Use Youth Sports to Help Build People of Character

Youth sports provide the perfect environment for growing the character traits that can help solve the problems our communities and country face. Jim Thompson, Founder and CEO of Positive Coaching Alliance, author of nine books, and a member of the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program faculty, shows how coaches can make sports an effective “dress rehearsal for life.”

Our nation needs leaders and people of character to deal with the daunting problems we face. And youth sports, with some 30 million participants and an endless procession of teachable moments, is the ideal place to develop these leaders and people of character,” says Thompson.

Making sports a “dress rehearsal for life” brings the needs of youth and the larger community together in an exciting way. The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) “developed the Triple-Impact Competitor® model to personify what a person of strong positive character looks like in sports and life. A Triple-Impact Competitor is an ‘Elevater’ who looks to elevate himself, her teammates, and the game and the larger community by how he or she competes and lives. Elevater…is a new word for a new identity.”

Thompson explains that coaches can begin to instill a sense of purpose in their athletes by telling them, “Our team needs you! We can’t be our best without you being an Elevater.” Depending on the age of the athletes, a coach can also say, “Our world also needs you. The skills and lessons you will learn on this team will also help you be the kind of person who can help make the world a better place.”

He notes that PCA took its definition of character from David Weekley: “Character is the mental and moral framework of values that guides a person’s behavior. A person with strong, positive character understands right from wrong and acts accordingly, especially when it counts!”

There are two main “buckets” of character:

  • Performance Character traits allow one to achieve goals, such as work ethic, self-control, self-discipline, competitive spirit, resilience, reliability, and perseverance. Individuals with strong Performance Character are able to exercise their will to achieve their desired results.
  • Moral Character traits include characteristics that help other people thrive, such as compassion, kindness, honesty, a cooperative spirit, generosity, and respect. It largely revolves around being sensitive to others and taking them into account in our actions.

Some characteristics transcend both buckets:

  • Courage, doing what needs to be done when one is frightened to do so, may be the fundamental positive character value.
  • Moral Courage, a subset of Courage, is standing up publicly for what you believe is right even when your “tribe” disagrees.
  • Teachable Spirit is the hunger to learn anything and everything that can result in self-improvement. A Teachable Spirit is crucial to continue learning and growing to become both more competent and more virtuous.

“Individuals may be strong in only one bucket,” says Thompson, “but the complete package is for youth athletes (and coaches!) to develop high degrees of performance character and moral character—and become individuals able to achieve their goals while helping others be successful as well.

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