 'be', it focuses on the inner game, so that’s why I’m very interested in Philippians 4:8. Think on the things that are excellent, focus on things that are really good. Focus on things you like about people.”
It is safe to say that Walter was born to lead. He was a captain at every level in hockey (minor hockey, junior hockey, NHL hockey). And to be named a captain of an NHL team in his second year is comparable to current NHL captains like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Gabriel Landeskog.
Nonetheless, Walter believes leaders aren’t just born but developed. “I think every leader is a learner,” he says. “So as you go as a leader, if you don’t develop and continue to grow yourself you will quickly hit a wall.”
Gifted with leadership throughout his career, Walter pursued a Master’s degree in Leadership at Trinity Western University after he hung up the skates. From there, he developed a huge passion for leadership and has motivated people through his books and public speaking.
“God seems to put me in leadership positions and, until he suggests that I should go in a new direction I will continue to do that."
What Walter teaches is very important, not just for athletes but for anyone involved in a team environment. As Christians, it is important to be Godly Christian leaders by committing 100 percent of your life and faith in Christ.
“Everyone is able to become, with His power, anything,” Walter says, “Leadership has been incredibly enhanced by my understanding of how Jesus lived and, more importantly, by how God wants to live through my life with His power to do things I couldn’t do.”
Learn more about Ryan Walter and his teachings of leadership by visiting his website at www.ryanwalter.com.