Teaching Positive Coaching

By Kent McDill

April 1, 2017
   In The Loop Extended Articles

In her 17 years with the Positive Coaching Alliance, Chief Impact Officer Tiny Syers has seen all sorts of reactions to her work. But today the reaction is much more positive than it was when the PCA got its start in 1998.

“Certainly, there is still skepticism around the idea of a Positive Coaching instruction, people thinking it is soft and happy talk and all about promoting equal playing time,” Syers said. “But we are starting to see coaches who are aligned with us, like Steve Kerr (of the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association) and Pete Carroll (of the Seattle Seahawks of the national Football League) who are able to be positive and win on the scoreboard.”

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) spreads the word that coaches should promote the positive aspects of sports participation and the life lessons to be learned from the athletic culture. It also promotes the power of the positive parent, who can concern themselves with the end result of sports participation rather than the wins and losses that come with sports activity. Then there are the positive athletes, who can provide support for teammates and promote the sport in which they are participating, which will make them winners in the long run, no matter the final score.  

The PCA estimates that is has conducted more than 20,000 seminars and workshops for coaches, parents and athletes, spreading the word about the value of coaching from a positive attitude rather than a negative one. It is a message that can be used not only in every sporting endeavor, but one that projects beyond the world of sports, when young athletes become young businesspeople.

The PCA was born out of a statistic. It is estimated today that 70 percent of children quit organized sports by the age of 13 because they are not enjoying themselves any longer. Much of that displeasure is a product of the coaching environment, one that pushes success in terms of wins and losses over personal growth, both within the sport and as a well-rounded person.

Organizations such as youth sports leagues or high school administrations that have gotten weary of the pressure placed upon athletes and the retention issues that follow align with the PCA to teach a better way to approach sports leadership.

“It is incredible the reception we get today,” Syers said. “It is much different than when we launched.  Coaches today know you don’t have to sacrifice winning to be a positive coach.”

The PCA can also relate to figure skating, whether a coach is working with a learn to skate class or working with an individual skater trying to reach a new level of personal success. The approach, and the lessons, remain the same.

“We believe the Positive Coaching message can apply to all sports,” Syers said. “As an individual skater, you have 100 percent control and 100 percent of the blame if a performance does not go well. That is an individual matter. But we think the best competitors are those who make their teammates better and the game better. In the skating context, who are your teammates, and are you taking the time to not just focus on making your own skating better, but are you helping them and making them a better skater and creating a better skating environment? We can raise the entire field of skating by the way we are coaching and the way we are competing.”

Rachel Flatt, 2010 U.S. Champion, is one of the dozens of athletes and coaches who promote a message of positive coaching through the PCA.

“The coaches I have worked with are able to take a step back and say ‘these are the life lessons you are getting from the sport,’ taking a broader view,” Flatt said. “Those coaches who take that into account are the ones to work with.”

Syers admits the PCA can be a hard sell. Although the PCA is a non-profit organization, the program it presents does have a cost attached to it, and for some organizations, it is a hard sell to believe the funds spent on the PCA would not be better spent elsewhere.

“Money is tight for some groups, and trying to decide where to spend their dollars, it is hard to find that extra $2,500 to bring us in,” Syers said. “We have to overcome that, when organizations are trying to pay for officials and fields and such. A lot of coaches think our message is not as important as X’s and O’s.

“But for the youth sports organizations that are motivated enough by coaching performance to mandate the training, saying coaches cannot participate without taking our class, the coaches become totally involved, they see the value, and think it is going to make them a better coach.”

Dozens of coaches and administrators from around the country and the world are members of the PCA Advisory Board, offering their expertise and the messages they can relay through their own experience to promote the lessons to be learned from a positive approach to coaching.

The list is impressive in its breadth and the scope of sports and sports administrations represented by the list.

Anybody attending a youth sports tournament is likely to see evidence the PCA’s work is not done. But Syers believes the organization is reaching more coaches, and in turn reaching more athletes, who themselves will become coaches one day.

“People are embracing our message more,” Syers said. “We see more organizations that are willing to work with us and brings us in to train their coaches. Seventeen years ago, we could not convince people that they needed this. But now we see how many people we are working with, and what coaches are doing differently after working with us.”