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Madison Sports Initiative (MSI)

"There is hardly anything closer to character formation than the games children play and how they play them. For instilling perseverance, determination, teamwork, self-confidence, fair play--after the family, there is no more powerful experience than sports."
John W. Gardner
Common Cause
Positive Coaching Alliance Advisory Committee Founding Member

“We strive to protect the child’s psyche and self-esteem both on the field and during the 20-minute car ride home with his parents, emphasizing life-lessons over winning and losing.”
Madison Little League

Three years ago a committee was formed in Madison whose sole purpose was to improve the youth sports culture in Madison. At that time Governor John Rowland directed all Connecticut towns to consider the implementation of programs designed to foster proper decorum among parents, coaches and youth athletes both on and off the field. The United States had begun to experience an alarming rise in the frequency of violent incidents at schools and the town of Madison decided to seek preventive measures that would decrease the likelihood of such acts occurring within our town.

The Madison Sports Alliance was formed in 2001 and was composed of leaders of all sectors of youth sports in Madison. The Alliance acted quickly, mandating that all perspective coaches of youth sports in Madison undergo a decorum-training program. A nationally recognized program was chosen, and coaches began to receive the training in early 2002. Although most participants felt that the idea of decorum training was a good one, they questioned the effectiveness of training which was only received by the coaches, and not the parents and athletes.

In January of 2003, the town of Madison introduced a new program, which they named the Madison Sports Initiative (MSI). The arrival of MSI was seen as a giant step towards insuring that all Madison coaches, parents and players received training that would improve the youth sports culture within our town. By improving the youth sports culture it was hypothesized that the overall culture of our community would also undergo positive change and the national trend of violent acts in communities like Madison could be averted.

The Alliance selected the program of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) of Stanford University as the primary source of decorum training philosophy. In short, PCA’s philosophy is:

“ Winning in sports means more than putting points on the scoreboard. It also means instilling life lessons and a joy of sport in young athletes.”

The Positive Coaching Alliance’s program is multifaceted, but the three main tenants that have been taught to our coaches are:
1. Redefine “Winner”
2. Fill the Emotional Tank
3. Honor the Game

1. Redefine “Winner”- It is entirely possible to have the most points at the end of a contest and yet lose in the “life-lessons” end of the game. Conversely, one can be outscored and yet be a winner in life. The ELM tree is PCA’s “tree of mastery,” where E stands for the willingness to put forth the effort, L stands for be willing to learn and M stands for being willing to make mistakes. In anything in life, including sports, if you apply these measures then you will be a “winner.”

2. Fill the Emotional Tank- Whether you are dealing in a relationship between player and parent, player and coach or even player and player you must be skilled in the art of filling a person’s emotional tank. If a person’s emotional tank is full they are coachable and receptive, but if their emotional tank is low they are often unreceptive and definitely uncoachable.

The PCA provides methods for achieving a full emotional tank. Two such methods that we have taught our coaches are:

The “praise to criticism” ratio- If you intend to criticize a person, first express at least four areas that you found to be positive with his/her behavior. If you can’t find four positives, then keep the criticism to yourself.

“Three Pluses and a wish”- If you would like to encourage your child to take the next step in his/her sports progression, first emphasize three pluses and then your “wish.”

3. Honor the Game- If the ELM tree is the “tree of mastery” for life, then it must have roots. To Honor the Game PCA recommends that you honor following:
R- Rules
O- Officials
O- Opponents
T- Teammates
T- The Tradition of the game.

We hope that you now have a basic idea of the history behind the Madison Sports Initiative and the direction in which the Town of Madison is moving in its youth sports culture. Very few of us have enrolled our children in sports to gain a Division 1 athletic scholarship. Most Madison parents want their children to gain the life-lessons that a sport teaches them so effectively. With your help we will continue to improve the already wonderful sports culture in the town of Madison.

The Sports Edge/WFAN 660 AM Sports Radio New York
(This is adapted from Rick Wolff's show, which originally on November 21st, 2004)

Here are the Top 10 Rules of Parental Behavior at their Kids' Games:
1. Parents should be seen, but not heard too often - it's fine and good to go and watch your child play. But as a parent, you should try to blend in with the woodwork. Don't draw attention to yourself -the games are all about YOUR child, NOT about YOU. As such, parents (not children) should be SEEN....but not HEARD.

