Positive Coaching Alliance: Bringing SEL Training to 400,000 Youth Sports Coaches
More than forty million young people play sports each year. Combining physical activity, play, and collaboration, sports have near-limitless potential to help young athletes develop social and emotional skills like grit, empathy, and teamwork.
But these outcomes are not guaranteed—especially in a youth sports culture that over-values specialization, social comparison, and winning from early ages. Only 38% of kids ages 6-12 played team or individual sports on a regular basis in 2018, down from 45% in 2008.1 To put it simply, kids are burning out.
However, a good coach can make a major difference. Young people who identify at least one supportive adult within their social networks achieve better outcomes across a range of academic, behavioral, and health indicators.2 For kids who play sports, a coach can become that transformational figure.
Beyond building sport-specific skills, coaching requires a nuanced skillset that is developed through ongoing training and professional development. Life lessons are not implicit and youth don’t learn them simply by playing; coaches need training to promote the social and emotional skills that help kids succeed both on and off the field.
Just like teachers and parents, coaches can play a critical role in promoting the skills kids need to thrive. That’s why we’re partnering with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) to train 400,000 coaches in social and emotional learning and positive youth development by 2023.
PCA’s mission is to create positive, character-building youth sports environments that result in better athletes and better people. With support from SCE, PCA will train coaches across the country in key youth development techniques that are proven to promote SEL skills—leveraging a proven virtual training for the foreseeable future, then transitioning to in-person training once it is safe to do so. They will be making a special effort to invest in places where the need is greatest; 50% of all training will be done in underserved communities. PCA will also invest in their marketing and technology infrastructure, including a data system that will track which coaches are being trained and where.
Through this partnership, PCA will equip a generation of coaches with the skills they need to help millions of young athletes succeed—at a time when those skills are needed most. As our nation’s youth cautiously return to play in the era of COVID-19, they emerge from a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Isolation, virtual schooling, and a childhood interrupted have affected young people’s lives in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. We need to empower coaches with the training they need to help young athletes through this challenging period.
Beyond coach training, we hope this effort jumpstarts a critical conversation about what it really means to be a good coach. We’re grateful to PCA for their partnership and look forward to learning from their work.
1 2019 State of Play, Project Play, The Aspen Institute, https://www.aspenprojectplay.org/reports
2 MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, http://www.mentoring.org/
Photos © Positive Coaching Alliance
Don’t retire, kid: Our four biggest takeaways from the Project Play Summit
Young athletes share their stories at the Project Play Summit.
Don’t retire, kid.
That message anchored the Aspen Institute’s 2019 Project Play Summit, which brought more than 500 leaders in sport and youth development to Detroit this September. Over two days, representatives from national athletics organizations, nonprofit and philanthropic professionals, parents, and kids discussed how we can make sports work for all kids.
There’s a major need for these conversations. A recent study by the Aspen Institute found that most kids “retire” from sports by the age of 12. Just 38% of kids between ages six and 12 play sports regularly—down from 45% in 2008. Sometimes it’s because sports are too expensive; travel and equipment can cost thousands of dollars per year. Sometimes, it’s because sports get too competitive or intense. When sports stop being fun, kids stop playing.
This is a big concern. Kids who don’t play sports miss out on a guaranteed form of physical activity; they’re less likely to get the amount of exercise they need to stay healthy. However, they also miss out on opportunities for social and emotional development. When they’re done right, organized sports can help kids build self-esteem, set goals, learn teamwork, and practice leadership.
At the Susan Crown Exchange, we’re all about preparing kids to thrive. We’re especially interested in social and emotional learning (SEL) – the development of skills like empathy and collaboration, which have been linked to improved academic results and better life outcomes for kids.
Sports certainly aren’t the only way that kids build these skills. But with 45 million kids playing sports each year in the US alone, the potential is huge. We came to this conference with an open mind, excited to hear from a diverse set of experts on how we can make sports better for kids. Here’s what we learned.
