Training camp for coaches
Program teaches youth-sports volunteers that winning has little to do with the final score
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A winner-take-all mentality that undermines sportsmanship principles and alienates many young athletes. Parents questioning coaching decisions and harassing game officials. Poorly maintained athletic facilities and equipment shortages.
Add to this list mounting concerns about head injuries and potential abuse in the post-Jerry Sandusky era, and the landscape for youth sports can look pretty bleak. Yet these programs, staffed mainly by well-meaning volunteers, remain vital parts of every community’s social fabric in ways that go far beyond win-loss records and trophies.
Michael Daniliuk, a youth basketball coach and Cambridge police officer, has experienced many of these problems and believes the solution begins with volunteer leaders like him.
“I’ve seen things done the wrong way,” says Daniliuk. “I’ve seen the win-at-all-costs approach. I’ve seen coaches bring older kids to play in tournaments who shouldn’t be playing. I’ve seen them single out the other team’s best player and try to intimidate him.”
Last year, Daniliuk took a pair of training courses underwritten by CHAMPS Boston, a youth-development program launched by the Boston Foundation in 2009. CHAMPS, which stands for Coaches Helping Athletes Through Mentoring and Positive Sports, has helped refurbish playing spaces in the city and encourages youth physical fitness through a collaboration with Celtics captain Paul Pierce’s The Truth on Health initiative. But at its heart, the program involves making coaches aware of the role they play in young lives and the values they impart.
“I know all the names of my youth sports coaches, but not my college professors,” says Robert Lewis Jr., a Boston Foundation vice president. “That’s the kind of impact they’ve had on me.”
With a four-year, $2 million funding commitment by the foundation in hand, CHAMPS has trained more than 3,500 coaches working with 75,000 young athletes in Massachusetts. The sessions are designed and run by Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a program developed at Stanford University in 1998.
In Cambridge and East Boston, CHAMPS training, which is provided free of charge, has become mandatory for all youth-sports coaches and administrators. Paticipating programs receive vouchers worth up to $1,500, redeemable for team sports equipment. For 2013, the program hopes to train an additional 1,500 coaches in sports that include football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, swimming, tennis, ice hockey, and track and field.
The classes — an initial training session plus one follow-up a month later — are built around workshops that follow a 70-page PCA guidebook laying out goals, methods, and values such as “hard work, fair play, teamwork, resilience [and] delayed gratification.” The program also encourages coaches to “honor the game” by modeling civility and courtesy at all times.
In video commentaries, Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson, and other coaching luminaries discuss their own approaches to instructing athletes at a variety of ages and ability levels. They focus on setting “effort goals” rather than “outcome goals,” the aim being to encourage young athletes to view improvement as an ongoing process.
Attending coaches then “pair and share,” splitting off into smaller groups to swap war stories and discuss strategies for handling challenging situations. The dialogue might be as basic as: What do I tell a frustrated parent whose kid barely got to play last game? Or it may address thornier problems, like losing a game on a blown call by an official and facing a tense situation with angry parents. (One recommended tactic: Have an assistant coach take the team off to a safe place, while the head coach deals more directly with the game’s aftermath.)
This year the program has broadened its focus to other issues affecting young athletes, among them sports-related concussions and childhood obesity. Park facilities in many inner-city neighborhoods have also been upgraded by CHAMPS money; in return, concession stands at these facilities are offering fruits, vegetables, and water along with less healthy snacks.
But the program’s core mission remains improving how young athletes are mentored, no matter their talent level.
“The first question they ask is, why are you coaching? They want you to think about what you’re in this for,” says Daniliuk.
Teaching kids to be competitive on the court, field, or ice is not discouraged, he notes; the program’s philosophy isn’t “every child deserves a trophy.” However, winning games is viewed as secondary to helping kids see the larger life lessons and guiding them through positive reinforcement. The general rule: five encouraging messages for every negative one. Continued...