Two Worlds

Fair warning: don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself sitting in a movie theater watching The Ben Malcolmson Story. Seemingly made for Hollywood, this 33-year-old’s journey is an underdog tale with plot twists galore. The subtitle to his best-selling book, Walk On, says it all: From Pee Wee Dropout to the NFL Sidelines – My Unlikely Story of Football, Purpose, and Following an Amazing God.

In a matter of only a few years, Malcolmson went from college sports reporter to University of Southern California football walk-on to the personal assistant to Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

Without giving away any spoilers, one of the book’s biggest surprises actually happens at Malcolmson’s first encounter with Young Life — an informational meeting for potential volunteers — when he was 25 and new to the Seattle area. This is where the book concludes and where we begin.

What were your initial impressions of Young Life?

Young Life people are a unique breed. (Laughs) They’re so full of joy and energy; they’re magnetic. And when I walked in, never having experienced Young Life before, I was instantly drawn to it. I wanted to jump in because of the people who were there. It takes a special person to be a leader, and there were definitely unique personalities there! With such a warm, inviting atmosphere, it’s no wonder kids gravitate toward it.

Describe your Mercer Island Young Life team.

Our team is youthful and vibrant. Being involved for eight years now, we’re starting to have some of our early Young Life kids become volunteer leaders.

For eight years I lived with a bunch of guy leaders in a house on Mercer Island. It’s amazing to have the community with those guys, but also see it overflow into the lives of students. Every day there’s something at the house: Bible studies, meals, club, Campaigners. That house blesses so many people.

What have you learned from your fellow leaders?

Stop striving so much and live out of the love of God. That doesn’t mean you sit on the couch. You still go out there and let His light shine, but it’s not coming out of this place of desperation and trying to fill these holes in your life. It’s coming out of a place of overflow; God is at work and we’re not going to force His hand. That’s been a constant journey for me and I still have a long way to go, but it’s been really cool.

How does your work with the Seahawks inform your work with Young Life and vice versa?

Great question! The Seahawks job is an instant connection with people. I don’t talk about it outside work, but when Young Life kids introduce me to their friends, that becomes an instant bridge. I bring the Young Life kids into my world when I can, showing them “behind the curtain.” I like bringing them into places they wouldn’t be able to go to otherwise.

On the flip side, being a Young Life leader has had a huge impact on my work. It’s kept me youthful and in tune with what younger people are into, because a lot of our players are only a few years older than our Young Life kids. So the things Coach Carroll and I do, it’s so vital that we’re in tune with what’s relevant in the world, especially in the world of young people.

How are you able to navigate your full-time job with the demands of volunteering?

For me it’s not even a burden. That’s when you know God’s hand is on it. He’s called me to this place and I don’t stress out about how much time in the day there is to do it. God opens up doors and as the saying goes, “You make time for what’s important.”

For example, I could be on the road for a game, but I can connect many times throughout the day with Young Life guys because they’re on their phones all the time. Whether that’s texting, Instagram or Snapchat, when used correctly, these are incredible ministry tools for connection and relationship that older generations — mine included — shrug off.

What does a “typical” workday look like for you?

I get to work between six and seven, so it’s easy to get a full day in before Young Life club starts. It’s hard, though, when we have a weekend road trip and we’ll get back at 2 a.m. on Monday, then you turn around and have a full workday and head out that night to club. There’s some days where I’m definitely dragging to club, but those kids put a fire into you and the energy of club wakes you up!

I’ve made a conscious effort to have boundaries, rest more and leave earlier in the day. That’s opened up more opportunities and allowed me to be more present at Young Life events.

So we should “pray against” Monday Night games?

(Laughs) Not only Monday night games, but Monday night road games! When we have those we don’t get home until 3 a.m. and it’s brutal. But fewer Monday night games would be great so I can be at club more!

Are you able to get away and take kids to Malibu or the other camps?

Yes, I’ve been fortunate to do that, and it’s the biggest treat. We say it’s the best week of your life and it is. As campers or leaders — it creates bonds you’ll have the rest of your life. Our Campaigners group from five years ago just got together and as we were sitting there talking about Malibu, we could remember all the little moments so vividly. Those connections we still share are so real because of camp, and those kids’ lives will never be the same.

So you got married this summer?

Yes, and in some ways Young Life is responsible for me meeting my wife, Brittney. She was a leader in Edmonds, Washington, and another volunteer leader set us up on a blind date about a year ago. And, well, when you know, you know!

How long do you see yourself being a part of Young Life?

I hope to be involved in some form or fashion for the rest of my life. It’s developed me and my character and my relationship with God. It’s opened my eyes to His faithfulness. Young Life has given infinitely more to me than I’ve ever given to Young Life. It’s a unique ministry with such an incredible impact on people — kids, leaders, staff, families and the ripple effects from there.

Ben Malcolmson is one of thousands of alumni intimately involved with Young Life. To visit the Alumni and Friends website, join, update your information and reconnect with your Young Life friends, go to alum.yl.org. His book, Walk On, is available at Amazon and other online retailers.