More than forty million young people play sports each year. Combining physical activity, play, and collaboration, sports have near-limitless potential to help young athletes develop social and emotional skills like grit, empathy, and teamwork.
But these outcomes are not guaranteed—especially in a youth sports culture that over-values specialization, social comparison, and winning from early ages. Only 38% of kids ages 6-12 played team or individual sports on a regular basis in 2018, down from 45% in 2008.1 To put it simply, kids are burning out.
However, a good coach can make a major difference. Young people who identify at least one supportive adult within their social networks achieve better outcomes across a range of academic, behavioral, and health indicators.2 For kids who play sports, a coach can become that transformational figure.
Beyond building sport-specific skills, coaching requires a nuanced skillset that is developed through ongoing training and professional development. Life lessons are not implicit and youth don’t learn them simply by playing; coaches need training to promote the social and emotional skills that help kids succeed both on and off the field.
Just like teachers and parents, coaches can play a critical role in promoting the skills kids need to thrive. That’s why we’re partnering with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) to train 400,000 coaches in social and emotional learning and positive youth development by 2023.
PCA’s mission is to create positive, character-building youth sports environments that result in better athletes and better people. With support from SCE, PCA will train coaches across the country in key youth development techniques that are proven to promote SEL skills—leveraging a proven virtual training for the foreseeable future, then transitioning to in-person training once it is safe to do so. They will be making a special effort to invest in places where the need is greatest; 50% of all training will be done in underserved communities. PCA will also invest in their marketing and technology infrastructure, including a data system that will track which coaches are being trained and where.
Through this partnership, PCA will equip a generation of coaches with the skills they need to help millions of young athletes succeed—at a time when those skills are needed most. As our nation’s youth cautiously return to play in the era of COVID-19, they emerge from a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Isolation, virtual schooling, and a childhood interrupted have affected young people’s lives in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. We need to empower coaches with the training they need to help young athletes through this challenging period.
Beyond coach training, we hope this effort jumpstarts a critical conversation about what it really means to be a good coach. We’re grateful to PCA for their partnership and look forward to learning from their work.
1 2019 State of Play, Project Play, The Aspen Institute, https://www.aspenprojectplay.org/reports
2 MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, http://www.mentoring.org/
Photos © Positive Coaching Alliance