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The Little League of Somerville Announces a Partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance

Every so often an opportunity comes along with the potential to bring a strong positive impact. We are very pleased to announce that the board of directors has decided to partner with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), because we are convinced that this particular program has that potential.

Positive Coaching Alliance is a non profit organization based at Stanford University whose mission is “to transform youth sports so sports can transform youth.” PCA was created to change the culture of youth sports by replacing the "win-at-all-cost" coaching model with a "double-goal coach" model, whereby coaches want to win but have a second, more important goal of using sports to teach life lessons.

Our board members, managers, coaches, and parents will all play a critical role in the implementation of this program. Our parent reps will also have a key role as Culture Keepers and help define "the way we do things here." If you would like to volunteer and help make this program a success in Somerville, please contact any board member.

Training schedules will be made available soon.




A Vision of a Positive Youth Sports Culture

In March 2000, 50 youth sports leaders came together at the first annual Against the Grain Forum convened by Positive Coaching Alliance based at Stanford University and the Center for Sport, Character & Culture at the University of Notre Dame. This statement emerged from that event.

A Vision of a Positive Youth Sports Culture
We talk to one another and nod our heads and say that we need to create a positive culture around youth sports, but what do we really mean? Before we can take steps toward it, we must clearly define "a positive culture in youth sports."

What a Positive Culture Looks Like
Bottom line, we want to create a culture where kids love to play the game. They look forward to practices and games as times when they will have fun. The joy they find in playing will last a lifetime.

In a positive youth sports culture, all resources do not flow to the elite level. Athletes have options determined by their ability and interest. Elite athletes compete in "meritocratic" environments in which a place on the team and playing time are determined by ability, performance and effort. Less talented or skilled athletes, or simply athletes who want a different kind of experience, have the option to play in developmental or recreational programs in which they are guaranteed the right to play at least a part of every game.

At every level, players are proud to have their families and friends see them play. Knowing that they are an important part of the team contributes to this proud feeling; their coaches are supportive and do not embarrass them in front of those watching; they are confident that their parents are supportive and will not confront the officials over questionable calls; and ultimately, they know that those watching are proud of them whether or not they win the game.

All involved in youth sports (players, coaches, parents, officials, and fans) realize what a special time this is. They look at their involvement as a privilege that they never want to dishonor. They realize that sports provide a time when they get to interact with people they do not see on a regular basis, and they come to cherish this time. Players know that this is a time when they can learn from each other (as well as from the coach), and the coach sees how much can be learned from the players. Players look forward to playing challenging opponents because they push them to perform to their highest potential.

Coaches feel the responsibility not only to teach their players the skills and strategy behind the game, but also a respect for the tradition of the game and for all who are involved (teammates, opponents, officials, and fans). Learning to honor the game contributes to a growing sense of responsibility and maturing moral reasoning that helps athletes prepare to become contributing citizens of the larger community.

Coaches realize that what they are teaching their players carries far beyond the field into the classroom, the home, and even into future jobs. Coaches have their players (and team as a whole) focus on their effort and personal improvement, rather than simply on the results of the game. They help players recognize that mistakes are an inevitable and important part of the learning process and that a key to success is being able to rebound from mistakes with renewed determination. This way, players gain a sense of control over their own development and confidence in their ability to succeed, in life as well as in sports.

Players have an important voice in creating this positive culture, and there are multiple and ongoing opportunities for them to shape their own environment. During team discussions players speak and contribute. When decisions are being made that affect the entire team/league, coaches and league organizers make a concerted effort to be approachable and players' ideas are sought out and considered. Having this voice increases players' sense of internal motivation, and they feel a stronger sense of control over their surroundings.

This positive culture encourages athletes to play multiple sports and never pressures players to specialize in one sport too early in their careers. Coaches resist the urge to pressure their players to give up other sports besides their own, realizing that what might give them the best winning percentage is not always the same as what is in their players' best interest.

The Challenge
When a game is on the line, can we really live up to this description of a positive culture? Can we really expect coaches, players, fans, and parents to uphold this positive culture if it might result in losing the game? The answer has to be, "Yes!" All involved must realize that winning cannot be the only goal. Maintaining a positive culture where positive character traits are developed in our players must come first. When the game is on the line and tensions are running high, it can take a high level of moral courage to keep our focus on what is really important, but if we can do that, we will teach our children an invaluable lesson. We must believe that maintaining this positive culture is so vital that we are willing to stand up to others that are putting it in danger. Our vision needs to stretch far beyond winning a specific game to making a lasting impact on the lives of our players.




The Positive Coach Mental Model

Mental models have power. They affect how people see, think, and behave. If one were to characterize the prominent mental model for coaching, it might be called "win-at-all-cost." PCA believes this needs to change.

As part of Positive Coaching Alliance’s strategy to transform youth sports, we have developed the Positive Coach Mental Model and will promote it until it becomes the industry standard for youth sports. Extensive academic research constitutes the foundation for the Positive Coach Mental Model. Please read through the Positive Coach Mental Model Research Summary to learn more. The Positive Coach Mental Model is consistent with the National Standards for Athletic Coaches developed by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). 


The Double-Goal Coach PCA believes all youth sport coaches should be "Double-Goal" Coaches. A win-at-all-cost coach has only one goal: to win. He or she is concerned primarily with teaching skills and developing strategy designed to win games. A Positive Coach is a "Double-Goal Coach" who wants to win, AND has a second goal: to help players develop positive character traits, so they can be successful in life. Winning is important, but the second goal, helping players learn "life lessons," is more important. A Positive Coach puts players first.


