Conference aims to transform culture of youth sports

Author: Arts and Letters


Leaders of Catholic youth sports programs from across the United States will join forces on the University of Notre Dame campus June 22 to 24 (Friday to Sunday) to participate in a movement to transform the culture of youth sports. Recognizing the spiritual nature of sports, and determined to foster character and spiritual development through athletics, Notre Dame’s Center for Ethical Education will hold its second annual Play Like A Champion Today Sports as Ministry Leadership Conference.

The Notre Dame center designed its Play Like A Champion Today (PLC) Coach and Parent Workshops to provide children with the highest quality sports experience possible. Drawing on the expertise of members of the Notre Dame coaching staff, the research of developmental psychologists, and the insights of Catholic theologians, PLC Workshops aim to give coaches and parents the expertise to nurture personal and spiritual development along with athletic excellence.

Representatives of several dioceses, including South Bend-Fort Wayne; Orlando; Philadelphia; Erie, Pa.; Denver; Columbus, Ohio; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Gary, Ind.; Chicago; Albany, N.Y.; Los Angeles; Rochester, N.Y.; Salina, Kan.; and Kansas City, Mo., will attend the PLC leadership conference to become PLC certified trainers.

The conference operates on a “train the trainer” model, providing conference participants the knowledge base and resources necessary to lead PLC workshops in their schools, parishes and community settings. In implementing the PLC methodology, they will use a “child-centered” approach supported by years of research into sport psychology and character development.

In its inaugural year, 2006 to 2007, Play Like A Champion Today enjoyed partnership with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Dallas Parochial League, theDiocese of Rochester, N.Y., and several large parish communities across the country. PLC had the goal of educating more than 6,000 coaches who would in turn impact the lives of more than 40,000 young athletes.

Larry Muno, program coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said about the project, "PLC is a fantastic program. It addresses all pertinent issues that impact the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – providing all kids with fair playing time, putting kids first, and combating the win-at-all-cost mentality so prevalent in youth sports.

“The program shows coaches how to win the right way all while considering the child’s development and emphasizing the enjoyment of participation. My coaches come out of the training with a different perspective and a renewed passion for coaching youth sports. We are extremely satisfied with the program and sincerely believe that it is making a difference in our diocese.”

Workshop evaluation data also confirmed the effectiveness of the initiative. For example, almost 90 percent of the coaches who attended the workshops reported that they would recommend them to others, and almost half of the respondents reported that the workshops changed their whole approach to coaching.

PLC’s Sports as Ministry Initiative was developed in response to growing concern for a lack of civility and fairness within Catholic-sponsored sports leagues. The center’s own research on player, coach and fan behavior at youth sporting events (for children ages 10 to 14) documented unacceptable levels unsportsmanlike and aggressive behavior. One might expect Catholic programs to fare better than their secular counterparts, but this research indicates that in many respects, Catholic programs are worse.

To turn the tide, the Notre Dame initiative offers unique and necessary coach preparation that integrates sports with youth ministry. The result is a sports program that combines spiritual principles with child-centered philosophy. The Sports as Ministry Initiative calls upon parishes and dioceses to view sports as did the late Pope John Paul II as “a vital instrument for the moral and spiritual elevation of the human person.”

“If Catholic-sponsored youth sports programs are going to achieve their full-potential as envisioned by Pope John Paul II, Catholic dioceses and parishes are going to have to invest in preparing coaches as educators,” said F. Clark Power, associate director of the center.

In addition to the program’s coach workshops, this year’s conference unveils the Parent Like A Champion Today program, an interactive workshop to help parents of young athletes become champion sports parents. Many parents in their zeal to advance their child’s athletic career will go to extraordinary measures and act inappropriately in game situations. PLC parent workshops focus on appropriate roles and responsibilities for parents in achieving “child-centered” results in youth sports. The workshop includes an examination of parent expectations in youth sport programs and how these expectations relate to Catholic youth sports. Parents receive education and materials that help them reinforce the goals of character development through sport, as stressed by the PLC program. Parents also receive guidance on how they can help their children form habits of spiritual reflection, perseverance, sound decision-making, teamwork, good nutrition and regular exercise.

In addition to the training, a number of Notre Dame specific events are planned for the conference: a presentation by men’s head basketball coach Mike Brey, dinner in the Press Box overlooking historic Notre Dame Stadium, and a tour of the Notre Dame campus and athletic facilities, including an opportunity to hit the real “Play Like A Champion Today” sign in the football locker room. The weekend will conclude with a Mass celebrated by Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, president emeritus of Notre Dame.

Originally published by Kristin Sheehan at on June 18, 2007.