The session we co-hosted with the Aspen Institute: How to Coach Social and Emotional Skills
- Sports aren’t just physical. We believe that social and emotional skills are critical for a child’s development. As it turns out, we’re not alone. Together with the Aspen Institute, we hosted an interactive session about why these skills matter, how sports can help children build them, and the role of coaches in a young athlete’s development. Nearly 100 people from a variety of backgrounds attended. Our participants gave us invaluable insights into how we can empower coaches to adopt SEL-informed approaches, making sure that the young athletes they support are prepared to thrive.
- We need to make sports better for kids. No matter where they came from in the world of sport, it seemed that everyone agreed on this. Parents spoke compellingly about the pressures their children faced from a young age. A panel of children agreed. Nonprofit leaders stressed that some kids can’t access sports at all—kids from low-income homes are half as likely to play sports as their upper-income peers. These are thorny issues, and we need to tackle them from all angles. We think that well-trained coaches will be particularly instrumental in addressing issues like these, and that an SEL-informed approach to coaching can have an outsized impact on the social and emotional development of young athletes.
- There’s a lot we’re still figuring out. It seems that everyone agrees that something needs to be done to make youth sports better. What’s less clear is what. Being fairly new to the world of sport, we were fascinated by some of the open questions that came up. Given what we know about the pressure kids are under, what is the role of competition? How can parents promote sports sampling—encouraging kids to try different sports—without overscheduling their children? How can we increase the demand for well trained coaches? These are questions that the field hasn’t answered yet—but it’s white spaces like this that excite us.
- Everyone has a role to play. Perhaps our favorite part of the conference was the diversity of perspectives welcomed. A panel of kids shared their experiences with sport. Their parents followed up with their own stories. Athletes with disabilities and their able-bodied teammates spoke candidly about what they each had learned from participating in integrated sports. And civic, philanthropic, and business leaders discussed the large-scale interventions needed to bring sports to more kids on a macro scale. Keynote speaker David Brooks referred to sports as a “social fabric” that can help build a just and kind society; it’s clear that many actors play a part in weaving that fabric together.
Jennifer Lerner of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program introduces the session.
As we explore the connections between sports, SEL, and youth development, we’re excited to keep learning—and to think about how we might play a part. If you know of any great resources or organizations that are also interested in this topic, let us know. We’d love to learn from them.
Learn more about our partnership with the Aspen Institute here.
All photos © Aspen Institute Project Play
New Grants Focus on High-Quality SEL Implementation
Earlier this year we took some time to assess the challenges in bringing SEL into common practice in the out-of-school time space. We spoke with program and field leaders, funders, practitioners and youth. We learned about challenges and opportunities related to measurement, professional development, equity, and demonstrating what good SEL practice actually looks like.
In response, SCE’s new round of grantmaking focuses on building the capacity of organizations to develop and implement the formal structures and processes needed to effectively implement high-quality social and emotional learning.
SCE is pleased to announce partnerships with four leading out-of-school time program providers focused on delivering high-quality SEL programs and practices. They include After-School All-Stars, BellXcel, Wings for Kids, and Wyman. Each of these organizations is uniquely positioned to deepen or enhance their own SEL efforts while also engaging other youth-serving organizations and systems across the U.S. in positively impacting social and emotional development in children and youth.
You can learn more about each partnership here.
New Resources Help Build Emotional Intelligence of Adults and Youth
Out-of-school settings offer great opportunities for social and emotional learning, and we continue to hear demand from practitioners for resources that specifically help to build empathy and regulate emotions. SCE is pleased to support two new free resources for building empathy and emotion regulation created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
The guides are based on the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER approach which is designed to teach emotional intelligence to people of all ages, with the goal of creating a healthier, more equitable, innovative, and compassionate society. The approach includes the development of five essential skills including recognizing emotions in oneself and others; understanding the causes and consequences of emotions; labeling emotions with a nuanced vocabulary; expressing emotions in accordance to cultural norms and social context; and regulating emotions with helpful strategies.
Each new resource offers an overview of each skill as well as strategies for adults to focus on their own development of empathy and emotion regulation and approaches for working with youth to develop these skills.
