- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

Professional sports are full of coaches with a win-at-all-cost mentality, but that is not the way to treat young amateur athletes, says Jim Thompson, director of Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit group dedicated to transforming youth sports into a positive, character-building experience.

“If you apply the win-at-all-cost approach, you lose out on opportunities to teach game and life lessons,” says Mr. Thompson, whose group is based in Stanford, Calif.

In other words, if a coach screams at his team because it lost instead of analyzing why things went badly, the team will learn nothing. Instead, the youngsters may build barriers against the coach as a way of protecting themselves.

“Youth sport should be about education. Sure, winning is important, but when you get beat, it’s a chance look back and figure out what you can do better,” Mr. Thompson says. “It’s a chance to bounce back with renewed determination.”

Also, learning how to deal with defeat will become a helpful coping tool for children, not just in sports, but in life, he says.

“In life, it’s rare that everything goes your way,” Mr. Thompson says. “Sports can teach you how to cope.”

Sports also can be a good arena for learning social skills, says Shari Young Kuchenbecker, author of “Raising Winners: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Students Succeed on and off the Playing Field.”

“In sports, no coach wants a bratty kid. They look for kids who are coachable,” says Mrs. Kuchenbecker, who has a doctorate in psychology and specializes in sports psychology. “Learning to say please and thank you will help both on and off the field.”

Social skills — such as being courteous, learning to trust and being respectful — also play a part in becoming a team player, she says.

There are more than 4 million volunteer coaches working with 40 million youths in the nation, according to Positive Coaching Alliance. So, while the role is emotionally challenging, demanding and time-consuming, many adults — often parents — seem to find coaching very rewarding.

“A coach can be a lifelong teacher to a child,” Mrs. Kuchenbecker says. “For many men growing up, the coach was the person they turned to when the going got tough.”

Both Mrs. Kuchenbecker and Mr. Thompson recommend that youth coaches get training through clinics and workshops. Mr. Thompson also offers the following positive coaching tips:

• Create a connection with each child on the team. Know each child’s name and greet players individually by name.

• Keep track of the good things each young player does on the field or the court. That will come in handy when you need to criticize something: For every criticism, deliver at least five pieces of praise. Mr. Thompson calls this filling up the “emotional tank.”

• Always make sure to sandwich the criticism. The criticism (representing the meat in the sandwich) should be preceded and followed by praise (representing the bread in the sandwich).

• Use child-friendly criticism techniques. For example, praise in public and criticize in private. Criticism is easier to take to heart when delivered face to face.

• Another child-friendly criticism technique is to phrase the criticism in an “if … then” fashion:

For example, instead of saying, “No wonder you never make the basket — you never follow through,” the coach would say, “If you follow through, I think you’re much more likely to get the result you want.”

• Be relentlessly positive and keep it fun. A sign of a good coach is children who can’t wait to come to a practice or a game.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

• “THE DOUBLE-GOAL COACH: POSITIVE COACHING TOOLS FOR HONORING THE GAME AND DEVELOPING WINNERS IN SPORTS AND LIFE,” BY JIM THOMPSON, HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS, 2003. THIS BOOK IS FILLED WITH COACHING TOOLS THAT ALLOW YOUNG ATHLETES TO ENJOY SPORTS WHILE LEARNING VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS.

• “COACHING YOUTH SOFTBALL: A BAFFLED PARENT’S GUIDE,” JACQUIE JOSEPH WITH LAURI BERKENKAMP, MCGRAW-HILL COS., 2001. THIS BOOK SCHOOLS NEW COACHES IN THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CONTROLLING, MOTIVATING AND ENCOURAGING CHILDREN IN THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SOFTBALL.

• “COACHING YOUTH SOCCER: AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR PARENTS AND COACHES,” BY DENIS FORD, GLOBE PEQUOT PRESS, 2001. THIS BOOK TARGETS NEW COACHES AND PARENTS OF YOUTH SOCCER TEAMS. IT INCLUDES A SECTION ON THE ROLE OF THE COACH, SENSIBLE GUIDELINES FOR HOW BEST TO TEACH CHILDREN, EMPHASIZING REPETITION, PRAISE, CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM AND FUN. IT ALSO FEATURES BASIC SKILLS AND PRACTICE SESSIONS AS WELL AS THE COMPLETE RULES OF THE GAME.

ASSOCIATIONS —

• NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR YOUTH SPORTS, 2050 VISTA PARKWAY, WEST PALM BEACH, FL 33411. PHONE: 800/729-2057. WEB SITE: WWW.NAYS.ORG. THIS NONPROFIT GROUP PROVIDES WORKSHOPS AND TRAINING FOR COACHES. IT TEACHES POSITIVE AND SAFE COACHING STRATEGIES.

ONLINE —

• THE MARYLAND STATE YOUTH SOCCER ASSOCIATION (WWW.MSYSA.ORG), BASED IN MILLERSVILLE, PROVIDES WORKSHOPS AND TRAINING FOR SOCCER COACHES AS WELL AS STATEWIDE TOURNAMENT AND LEAGUE INFORMATION.

MTHE POSITIVE COACHING ALLIANCE (WWW.POSITIVECOACH.ORG), A STANFORD UNIVERSITY-BASED GROUP, SEEKS TO TRANSFORM THE CULTURE OF YOUTH SPORTS TO GIVE ALL YOUNG ATHLETES THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A POSITIVE, CHARACTER-BUILDING EXPERIENCE. THE WEB SITE HAS INFORMATION ON LOCAL OFFICES AND UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FOR COACHES.


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