Positive Coach Mental Model There are three major elements to the "job description" of a Positive Coach. A Positive Coach:

1. Redefines "Winner"
2. Fills Players’ Emotional Tanks
3. Honors the Game


1. Redefines "Winner"


A Positive Coach helps players redefine what it means to be a winner through a mastery, rather than a scoreboard, orientation. He sees victory as a by-product of the pursuit of excellence. He focuses on effort rather than outcome and on learning rather than comparison to others. He recognizes that mistakes are an important and inevitable part of learning and fosters an environment in which players don't fear making mistakes. While not ignoring the teaching opportunities that mistakes present, he teaches players that a key to success is how one responds to mistakes. He sets standards of continuous improvement for himself and his players. He encourages his players, whatever their level of ability, to strive to become the best players, and people, they can be. He teaches players that a winner is someone who makes maximum effort, continues to learn and improve, and doesn’t let mistakes (or fear of mistakes) stop them.


2. Fills Players’ Emotional Tanks


A Positive Coach is a positive motivator who refuses to motivate through fear, intimidation, or shame. She recognizes that every player has an "Emotional Tank" like the gas tank of a car. Just as a car with an empty gas tank can’t go very far, a player with an empty emotional tank doesn't have the energy to do her best.

A Positive Coach understands that compliments, praise, and positive recognition fill Emotional Tanks. She understands the importance of giving truthful and specific feedback and resists the temptation to give praise that is not warranted. When correction is necessary, a Positive Coach communicates criticism to players in ways that don't undermine their sense of self-worth. A Positive Coach strives to achieve a 5:1 "Plus/Minus Ratio" of praise to correction.

A Positive Coach establishes order and maintains discipline in a positive manner. She listens to players and involves them in decisions that affect the team. She works to remain positive even when things aren't going well. She recognizes that it is often when things go wrong that a coach can have the most lasting impact and can teach the most important lessons. Even when facing adversity, she refuses to demean herself, her players, or the environment. She always treats athletes with respect, regardless of how well they perform.



3. Honors the Game


A Positive Coach feels an obligation to his sport. He understands that Honoring the Game means getting to the ROOTS of the matter, where ROOTS stands for respect for

  • Rules
  • Opponents
  • Officials
  • Teammates
  • Self.

A Positive Coach teaches his players to Honor the Game. He loves his sport and upholds the spirit, as well as the letter, of its rules. He respects opponents, recognizing that a worthy opponent will push his athletes to do their best. He understands the important role that officials play and shows them respect, even when he disagrees with their calls. He encourages players to make a commitment to each other and to encourage one another on and off the field. He values the rich tradition of his sport and feels privileged to participate. A Positive Coach realizes that one of the most difficult times to Honor the Game is when the opponent is not, and he reminds his players to live up to their own highest standard (respect for self). Ultimately, a Positive Coach demonstrates integrity and would rather lose than win by dishonoring the game.

Honor the Game

Many people talk about "sportsmanship," or what it means to be a "good sport." What does it mean to you to be a good sport? Answers to this question vary widely. Sadly, PCA has even heard stories of coaches telling their teams that if they win the Sportsmanship Award at a tournament, they will spend the entire following week conditioning! Why might a coach say this? Unfortunately, many coaches equate being a good sport with being soft or weak.

PCA believes the time has come to unite behind a powerful new term, "Honoring the Game." Coaches, parents, and athletes need to realize that an Honoring the Game perspective needs to replace the common win-at-all-cost perspective. If a coach and his or her team have to dishonor the game to win it, what is this victory really worth, and what sort of message is this sending young athletes?

If Honoring the Game is to become the youth sports standard, it needs a clear definition. At PCA we say that Honoring the Game goes to the "ROOTS" of positive play. Each letter in ROOTS stands for an important part of the game that we must respect. The R stands for Rules. The first O is for Opponents. The next O is for Officials. T is for Teammates, and the S is for Self.

R is for Rules
Rules allow us to keep the game fair. If we win by ignoring or violating the rules, what is the value of our victory? PCA believes that honoring the letter AND the spirit of the rule is important.

O is for Opponents
Without an opponent, there would be no competition. Rather than demeaning a strong opponent, we need to honor strong opponents because they challenge us to do our best. Athletes can be both fierce and friendly during the same competition (in one moment giving everything to get to a loose ball, and in the next moment helping an opponent up). Coaches showing respect for opposing coaches and players sets the tone for the rest of the team.

O is for Officials
Respecting officials, even when we disagree with their calls, may be the toughest part of Honoring the Game. We must remember that officials are not perfect (just like coaches, athletes and parents!). Take time to think about how to best approach an official when you want to discuss a call. What strategies do you have to keep yourself in control when you start to get upset with officials" calls? We must remember that the loss of officials (and finding enough in the first place) is a major problem in most youth sports organizations, and we can confront this problem by consistently respecting officials.

T is for Teammates
It’s easy for young athletes to think solely about their own performance, but we want athletes to realize that being part of a team requires thinking about and respecting one’s teammates. This respect needs to carry beyond the field/gym/track/pool into the classroom and social settings. Athletes need to be reminded that their conduct away from practices and games will reflect back on their teammates and the league, club, or school.

S is for Self
Athletes should be encouraged to live up to their own highest personal standard of Honoring the Game, even when their opponents are not. Athletes" respect for themselves and their own standards must come first.

Having this definition of Honoring the Game (HTG) is a start. To make Honoring the Game the youth sports standard, coaches, leaders, and parents need to discuss HTG with their athletes. Coaches need to practice it with their athletes (i.e. have players officiate at practice). And perhaps most importantly, all adults in the youth sports setting (coaches, leaders, parents, officials, and fans) need to model it. If these adults Honor the Game, the athletes will too.