A busy day today with deadlines, so I'm pulling this quick-hit profile on PCA founder Jim Thompson out of the archives. My older brother Sean tipped me off to the Positive Coaching Alliance a few years back, after I had a good tantrum about kids behaving badly and how little sportsmanship I saw in youth hockey. The PCA does impressive, and important, work. I've got to believe that if Hobey Baker were alive today, he'd be on the PCA Board of Directors. This Q&A was originally done for Continental Airlines in-flight magazine, back in 2009. Check it out ...
A positive spin on sports
Jim Thompson's Positive Coaching Alliance looks to redefine youth sports
Sixty-year-old Jim Thompson may not look the part, but he is a sports revolutionary. His Positive Coaching Alliance, launched in 1998, aims to transform the youth sports landscape, emphasizing the life lessons that wholesome competition can provide. Today, the Positive Coaching Alliance model has been adopted by many major youth sports organizations, including American Youth Soccer, Little League Baseball, and US Lacrosse. The PAC, in addition to its headquarters near Palo Alto, California, also has a dozen offices throughout the United States, including a number of major metropolitan areas such as New York, Houston, Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco
What was the genesis of the Positive Coaching Alliance? Was it inspired by a personal experience?
It was a combination of working with emotionally disturbed kids and seeing what could come from a relentlessly positive approach, combined with seeing very high-powered parents driving their kids to distraction in sports.
What are the three major elements of the PAC model?
First is the double-goal coach model, which involves preparing teams to win on the scoreboard with the second, more important goal of using sports to teach life lessons. Next is the triple-impact competitor, who makes himself better, makes his teammates better, and makes the game better by the way he or she competes. Third is the second-goal parent, who lets coaches and athletes worry about winning, and focuses on helping their child take away the lessons that will help them be successful in life.
Ultimately, what are your goals for PAC?
We hope to transform youth sports so sports can transform youth. We want every youth athlete, regardless of their talent level, to have a positive, character-building experience with sports.
What are your biggest obstacles?
The confusion that many people have between professional sports, which is an entertainment business, and youth sports, which is, or should be, about developing youth. Professional sports tends to engender a win-at-all-costs philosophy that pollutes youth sports, and causes the endless procession of teachable moments in youth sports to be too often lost.
PAC boasts an impressive board, including the head coaches of the last two NBA champions, Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics and Phil Jackson of the LA Lakers. Still, professional athletes are often poster children for bad behavior. How do you reconcile that juxtaposition?
The reason so many high-profile athletes, coaches, business and academic leaders have become part of PAC is because they embrace our mission. They see that youth sports have so much potential to benefit youth and society, and they want to see that potential realized. We're very careful about who we affiliate with, because we recognize the pressures that professional sports that cause people to not live up to their own ideals. We're very grateful that so many positive role model athletes and coaches have affiliated themselves with Positive Coaching Alliance.
Given its current scope, are you surprised by the program's success?
I'm reminded of the actor who became an overnight sensation. When people asked him what that's like, he says: "It took me 10 years of hard work to become an overnight sensation." I'm gratified with the success we've had, and I think it's because people recognize the potential for youth sports and we have an answer to achieve that potential. But we have so much more to do.
For more information on the Positive Coaching Alliance, visit positivecoach.org.