The Double-Goal Coach (A): Beyond "Sportsmanship"

Bad sportsmanship used to mean a basketball player not acknowledging a foul or a tennis player saying a ball was out when it really hit the line. Recent examples of bad sportsmanship included activity that was substantially more serious.

In 2001, the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) reported 150 assaults on officials in youth sporting events, up 400 percent from the 30 that were recorded five years prior. According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), approximately 15 percent of youth sports games involved a confrontation between parents or coaches and officials, up from 5 percent a few years prior.

In 2000, one father beat another father to death in front of his and the victim's sons at a pickup hockey game in Reading, Mass.

In 1988, Jim Thompson founded Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a national nonprofit organization based at the Stanford University Department of Athletics, to help overcome the negative trends in youth sports. PCA's mission was to "transform youth sports so sports can transform youth." Since its inception, the organization had conducted more than 1,700 workshops for 68,000 coaches, parents, and leaders that have helped to create a positive sports environment for more than 680,000 young athletes.

PCA developed partnership networks with more than 300 youth sports organizations, cities, and schools. Thompson and PCA believed in identifying "mavens"—authorities that others respected—to help spread its mission. PCA had garnered the support of mavens such as Phil Jackson, previous NBA coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, who served as its national spokesperson.

Its National Advisory Board included elite coaches and athletes such as Larry Brown, Detroit Pistons' head coach; Bill Bradley, former Senator and basketball player; Ronnie Lott, NFL Hall of Fame member; Summer Sanders, Olympic gold medalist in swimming; Dean Smith, retired University of North Carolina men's basketball coach; Barry Zito, Cy Young winner; and Herm Edwards, New York Jets head coach.

PCA and Thompson had developed a new coaching model called "The Double-Goal Coach," built around several principles such as redefining "winner" and filling a player's "emotional tank." The unusual vocabulary was a part of Thompson's belief in the concept of "sticky messages" (from The Tipping Point, where Malcolm Gladwell describes how people and organizations can use sticky messages to successfully spread an epidemic across society). Thompson and PCA actively translated their ideas into phrases and memory aids that "stick to people's minds" long enough to change their behavior.

While many of their concepts had been successful, they wondered how to solve the biggest problem, which was how to update the outdated and passive term "sportsmanship." Thompson believed that the devaluation of sportsmanship had become a problem in contemporary youth sports culture.

Over the years the term had become passive; it meant players had simply not "done anything wrong." But youth sports culture was clearly deteriorating—parents and fans commonly sought to negatively influence officials' calls and degrade the other teams' performance with loudness, rudeness, and verbal nastiness. PCA and Thompson felt that youth sports needed a new, relevant, and powerful vocabulary that went beyond "sportsmanship."