ROMEOVILLE – No one ever said changing the culture of youth and high school athletics in this country would be easy.
But in an interactive discussion last week at Lewis University’s Phillip Lynch Theatre to several student-athletes, coaches and administrators, a major proponent for just such a change emphatically stated his case.
Jim Thompson, the founder and CEO of Positive Coaching Alliance, talked about shifting the prevalent win-at-all-cost mindset to his organization’s goal of creating “Better Athletes, Better People” through a positive, character-building experience.
Since 1998, the nonprofit group has worked with organizations and schools through a variety of tools – including its website, www.positivecoach.org – in an effort to bring about a positive change in youth sports.
Backed by a national advisory board that features a collection of outstanding coaches and athletes, PCA appears intent on succeeding in its mission.
After emphasizing his case for the need for the “Triple-Impact Competitor” – athletes who strive to make themselves, their teammates and the game better – Thompson talked about the work that still needs to be done to bring about lasting change,
“Youth sports is a major institution in this country – with 40 million kids playing at any given time – and there’s 4 to 6 million coaches with parents also involved,” Thompson said. “If we can change youth sports, it actually will filter through, and it will change the whole country.
“Sports really matters in this country, and that gives us the opportunity to do something with it, to make it a beautiful experience, rather than an ugly one.”
In a time when there seems to be increasing negativity in many aspects of life, Thompson hopes that PCA’s approach – if embraced by those involved in athletics – can result in more positive interactions in the future.
“Some of the people who have the most power are athletic directors and leaders of soccer clubs and Little Leagues, etc., they set the culture, the way that we do things,” Thompson said. “And coaches can also have a huge impact.
“If we can get athletes to understand what a ‘Triple-Impact Competitor’ is – make yourself better, your teammates better and the game better – and they aspire to do that, wow.
“Think about the business leaders and political leaders that we have and how many of them seem to have very narrow interests. What if we had ‘Triple-Impact Competitors’ going to Congress or becoming mayors?”
Although Thompson comes from an academic background at Stanford University, he was both an athlete and a coach, so his organization’s hopes for the change are not just theoretical but rather grounded in possibility.
“Long-term, we want to see the ‘Double-Goal Coach’ who helps his team win and teaches life lessons, and the ‘Triple-Impact Competitor,’ to be community standards all around the country,” Thompson said. “If we can do that, then things will be very different.
“We need a movement of lots and lots of people. That includes athletes’ parents who want to be a part of it, athletes who want to be a ‘Triple-Impact Competitor,’ leaders of sports organizations and coaches. We need people like that involved with us to change things.”
Lewis Director of Athletics Dr. John Planek is a supporter of Thompson’s efforts and was happy to see him speak on campus.
“The more that you look at the people that have been deeply involved with Jim and the Positive Coaching Alliance, you have a great alignment of coaches because they believe in the message,” Planek said. “And whether the message is at the youth, high school or collegiate level, it still resonates.
“If you have a great college experience, you more than likely will be a strong alum. So it tends to be in line with our mission, so I think it’s good to be reinforced in this way.”