Teaching adults to be good sports



In youth sports, parents are reminded that it's not winning or losing, but how you play the game, writes JULIE TAMAKI. 

IT SHOULD have been a moment of triumph for Nick Davidson. Instead, it stands as one of his greatest regrets.  

Rather than relish the first time one of his youth basketball teams clinched a championship, Davidson is haunted by the image of a little girl bawling her eyes out on the bench as her teammates celebrated. Davidson, her coach, had never let her play.  

“We were so happy, and there she was in tears,'' he said of his Silver Lake team. “She was good, she came to practices, she worked hard, and there I was: gotta win, gotta win, gotta win.''  

Now a volunteer with a group called the Positive Coaching Alliance, Davidson shows other coaches how to avoid the mistakes he made, and is among a growing number of amateur and professional coaches who want to remind adults that, in youth sports, it's not if you win or lose, but how you play the game.  

It's an adage that has lost currency in an era of show-boating pro sports and the screaming Little League coach as a suburban stereotype. Extreme behaviour has made headlines, as with the hockey dad who beat another father to death three years ago at a suburban Boston ice rink while their children watched.  

The Positive Coaching Alliance offers a Miss Manners programme of sorts to show adults how to properly coach children and behave at youth sporting events.  

Its supporters include Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who serves as national spokesman and has helped develop its workshops. 

Aside from restoring civility to playing fields, the alliance hopes the programme might keep children playing longer by changing the culture of youth sports.  

Parental pressure to perform 

Jim Thompson, a former Stanford University business school administrator who founded the non-profit alliance, believes that boorish behaviour by parents drives youngsters away from sports. He said that of 40 million children involved in youth sports, 70% stop playing by age 13 – some diverted by new interests, but many discouraged by yelling and screaming parents.  

He said parents today are less inclined to let children run about willy-nilly. The change has helped fuel the rise of organised youth sports and adult involvement.  

At the same time, he said, society has become more competitive, and some parents transfer the pressures of work to the playing field.  

“I think parents bring to the sporting events all this anxiety about their own situation and their kids' future,'' he said. “So while there's very little connection between whether a kid gets a hit at one moment and whether he's successful in life, I think there's a feeling among parents there is. They put pressure on kids to perform.''  

Hoping to make sports enjoyable for children, Thompson published his ideas in the 1995 book Positive Coaching: Building Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports. Three years later, he founded the alliance. 

Davidson, who within a year went from attending one of Thompson's workshops to acting as a presenter, urged a group of parents at the Silver Lake Recreation Centre earlier this year to praise youngsters five times for each criticism. 


Promoting sportsmanship 

The group's efforts are part of a broader, international movement to promote sportsmanship by placing the critical focus on parents.  

The Canadian Hockey Association aired ads that feature children berating parents for not being better golfers or shoppers. “You're not just going to sit there and take this?'' a boy asks his dad, who is being ticketed by a peace officer for making an illegal turn. “Stand up to this moron.''  

The National Alliance for Youth Sports in West Palm Beach, Florida, produced a video that shows children talking about how it makes them feel when their parents embarrass them at sporting events.  

“We show parents the ugly behaviour that can exist when people lose perspective,'' said Fred Engh, the group's president.  

The American Sport Education Programme, a Champaign, Illinois-based group, has long-advocated an “Athletes First, Winning Second,'' approach when it comes to youth sports. The group's SportParent book, video and survival guide, explain why children drop out of sports – ranging from a lack of playing time to receiving too much criticism from coaches – and how parents should behave at events.  

In Los Angeles, recreation officials have tapped Thompson's group, the Positive Coaching Alliance, to teach parents and coaches sportsmanship.  

Michael J. Davidson, a senior director with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, said while some of the city's recreation centres emphasise good sportsmanship, others have cheated on players' birth certificates.  

Michael, who is not related to Nick Davidson, got a firsthand look at how irrational parents could get when he tried to calm a coach, who was upset because his basketball team didn't get a certain player. “He hit me in the face,'' he said, recalling the mid-1990s incident.  

He later read Thompson's book and arranged workshops for coaches and parents for the Department of Recreation and Parks.  

At a workshop at Silver Lake Recreation Centre, Jeaney Garcia, the alliance's Los Angeles coordinator, directed a room of predominantly male, volunteer basketball coaches to each draw a reindeer and then practise criticising and praising the drawings.  

Stephen Sierra and Dean Ines, who together were coaching a basketball team of nine- and 10-year-olds known as the Magic, took a stab at fellow coach Doug Kerr's reindeer sketch.  

“It's a neat deer. I can tell you took a Southwestern approach because of the sharp angles,'' Sierra said. “But maybe next time you could be a little more distinct and not make your reindeer look so scary.''  

“But hey,'' Ines said. “It was clear that that was Rudolph.''  

Sierra's defences went up, however, when it came time for Ines to critique his drawing.  

“It looks like you took a lot of time to carefully craft your reindeer,'' Ines told Sierra. “However, a reindeer has four legs. But I like the antlers.''  

“But this is a side view,'' Sierra shot back. “So, it really only needs two legs.''  

The drill may seem silly, but Ines, a first-time coach, said it opened his eyes.  

“It made me realise it's not what you say, but how you say it,'' said Ines, who has a Master's in Business Administration. “It's so different from what you learn in the real world, where you're taught to have a killer instinct, to go for the throat and to win at all costs.'' – LAT-WP 

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