Positive Coaching Alliance Offers Media Tips & Life Lessons

pca-awards.jpgLast week MSNBC editorialized on the essential factors of a classic sports movie: “Feature Underdog(s), Stick it to the Man, Make Men Cry, Provide Memorable Quotes, and Inspire Real Athletes.”

Writer Bob Cook lists his favorite top ten films, and in scanning them I realized every single sports movie had a life lesson, feel-good premise, or positive message for kids!

Since I’m big on extracting ways that media can turn down the negative volume and turn up positive messaging, I delved further into various lists of Best Sports Movies, Soccer Films, Football, and Baseball (ahem, where is League of Their Own on this list?) sure enough…the media’s all quite positive.

I even tossed in a few urban contemporary plotlines like Hoop Dreams and Stick It; ultimately, they still reinforced a balanced view of what the Positive Coaching Alliance calls the Elm Tree of mastery, “E for effort, L for learning and M for mistakes.”

PCA is a national non-profit based at Stanford University, creating a movement to transform the culture of youth sports so that every youth athlete can have a positive, character-building experience. I posed the media dichotomy to PCA representative David Jacobson, asking:

“How can media be so bi-polar, inspiring kids in sports movies, while tearing down athletes in real life news coverage with exposés of behavioral tantrums, scandals, and unethical, unsportsmanlike conduct?”

Profitability, pure & simple. “If it bleeds it leads” appears to be the sensationalistic credo of our times, whereas movies play up the backstory and plotline for an upbeat heroic finish.

PCA’s Jacobson knocked one out of the ballpark by explaining that even negative media portrayals of sports icons are positive opportunities for change. Why? As parents, we can use those times to transform ‘spectator’ passivity into key lessons that last in the game of life.

I love this idea. It’s counter-marketing and engagement at its finest. And that’s what we do at Shaping Youth…

Jacobson said, “When you see something like the head-butting incident in the World Cup, parents and coaches need to use those moments to open up a dialogue…SAY something about how awful it was to see a guy explode into that kind of violence and ask kids directly ‘what it would take to drive you to that level of anger and conduct on the field?’

Proactive, pre-emptive solutions can help kids manage negative media messages so they don’t emulate the behavior or get desensitized to it as ‘normal.’

The last thing you want is a child bringing those hissy fits into their own experiences on the field, yet we’ve seen these media moments throughout time. Look no further than hot tempered McEnroe’s racquet throwing of yesteryear that has stuck as a media image forever.

Some say the 24/7 media spotlight shines with glaring scrutiny on today’s athletes, and that civility and behavior has actually IMPROVED, we just don’t see evidence of this reported very often.

David Jacobson cites PCA’s recent list of the year’s Top Ten Moments in Sports which slid right by much of the media camera’s lens.

You may have heard NBA player Keith Van Horn chose to forego a $5 million salary to avoid uprooting his family and spend more time with them? (some of the blowhard commentators even dressed him down for it, though thankfully, most applauded) Well…

PCA singles out everyday heroes and youth inspirations like UCLA collegiate competitors who stopped in mid-celebration of their team’s comeback to comfort and console a rival teammate who’d collapsed in grief…

They focus on high school coaches and players that have disqualified themselves due to scoring errors at the price of state championship titles…Or people like Olympic Speedskating Gold medalist Joey Cheek who donated his $25,000 USOC bonus to Right to Play, a humanitarian organization that uses sport to help develop disadvantaged children.

Meanwhile the media “dumpster dives” for the latest fallen foul-up or sponsorship deal gone awry.

Why not focus on the positive? Like diabetic swimmer Gary Hall Jr., that gives kids inspiration. The meteoric rise of tri-athletes like Sarah Haskins and Andy Potts who now have a shot at the Olympics in Beijing.

Play a Rocky movie soundtrack in your head, click through the PCA site, and get up to speed on how YOU can personally do your part to “transform youth sports so sports can transform youth.”

It’s beyond inspiring. I’d say it’s even imperative.

Every parent, coach, player and fan should be mindful of the messages being put out there. Whether in the movies or in the game itself, active deconstruction and critical thinking skills come into play here.

PCA has incredible online workshops, coaching tools and clinics, and a strong “Double Goal Coaching” philosophy that ‘winning’ needs redefined as a two-pronged experience beyond the scoreboard into life lessons that stick.

70% of kids drop out of sports by age 13, and if you click this quick video you’ll see why. Egad. This is analogous to Dove’s preteen faces cast in a sports depiction of what we’re doing to kids!! Whoa. Score one for driving the point home…

PCA National Spokesperson & L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson sums up how PCA keeps kids engaged in the game and having fun, creating a platform for their self-esteem and emotional health that extends far beyond the physical.

This week (Sat., Feb. 24) Jackson is part of the hosting ceremonies for the National Youth Sports Awards honoring seven sports coaches and two sports organizations that represent “the finest in their fields.”

PCA Founder and Executive Director Jim Thompson will join him to applaud the recipients for “seizing the endless procession of teachable moments, opportunities to educate and develop character, that only youth sports offers.”

St. John’s University football coach John Gagliardi, “the winningest coach in college football history” will be there, along with the event MC, Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Bart Conner.

Again, let’s see how the media covers this. Seriously. I’m really curious.

