Keeping it Positive: Q&A with Jim Thompson, Founder & Executive Director, Positive Coaching Alliance
In 1998, Jim Thompson founded the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) with the goal of "transforming youth sports so sports can transform youth." Since its inception, PCA has worked with over 1,100 youth sports organizations, leagues, schools and cities throughout the country and has helped create "a positive, character-building youth sports environment for more than 3 million youth athletes." Recently, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund sat down with Mr. Thompson to get his insight into the best methods of coaching youth sports.
What is the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA)?
Empower youth sports leaders to create an organizational culture in which everyone involved Honors the Game.
Spark a "social epidemic" of Positive Coaching working with national and local organizations.
What motivated you to create such a program? As a youth coach for my son's baseball team 25 years ago, I realized that most adults who worked with youth athletes weren't prepared to get the best out of kids nor to seize the endless procession of teachable moments that sports provide. I knew the power of great coaching and believed that young people needed great coaches even more than professional and college athletes.
What services do you provide for youth sports leagues? Our annual partnerships for schools and youth sports organizations (YSOs) include live workshops for: Leaders on how to create and maintain a positive culture in which coaches see themselves as character educators and parents learn to support rather than undermine their children.
Coaches on practical tools to be Double-Goal Coaches who prepare their teams to compete and win at the same time they build character.
Parents on how to act as "Second-Goal Parents" who let the coaches and athletes focus on winning while they reinforce the life lessons that sports offer.
Athletes on becoming "Triple-Impact Competitors" who make themselves, their teammates and the game better. We have account representatives assigned to each partner organization to work with them throughout the year to help them build the strongest possible positive culture.
Do you provide any resources for leagues that are not able to host a coaching seminar? We have coach and parent workshops on-line and we have a vast set of materials on our web site (www.positivecoach.org) available for downloading. We also seek contributions to allow us to provide partnerships for organizations working with underserved populations.
On the PCA website, www.positivecoach.org, you often reference the idea of "Honoring the Game." What do you mean by this? Honoring the Game is a more robust version of sportsmanship, which too often is not taken seriously by people with a win-at-all-cost mentality. To make it clear what it means we developed the ROOTS of Honoring the Game, respect for the: Rules - Never bend the rules to win.
Opponents - Recognize a worthy opponent as a "gift."
Officials - Respect officials even when they make a mistake.
Teammates - Never do anything on or off the field that will embarrass your team.
Self - Always live up to your own standards even when others don't.
How can coaches help "Honor the Game?" They can introduce the concept of Honoring the Game to their players and reinforce it throughout the season. They can hold a parent meeting at the beginning of the season to introduce Honoring the Game to parents and get their commitment to supporting the team's goal of being a team (including parents and fans) that Honors the Game. We share many tools in our coach workshops, including a script for introducing the topic to players and a sample parent meeting agenda and outline.
PCA has a National Advisory Board, which includes two Major Leaguers, Barry Zito and Brad Ausmus. What is the role of this board?
Through PCA, you have the opportunity to meet with many youth baseball and softball coaches. What are the most pressing issues/common problems that they face today? How do you suggest handling these issues? One of the biggest is how to make and keep the great sports of baseball and softball fun for kids. Because they are there is so much failure built into the games, coaches need to work hard to build players' confidence and show them how to bounce back from mistakes. PCA teaches coaches to establish a team mistake ritual to help athletes recover from mistakes and learn to welcome challenges rather than fear them. A mistake ritual that we like is "flushing mistakes." When a player makes a mistake on the diamond, he or she tends to look at the coach. Instead of turning away or throwing the clipboard on the ground, coaches make a flushing motion with their hand to signify that the athlete should flush the mistake and get ready for the next play. Coaches who make a team mistake ritual part of their team culture report that their players are more aggressive, have more fun, and do better on the scoreboard. The irony is that the use of a mistake ritual results in players making fewer mistakes! Another issue that comes up again and again is how to deal with parents who are over-involved and over-invested in their children's success as an athlete. In our coach workshops we encourage coaches to pro-actively recruit parents to be part of the culture-shaping team. If coaches can get parents on their side (in terms of Honoring the Game, for example), they will become positive influences. We know of many situations where a parent started to get out of hand at an umpire's call he disagreed with and another parent has intervened to encourage him to "Honor the Game and set a good example for our kids."
In your opinion, what are the best qualities to have as a youth sport coach? The ability to fill Emotional Tanks is a high priority for any coach, especially of youth athletes. When players have full E-Tanks, they can perform their best without worrying about failure or having their coach come down on them when they fail, as everyone does in baseball on a regular basis. Teaching athletes to fill each others' E-Tanks is a crucial aspect of building a team culture in which players commit to trying to reach their potential. Serving as a model for players to learn to Honor the Game is absolutely imperative given the decline in civility in much of sports today. If I had to choose, I would take a coach who teaches and models Honoring the Game above one who is a great teacher of the skills of a sport but is a poor role model in this area. Being able to teach the skills and strategies of the game is also important, especially as players get older. For younger kids, making it fun is the very most important thing because if they are not having fun, they will not stick with the sport. If they do have fun, they will keep coming back. Finally it is important for a coach to share his/her passion for the sport to develop a life-long love of the sport in players.
Do you find that different sports require a different approach to coaching? If so, how? In terms of X's & O's and the skills of a particular game different approaches may be appropriate. But in terms of the art of coaching, there are common elements that work from the tee-ball level to the professional ranks. In particular, regarding using sports to build character and teach life lessons, we have found that our coaching workshops communicate the basics to coaches of all sports.
Similarly, should coaches utilize different methods for different age groups and/or skill level? It is critically important that coaches use developmentally appropriate methods depending on the age and maturation of the athlete.
In addition to training coaches, PCA also values the role that parents can play. What can parents do to support and cultivate a positive experience for their children? Parents who are not coaches need to let the coaches and athletes worry about winning. Parents should be what PCA calls "Second-Goal Parents" where the Second Goal is using sports to teach life lessons. For example, if your child strikes out with the bases loaded and the game is lost, a parent can have a first-goal conversation or a second-goal conversation with the child. "Keep your elbow up, stride into the ball, don't bail out of the batter's box," and the like are first-goal conversations better left to the coach. Parents should talk about life lessons like resiliency using a tool we call You're-the-kind-of-person-who Statements": "I know you must be disappointed about not driving in the winning run, but one of the things I like about you is that you are the kind of person who doesn't give up easily." In this way a parent can focus on the second goal and build a child's self image as a person who doesn't give up easily!
As leagues gear up for the start of another baseball and softball season, what is the most important piece of advice you can offer to coaches and parents? Keep in mind how quickly your child grows out of their youth sports experience and just enjoy it! Parents of grown children tell me they wish they had enjoyed watching their kids play more rather than getting so uptight about whether they were being coached right, whether the officials' calls were fair to their child, whether they were playing the right position. When their child's sports experience is over, parents often realize that they should have chilled out more and just enjoyed it. Parents who have kids playing sports are experiencing the "good old days" and they should enjoy them while they can.
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