Organization launches campaign to improve youth sports

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - Most athletes have had a coach who positively influenced their lives, but they've usually also had one that just didn't get it.

A new organization has launched a campaign to help those not-so-great coaches - the ones that scream and demean and generally give the largely volunteer youth coaching corps a bad name.

Like a Florida workshop last month that taught parents of young athletes sportsmanship, the nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance wants to change the pervasive attitude in youth sports that 'winning is everything,'' according to founder Jim Thompson.

''I think a lot of people believe you can either win or build character,'' Thompson said. ''But the reality is, building character builds performance, too.''

The alliance, along with Stanford University and the Center for Sport, Character and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, addressed the issue at their first forum, which concluded Thursday.

Nearly every facet of youth sports was represented, from the President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports to Nike. Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who also is on the alliance advisory board, was the guest speaker.

Former Olympian Anne Cribbs, one of the founders of the now-defunct women's American Basketball League, acknowledged the group was idealistic but said members tried to come up with concrete plans for helping volunteer coaches.

''All of us have had great coaches. But we've all also had experiences where the coach perhaps had the best intentions but didn't have the best training,'' she said. ''Changes can be made.''

The forum was the first step in what Thompson hopes is a decade-long, grassroots campaign to reclaim youth sports as a character-building pursuit.

The truth is, Thompson said, most of the 25 million young athletes in this country don't become NBA or NFL stars. Coaches have a responsibility to make sure the kids are prepared for their lives, not just careers on the court or field.

That means, in Thompson's words, ''honoring the game.''

The alliance plans to reach out to different organizations, from local youth sports groups to professional leagues like the NBA, to get the message out. The group plans another national forum next May at Notre Dame, and already has held workshops for coaches and sports organizations in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles - with the intention of going nationwide.

''We have run up against some coaches where winning is the most important thing to them. We don't go up to them and say, 'Don't worry about winning.' We want to give them the tools to help build character as well as performance,'' Thompson said. ''There is enough truth to what we're saying that even coaches who are very concerned about winning know what we're talking about.''

Dick Young, director of coaching for the YMCA, said there are plenty of things wrong with youth sports, from overzealous coaches to overaggressive parents.

''We need to think about what we are doing to make our kids good citizens and good people,'' he said, ''as well as good athletes.''


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