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Knowledge Base Home >> Psychology, Discipline and Philosophy >> Resurrecting Teamwork and Character

Psychology, Discipline and Philosophy - Resurrecting Teamwork and Character

Written by: Mark Simon
Thursday, August 27, 1998
1998 San Francisco Chronicle

So, Mark McGwire uses an over-the-counter steroid, which may or may not be of some help in his chase of Roger Maris' single-season home run record. Scratch another role model.

But, as Stanford professor Jim Thompson might say, the problems lies not with our stars but with ourselves. If you're looking to pro sports for role models, you're looking in the wrong place, says Thompson.

The place to look is youth sports. Not the youth sports of today, which Thompson says has been polluted by pro sports. He's talking about the youth sports of another era, when coaches were role models, and how you played the game counted more than winning.

Thompson wants to lead a revolutionary restoration of youth sports as the place where we teach all the things we think sports should teach -- character, discipline, sacrifice, teamwork, toughness and sportsmanship.

It is a matter, Thompson said, of "transforming youth sports so sports can transform youth." That's why Thompson is giving up his job as director of the Stanford Business School Public Management Program late this fall and moving over to the university athletic department, where he will launch the Positive Coaching Alliance.

The alliance will be a national organization that will put a new focus on youth sports and the people who run and coach youth sports through national awards, conferences and standards that emphasize instruction over winning, ethics over competition. "I want to change the very idea of what it means to be a youth sports coach,"

Thompson said in an interview at his cluttered office at the Stanford Business School. "Coaches and teachers of youth sports don't get a lot of money," Thompson said. "But what they do have is a chance to have influence and influence that lives on."

The Positive Coaching Alliance will not be a clearinghouse for all the complaints against pro sports and the misconduct of pro athletes. "I am a fan of pro sports," Thompson said. "But pro sports is different from youth sports. The problem, largely, is that people don't see those as two different animals." The emphasis on winning in the pros has polluted youth sports, Thompson said, even as youth sports at the school level has fallen into disrepair.

What young sports fans hear, "over and over again is that winning, if it's not everything, is like 89 percent. I'm not criticizing that as a business. Winning is a serious business in pro sports. It's do or die." "Youth sports is something different. . . . Youth sports should be part of education, part of the character-development process of raising our kids," he said.

"Values come from succeeding, when success is defined as mastery rather than ego gratification," Thompson said. Thompson's views on sports were not formed in an ivory tower. Among other things, he coached the Fremont High School girls' varsity basketball team for two seasons.

His book on his experiences at Fremont, Shooting in the Dark: Tales of Coaching and Leadership, is a tremendous treatise on youth sports coaching and should be required reading for everyone who will be teaching children how to play organized athletics.

It's no coincidence that the alliance will be launched at Stanford, where a hugely successful athletics program is a fundamental aspect of the education of future lawyers and business executives and doctors -- where the yardstick often measures growth and improvement, not just the win-loss record.

Thompson said he's in this for the long haul. He's planning on devoting the next decade to building the alliance and raising up youth sports. In the end, it will be a lesson about character, Thompson said. "That's what sports gives -- the opportunity to build character," Thompson said. "That opportunity has to be seized."


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