2. If you have to say something, it should only be positive praise. Very simple. If you absolutely feel compelled to cheer, make sure your comments are only positive! And make your comments generic in tone. That is, "Way to go guys" or "Great job girls" is much more effective than highlighting just one kid. Root for the TEAM - not just one individual kid.

3. Never criticize your kid....and never, ever criticize somebody else's kid! This is an absolute sin. If you feel compelled to try and coach your kid from the sidelines, or make some disparaging remarks, e.g. "C'mon, Tommy, you're not even trying hard out there," or "Sally, you gotta get back faster on defense," then you have really crossed the line.
Coaching is the Coach's job - - NOT yours. And even though it may kill you to say nothing, well, that's too bad. Act like the grown-up adult that you are.
And by the way, if you ever criticize somebody else's kid in a game-well, now you're totally out of line and risking a well-deserved punch in the nose. You never ever criticize some other parent's kid, or risk the consequences.

4. Please do not do a play-by-play of the game. This applies mostly to youth coaches who try and dictate every play of the game while it's happening...."Okay, Sam, dribble the ball up....now pass it over to Joe....Joe, pass the ball to Mike....Mike, take the shot."
Do this, Coach, at practice....but during the game, let the kids figure it out! Otherwise, they'll become too dependent on you for constant instruction. Even worse, they'll feel that they can't be spontaneous during the game, less you get angry with them and bench them.
PS - when you played sports as a kid, did anyone dictate to you what to do?

5. If you can't control your mouth, then don't stand with the other parents....stay way far away from the others, and stand off by yourself....
Folks, you have to know your own personality. If you honestly feel that you might get too emotionally involved in your kid's game, then stand off by yourself during the action. You can come back and rejoin the sane parents during half-time, but there's nothing wrong with going away from the crowd and being alone with your thoughts.
I'd rather you do that than make a jack-ass out of yourself where everybody can hear you and confirm that you're an out of control jerk AND embarrass your kid.

6. Refs are not there to be abused in any way.
Here's the deal. Without the refs, umps, or officials, the game quickly is transformed from a real game into just being a scrimmage....okay, so understand that.
Then, understand that the vast majority of sports parents DO NOT know where to draw the line when it comes to questioning a ref's call....too many parents DO think that a ref can somehow be psychologically influenced during a game, and that the parent keeps chirping and pointing out mistakes, then the ref will begin to give them the close calls.
Of course, that never happens. If anything, the ref will just get annoyed at the parent.
So, here's what you do to fix the problem. Don't say anything to the ref. And don't say anything about their calls. Let the coach do that. You, as a sideline parent, just be quiet. The ref is NOT going to change their call. The ref is NOT going to be influenced on future calls by your catcalls. So, just be quiet.

7. It's okay to applaud a nice play by an opposing player....we're trying to teach our kids to be good sports, and to respect their opponents. So if one of the opposing players makes a great play, applaud it!
That's okay - yes, even sometimes the opposing team makes good plays! And you should tell your child that it's okay for their opponents to be talented as well.

8. Understand that you are a role model for the kids - they will follow your behavior. Along those lines, ALWAYS remember that your son or daughter is watching YOU on how they should behave.
So if you're going nuts on the ref, or throwing a temper tantrum, or seem emotionally unsettled, don't be surprised if your kid starts acting the same way. And you know what? That's YOUR fault, not the kid's.

9. If a coach or a ref tells you to calm down, please take that caution seriously!
You folks know I'm a big fan of zero tolerance. And if a ref or ump or official singles you out, and tells you to calm down, then consider yourself fully warned! You won't get - nor do you deserve - a second chance.
And if you can't calm down, then yes, you should be banned from the game. What gives you the right to ruin it for all the kids?

10. Try to give your kid a smile....when your kid looks over to the sideline and, for a brief moment, sees your face, please make sure you have a smile on it....or at least, a look of quiet pride. Kids DO look to parents for approval, and if you look like you're having a good time, then he or she will feel the same way.
But if you're scowling, or cursing, or stomping around, then your kid will take that as a sign that they ought to be nervous and angry too. So, relax - leave your game face at home - and wear a relaxed face to your kid's game.