When Leslee Brady first heard about the Positive Coaching Alliance, she felt right at home with the program's philosophy.
In nearly 20 years as the field hockey coach at Archbishop Spalding, Brady has never been a perfection-demanding, clipboard-tossing taskmaster.
"It validated my coaching style," said Brady, who now conducts workshops about the California-based non-profit's Double-Goal coaching model. "I'm naturally a positive person. I've always been a relatively positive coach."
Winning is important in the PCA model, but equally important is teaching life lessons. A positive, encouraging attitude toward the players is the underlying foundation for building winning programs and successful young athletes on and off the field.
Monday night, Brady presented the PCA model to the head coaches at South River High School, most of whom already use similar approaches. With a positive outlook, coaches help players focus on their own efforts and show them that while they can't completely control the outcome of a game, they can control their own efforts. Positive coaches reward those efforts rather than always heaping pressure on athletes to succeed on every play and harshly criticizing them every time they don't.
PCA, started at Stanford in 1998, is a three-tiered initiative aiming to transform youth sports through work with coaches, players and parents. It conducts workshops around the country, and Clint Sanchez, a PCA partnership development representative based in Washington, D.C., said that includes 10 to 15 each year in the Baltimore area.
Brady said research about the psychology of sports, what motivates people, and how people react to each other is key to getting the most out of a team. While coercion may be successful in the short run, she said, it won't be in the long run.
"The ultimate goal for all of us as coaches is to win, but not just winning, getting the best performance out of our players, which equals winning," Brady said. "With all the research coming out now, this is how you get there. Look at Tony Dungy, [former coach of the] Indianapolis Colts. On the sideline, he's one cup of coffee away from taking a nap, and yet [he's] one of the most respected coaches in the NFL by players and other coaches. You don't have to be the Bobby Knight [type]."
South River cross country coach Josh Carroll picked up a few tips from Brady to help his runners.
"One of the most important things is really reinforcing what I want my kids to be as people as well as athletes," Carroll said. "I think that's something that, as coaches, we have powerful opportunities to do. I jotted some notes during the presentation. One of them is that in a sport like cross country, we don't have a team handshake at the end of the match, but what we can do is, I want my kids, when they're in the chute at the end of the races, to congratulate the runner in front of them or behind them to build some camaraderie and sportsmanship."
Brady said the PCA approach isn't "sensitivity training for coaches" and she acknowledges that sometimes coaches have to sideline their players or otherwise discipline them. That all falls into the life lessons category.
Seahawks boys lacrosse coach Paul Noone graduated from South River 32 years ago. Back then, he said, his football coach was an in-your-face type.
"He was a coach that would grab you by the face mask and yell at you, but that worked for me back then," Noone said. "Nowadays, some kids it still does. The majority, it doesn't, so you've got to look at how it changes with the times.
"It's not just in between the lines, it's across the board. It's like anything else: You're only going to get out of it what you put into it. I think the biggest thing is, with our program, we respect the kids. In turn, they respect us. It goes way beyond coaching on the field."