Prairie High School has enlisted the help of the Positive Coaching Alliance to provide its athletic coaches with a professional development opportunity. PHS wants to help its coaches impress upon their student-athletes that while athleticism may get them on the field, it is character that will sustain them through the season. The national, non-profit organization has offered two workshops on positive motivation training at the high school so far this year and has plans to offer a third to student-athletes or parents.
"We do all this stuff to help teachers around professional development, but we haven't done enough to help coaches learn best practices and how to be successful with kids in the modern era," said Andy Schoonover, Prairie's athletic director and assistant principal. "The kids are different and best practices have evolved, and we need to equip coaches with modern techniques."
The Positive Coaching Alliance works to provide youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building sports experience through proven coaching methods that teach resiliency and are focused on effort and mastery of skills. The organization has its roots in San Francisco, where it was founded by a Stanford University instructor in 1988. The Positive Coaching Alliance's teachings support Battle Ground Public Schools' district-wide efforts to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and focus on social-emotional learning. The organization's services are being paid for by funds raised by the Prairie Athletic Booster Club at its annual auction, Schoonover said.
When high school athletic programs mimic professional sports teams' high-stakes focus on winning, they lose character-growth opportunities, said Jack Hendrickson, the Portland partnership manager for Positive Coaching Alliance. Too much emphasis on winning can make kids scared to perform and result in high anxiety, and many don't have the ability to deal with it, he continued. "If you stay positive and focus on effort and learning the skills of your sport, then you will be more successful." Hendrickson said one of the main things that the Positive Coaching Alliance tries to teach coaches to pass along to students is "the next play is always the most important one."
The Positive Coaching Alliance trains coaches on how to motivate student-athletes by working through scenarios that could happen during their seasons. For example, at a recent training for PHS coaches, they talked about what they would do if an athlete missed a shot on the court, hung his head and didn't get back in the game. After the discussion, the Positive Coaching Alliance trainer shared best practices for engaging a student who feels dejected.
The organization also has workshops for student-athletes and parents. Prairie is considering inviting parents to one of the workshops this year. The high school already shares the Positive Coaching Alliance's ideals with parents of student-athletes at its seasonal parent meetings in the form of a TEDx Talk on YouTube: "Youth sports as a development zone: Jim Thompson at TEDxFargo."
"The only way to change the culture is to make sure every athlete, coach and parent is speaking the same language," Hendrickson said. "Ideally, you get a sports program and school that is more focused on the positive side of competition."