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YOUR EDGE] parents The Development Zone

An idea whose time has come By Jim Thompson

Youth sports are a precious, fragile system with the potential to develop better athletes and better people, which is Positive Coaching Alliance’s mission.

But that system does not living up to its potential when coaches shame players for mistakes, bend the rules to win and miss teachable moments while enthralled in a win-at-all-cost mentality. Or when parents undermine coaches by criticizing them in front of their children, treat offi cials with disrespect and put pressure on their child to live up to their often unrealistic expectations.

Or when athletes drop out in huge numbers, haze or treat teammates disrespectfully and fail to reach their potential as athletes and people.

Wrong Culture The dominant culture in sports today

is an entertainment sports culture. The goal is to entertain fans, and that requires winning, which results in a win-at-all-cost mentality that colors every level of sports in our society. John Madden said, “Winning is the best deodorant.” In the entertainment sports culture, if you win, you can get away with things that won’t pass the smell test.

Symbolic Hedge

Ruben Nieves, PCA’s director of training, coached the Stanford men’s volleyball team to an NCAA championship in 1997. His team’s practice court was separated from its locker room by a curtain. Ruben referred to players entering the practice court as “going through the curtain.” They were leaving the outside world.

Nieves used this to build his team’s culture. He asked them, every time they went through the curtain, to think about the kind of team they wanted to be and what they needed to do to become that team.

Ruben was creating what Ronald Rolheiser, a Catholic priest and renowned theologian, calls a “symbolic hedge” around his practice space. A physical hedge creates a delineated space with some degree of privacy in a yard or garden that may allow you to relax, experience solitude and generally get away from the pressures of the larger society. A symbolic hedge similarly creates a delineated space where it is easier to focus on what’s really important. Youth sports desperately needs a symbolic hedge to create a space in which participants grow and fl ourish as athletes and as people. I call this space the Development Zone.

Different Meaning

In the Development Zone, people are expected to behave differently than in the outside world, and events that occur within this zone have a different meaning than they do the larger entertainment sports culture. For example:

82 LACROSSE MAGAZINE April 2014>> • In the entertainment sports

culture, an unfavorable call by an offi cial is a travesty deserving of rebuke. In the Development Zone, it becomes an opportunity to work on resilience.

• In the entertainment sports culture, a coach who keeps weaker athletes on the bench may seem savvy. In the Development Zone, this coach is seen to shortchange his players. In the Development Zone, coaches fi nd ways to get kids into games.

• In the entertainment sports culture, setbacks and mistakes are bad things. In the Development Zone, they provide a chance for kids to learn to struggle.

There is no better place than sports for kids to learn to struggle, adapt and overcome.

• In the entertainment sports culture, a game is defi ned by the results on the scoreboard. In the Development Zone, the scoreboard is much too crude a measurement of success.

Jim Thompson is the founder of Positive Coaching Alliance, a US Lacrosse partner. This article is adapted from his book, ”Developing Better Athletes, Better People: A Leader’s Guide to Transforming High School and Youth Sports into a Development Zone.”

DEVELOPING BETTER ATHLETES, BETTER PEOPLE: A Leader’s Guide to Transforming High School and Youth Sports into a Development Zone

Jim Thompson’s previous books redefined the youth sports landscape with transfor- mational models for coaches, parents and athletes:

• Double-Goal Coach, who strives to win while teaching life lessons.

• Second-Goal Parent, who focuses on children learning life lessons through sports.

• Triple-Impact Competitor, who makes self, teammates and the game better.

Now in this groundbreaking book, Thompson synthesizes two decades of work to articulate the promise of youth sports as a Development Zone to develop Better Athletes, Better People.

As with Thompson’s other writings, this visionary book is also exceedingly practical. He defines culture as “the way we do things here” and provides a step-by-step blue- print for creating and defending a Development Zone culture to combat the win-at- all-cost mentality of the dominant “entertainment sports culture.”

You’ll never see youth sports the same way after reading this book. Developing Better Athletes, Better People shows how sports can produce the ethical leaders and positive contributors our society so desperately needs. With 40 million youth playing high school and youth sports in the Unites States, Thompson makes a powerful case: Change youth sports, change the country.

“ I know from personal experience the power of culture…This new book by Jim Thompson lays out a vision and practical tools…to establish a culture to develop Better Athletes, Better People. That is a worthy goal, and I am proud to be part of the PCA Movement.”

NBA Championship Coach Doc Rivers (from the foreword)

Jim Thompson founded Positive Coaching Alliance in 1998 at Stanford University. He has written nine books including Elevating Your Game: Becoming a Triple-Impact Competitor. Jim is an Ashoka Fellow, and he and PCA received the inaugural ETHOS Award (“Ethics of Sports”) from the Institute for Sports, Law and Ethics at Santa Clara University in 2013.

Positive Coaching Alliance ( is a movement to make youth sports a Development Zone in which to develop Better Athletes, Better People. PCA is sweeping the country because it provides solutions to youth sports’ most perplexing problems. For informa- tion: or 1-866-725-0024. @PositiveCoachUS


Jim Thompson

Balance Sports Publishing

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