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Positive Coaching Alliance Aims For Better Attitudes In Youth Sports

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Ever heard parents and coaches bellowing at officials at Little League Baseball games? Or heard coaches belittling players at youth soccer games? Or punishing young kids with pushups and laps?

Jim Thompson, a Stanford University faculty member, became disgusted with such behavior at his young son’s games in the 1990s.

In 1998 he founded the Positive Coaching Alliance. The mission of PCA is to impact the culture of sports and make participation more fun for young players as well as coaches and parents. A positive sports culture improves the character development of young players, while a negative culture is detrimental to youth, according to the organization.

Since its founding, PCA has partnered with at least 3,500 organizations across the United States and conducted approximately 20,000 live workshops, according to its website.

Its programming is designed to have an impact at three levels in a sports organization or school: youth, coaches and the school or sports organization culture.

PCA uses several tools to teach coaches, athletes and parents the values of positive reinforcement, constructive criticism and good sportsmanship. They include live workshops, online courses, publications, partnerships with schools and sports leagues and ongoing communications with those partners.

A harsh sports culture thwarts youth development, said Steve Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback of the National Football League, in a PCA video.

“In fact, by the age of 13, over 70% of kids drop out of youth sports because it just isn’t fun anymore,” Young says in the video. “When they quit, gone is the opportunity to teach them important character-building traits — self-confidence, resilience, teamwork, mental toughness, self-control and respect for others.”

Troy Pearson is director of the Minnesota chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance. He grew up competing in various sports and has played college basketball and coached. 

“I’ve seen and experienced cultures and philosophies that have breathed life into me and other cultures that have sucked life out of me and those participating,” he said.

Pearson disapproves of the “win-at-all-cost mentality” that he said is present in sports at all levels of competition.

PCA helps coaches develop best practices, Thompson said.

A Tufts University survey of 4,379 coaches working with youth in high school or younger found that those who had received PCA training retained more of their athletes. Coaches, especially newer ones, who had taken the training were more likely to continue coaching, according to the study.

A See Change Institute survey of student athletes who had taken the PCA training found the majority said their sportsmanship improved, they treated their opponents better and had a more positive feeling toward officials in the season after the training.

Baseball Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher once said, “Nice guys finish last.” The Positive Coaching Alliance has a different take on that: “Positive is powerful.”

—Wade Marbaugh contributed to this article.

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