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Knowledge Base Home >> Psychology, Discipline and Philosophy >> Accentuating the Positive for Young Athletes

Psychology, Discipline and Philosophy - Accentuating the Positive for Young Athletes

Written by: Michelle Smith
Monday, March 6, 2000
2000 San Francisco Examiner

To compliment rather than criticize. To encourage with measured tones rather than raised voices. To build up rather than tear down.

Jim Thompson worked hard as a father and an educator to alter the youth sports experience for his son and the other children he has coached in two decades. Now he hopes to expand his vision to the rest of the country.

"People complain about the death of sportsmanship and bad coaching," said Thompson, the director of the Palo-Alto based Positive Coaching Alliance. "For a long time, complaining about youth sports was like complaining about the weather. You couldn't do much about it. But I think we can."

Thompson is trying to see to it personally, having organized a two-day forum for educators, psychologists and sports administrators from around the country called, "Against the Grain: Transforming the Culture of Youth Sports," beginning Wednesday at Stanford.

The seminar will bring together "senior-level" people from such youth organizations as the YMCA, Little League Baseball and Special Olympics. "We will have the major players in the world of youth sports," Thompson said.

The speakers at the two-day forum include Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, new NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and Olympians Summer Sanders, Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci.

An estimated 25 million American children participate in youth sports. Jackson belives many children's youth experiences have a great influence on their adult life. And those experiences are influenced by the adults who guided them. "It's easy to criticize," Jackson said. "The Alliance advocates 5-to-1 positive comments to negative comments. Most of the time, what people get for feedback is their mistakes. It's a hard bargain to keep, but what if you went around in life and did that. It would be a different world."

Thompson formed the Positive Coaching Alliance in 1998 following his own experience as a youth sports coach for his son's teams more than 15 years ago. "It wasn't a particular event that motivated me, but the general atmosphere," Thompson said. "I was working at a school for emotionally disturbed kids who were abused and had a lot of problems. I was trained that a positive approach can bring about some pretty incredible changes. "When my son started playing sports, I was appalled. The principles I was trained in were being violated left and right by well-meaning parents and coaches who were doing all the wrong things."

Thompson, a director at Stanford Business School, has authored two books on the subject of positive coaching. He has been planning Wednesday's gathering for more than two years. The key is translating positive coaching into successful performance on the field.

"Believe me, when I coached, I wanted to win. We are not saying we don't care about winning," Thompson said. "We are saying that we can link character-building with higher performance. Sometimes it's just the right thing, but the most cases, it can help win more games." For more information on Positive Coaching Alliance, visit the Web site at www.positivecoach.org or call (650) 725-2980."

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