Will it even be covered? After all, when PCA released their Top 10 Moments, most media that picked up the story ran with the Bottom Ten instead. Why?

Given the opportunity to uplift or tear down, has our society come to value humiliation and defeat as color commentary?

Are we running a national reality show of bloopers instead of focusing on who’s doing things right?

At least Positive Coaching Alliance is taking the high road, and NOT filling kids with empty praise, but rather constructive coaching.

Coach Wendy Wallbridge of On Your Mark Corporate Coaching & Consulting pointed out the finite differentiation by reminding me of Po Bronson’s recent article getting so much press lately.

Po Bronson has a great cover story article in N.Y. Magazine headlined “Praise is Dangerous” and “How Not to Talk to Your Kids” which balances out this issue quite nicely. He not only warns of gratuitous and parent-mirrored praise but speaks of the inverse power of praise, backed up with some dire consequences.

New research shown here in this 5-minute ABC news video clip shows some startling outcomes on the academic front when kids were labeled as successful achievers vs. focusing on their effort. (e.g. “you must be really smart to do so well on this test, vs. you must’ve worked really hard”)

Somehow this is not all that startling to me, since honesty and common sense go hand in hand with constructive focus on children’s work and effort for motivation, not labels of ‘smart’ or ‘athletic’ etc.

The ‘dangers of praise’ is getting tons of press as eye-opening, but I view it as largely consistent with PCA’s team culture perspective, specifically:

· Redefining winner, whether you’re a player or a coach, achievement is marked by trying, learning and growing using the ‘ELM’ tree of mastery (very different from a touchy feely ‘everybody wins’ counter-productive, unrealistic methodology)

· Filling kids’ emotional tanks drawing from educational psychology that maintains you should have a 5:1 ratio of useful praised efforts to constructive criticism with specific, truthful examples, not vapid ‘attaboys.’ e.g.

  • PCA praise? “When you stepped into the ball it went that much farther instead of vague ‘you looked good out there’ nothingness.
  • PCA criticism? “Crossing your feet on defense won’t get you there as fast as you want” (Jacobson was quick to focus on details in phraseology so coaches position it as ‘what YOU want not what I want’ reinforcing kids’ role in success)

· Honor the game: This is the ‘roots’ of PCA’s positivity—growth nourished through a rich, fertile, team environment planting seeds of unity, regardless of how disparate the player’s individual dynamics might be.

They use the ROOTS acronym to represent respect at all levels of the game, specifically:

· R=Respect Rules
· O=Opponents
· O=Officials
· T=Teammates
· S=Self

I asked about cliques and tribes within teams and how media often dramatizes the competitive aspects among players by tossing in a ‘mean girl’ dynamic to further the conflict and drama.

David said, “That’s true, they do…Part of the reason ‘honor the game’ works so well for us is that if you use the ROOTS method you inherently disregard attitudinal, gender, or relationship differences. It’s paramount to put the team before your pride, because it’s all causal. Once the team’s success is first, all the rest falls by the wayside, no matter how the players may feel about each other outside the game.”

PCA gives these National Youth Sports Awards annually, and encourages nominations for coaches throughout the country, with a fall deadline of Nov. 30, 2007, and a spring award ceremony usually slated for Feb./March depending on their Advisory Board’s celebrity athlete availability for the best turnout and draw!

This year they’re sold out, but I’ll be attending the (free/open to the public) informational panel at the Kissick Auditorium at Stanford Saturday, Feb.24, at 10:30 and 12:30.

Have I mentioned I love these guys?! (I’m bringing my tween daughter who’s a volleyball and basketball player to get juiced on the youth inspiration)

David and I also talked a bit about how sports movies depict strong role models WITHOUT glorification of a “win above all mentality” and how media has positively reinforced the roles of athlete heroes amidst hardship.

Even when the movies have a dark side or depict truthful, sad stories like Hurricane, Raging Bull, Glory Road or the old 1942 Pride of the Yankees flick about Lou Gehrig’s disease, the overall triumphs over adversity come through with dignity, grace, and poignancy.

He also mentioned that PCA actually had a placement in one of the lesser known soccer films recently released called “Her Best Move” which went direct to video, featuring cinematography by Paul Ryan.

Many tweens and teens will recognize star Scott Patterson as “Luke” from Gilmore Girls fame. (it’s always a hit at this house, so it will promptly go in my Netflix queue)

Testimonials on the film site include soccer star Brandi Chastain saying, “terrific soccer and great heart, loved it” and Kamen Entertainment proclaiming, “brilliantly shot with a killer soundtrack.” Their tagline is “kick your life in a new direction” which appeals to EVERY age of angst.

These are the kind of ‘media finds’ and positive, purposeful organizations I live for.

Yay! I’m on board this team big time. Talk about a slam dunk fit with Shaping Youth.

If you’re local, I’ll see you there. If you’re national, partner with these folks. They’re doing great things.

Related Resources (Updated 3-26-2010)

Youth Sports: Lessons Play With Your Mind & Soul (Suzette Valle)

Women Talk Sports.com (Blog Netwk + GREAT 2010 Olympics coverage)

Sports Marketing & Advertising, Media Literacy Lessons, Frank Baker.com

MEF/Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete

Media Education Foundation Videos

Women’s Sports Foundation.org

GoGirlWorld.org (national divisions and world site)

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