Ahead in the Count

Positive Coaching: A Matter of Life and Death

posted by Tal Alter

Prior to coming to South Africa to work for PeacePlayers, I spent six years with another non-profit organization called Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA).  The premise of PCA’s mission is that there is no better vehicle than sport to teach life lessons to youth. I think all of us who write for “Ahead in the Count” agree with that premise, and that is in part why Ted created a forum for this dialogue.

Unfortunately, we also agree that countless opportunities for these life lessons are lost every day. Why is this the case? At least in the U.S., the fact is that many coaches and parents either harbor win-at-all-cost attitudes or simply don’t have the skills to use the power of sport to its fullest potential. The result is that children oftentimes lose the joy in playing and, in the worst-case scenario, the desire necessary to continue participating.


Coach Innocent and his Grade 7 team from Umlazi Township

PCA’s solution is the enlistment of an army of “Trainers,” made up of coaches, teachers, and sports psychologists from across the country (including Brendan Sullivan).  These trainers present dozens of workshops every day to coaches, parents, administrators, and athletes alike, in an effort to create a common culture around youth sports.

This past weekend, I was reminded of the power of the PCA philosophy, which talks principally about three major themes: i) Honoring the Game, ii) Redefining what it means to be a “Winner,” and iii) the power of Filling people’s Emotional Tanks. I was presenting to 40 PeacePlayers coaches, each of whom is between the ages of 18 and 30 (and coaching children between the ages of 10 and 18) and many of whom are coaching for the first time.


PPI coaches are proud of their role in "bridging divides, developing leaders, and changing perceptions"

I did not present a full PCA workshop but touched on each of the principle themes, and I was struck by the hunger that our coaches had for this information. They realize what’s at stake. If they don’t do what they can to keep kids participating in our basketball program, they will also miss out on our life skills program, which focuses on preventing the spread of HIV through discussions about safe sex, drugs and alcohol, gender roles, sexual abuse, peer pressure, and teenage pregnancy, among other topics.

Our coaches know what is likely to happen if our kids don’t engage in these discussions because they come from the same cities, towns and villages as their players. They don’t need to read the research to see the impact HIV/AIDS is having on their community. They know the HIV infection rate in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, where we work, is a mind-blowing 40%. They see from experience that children who come from poor backgrounds in Durban and do not have exposure to a program like PeacePlayers are not likely to form the personality traits necessary to break this cycle. The results are all too clear to them, and it is unfortunately getting worse: the prevalence rate has increased every year since the early 1990s, and less than half of all 15-year old children living in South Africa today are expected to reach 60-years of age.

So, for our coaches, being positive is literally a matter of life and death, and that is what I felt when I was talking to them about the tools for coaching. Yes, they all want to win, or at the very least want their teams to compete well. But, at the end of the day, they want to impart some sort of wisdom that will help their players think twice before making a bad decision or encourage them to disregard the strong cultural stigmas that exist in their community when confronted with peer pressure. While the stakes may not be as high for all youth coaches in the U.S. or other parts of the world, it is my hope that those working with kids in sport, no matter where they are, recognize the opportunity they have. Just simply by making the game fun, they can keep them coming back for more. And when they keep coming back, anything is possible.

February 23, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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