Click below to learn more and access each resource:
Empathy Guide – Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what someone else is feeling from that person’s perspective. It can motivate us to be more compassionate towards others. For today’s youth, empathy and compassion are more important than ever. This guide provides insight on how to help youth in out-of-school time settings increase empathy.
Emotion Regulation Guide – Emotion regulation skills help adolescents improve relationships, achieve long-term physical and mental well-being, and perform better in school. Learn more about how we can help youth regulate their emotions and behavior in a positive way in this helpful guide.
Digital Learning Connects Youth to Opportunity
EdSurge featured two of our Reclaiming Digital Futures partners Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) and Dream Yard in a new article about how youth are developing cutting edge skills to prepare them for future employment opportunities. While both organizations are leveraging technology, youth are learning far more than anything that requires them to plug in.
When facilitators at Digital Harbor Foundation’s Maker Foundations program give a group of students an electric toothbrush, a plastic cup, a few markers and some rubber bands, then tell them: Build a robot that draws… without any additional guidance, they are teaching youth that they can teach themselves new skills. Afterall, they have Google and each other. Basic robotics and effective Google research are just the tip of the iceberg; students learn problem solving, collaboration, innovation, project management, and much, much more. The goal of this approach to digital learning is to prepare youth for the jobs of the future and for the ones we can’t even yet imagine. With the skills to take on new challenges and learn how to be successful, youth will be prepared for any digital or analog opportunity that arises.
DHF also regularly uses client work as pedagogy. Youth in their programs learn by doing real work for real paying clients, not observing.
Dream Yard allows students to connect artistic endeavors, social justice and digital savvy. Through developing online learning portfolios, they are not only documenting their artistic processes, they are also presenting their work in a manner that helps them create opportunities for themselves, from applying to arts schools to participating in online and analog arts communities.
New Resources for Coaches to Support Social and Emotional Skills
What if coaches were measured not by wins and losses, but by the personal growth of their athletes?
SCE is pleased to launch new resources that explore the role youth sports can play in developing young people’s social and emotional skills. Through a partnership with The Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program and National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development and guidance from a strategic advisory group of researchers, program providers, coaches, and athletes including young people, we commissioned the EASEL Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to produce a white paper, Coaching Social and Emotional Skills in Youth Sports, which explains the evidence behind effective strategies youth coaches can use to build these skills in their young athletes.
Calls for Coaches: Coaching Social and Emotional Skills in Youth Sports translates the white paper into actionable calls for coaches to implement in after-school and community-based sports leagues. The brief’s goals are to:
- Help coaches understand why youth sports is a great venue for developing social, emotional and cognitive skills.
- Provide strategies and best practices for coaches to name, model and create environments for youth athletes to develop and practice these skills.
New Case Studies Explore SEL Implementation in Youth-Serving Organizations
Four years ago we launched our work in social and emotional learning (SEL), seeking to better understand how some of the very best out-of-school time programs work to equip youth with social and emotional skills essential to lifelong success.
We began knowing that to thrive in the 21st century is, more and more, shaped by a skillset beyond academic achievement. Experts across fields and sectors agree that social and emotional skills were critical ingredients for success. We also learned that, demonstrated by countless studies, these skills can be taught and learned. Too many youth weren’t accessing nurturing environments and real-world learning experiences they needed to develop social and emotional skills—especially disadvantaged youth. What was less known was specifically how to support the development of these skills in adolescents.
Our first initiative, the SEL Challenge, set out to uncover promising practices for building social and emotional skills in vulnerable youth, and to decode and systemize these practices in a way that could be applied in any youth-serving program, with the ultimate goal of taking these practices to scale in thousands of OST settings. We shared our findings widely in the Preparing Youth to Thrive suite of resources.
Over the last few years there has been a growing body of evidence that supports the value of incorporating SEL into all learning environments, and we have seen innovative work to this end nationwide.
Most recently, our attention has been focused on realistically assessing the challenges in bringing social and emotional learning into common practice. We have partnered with the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, After-School All-Stars, Character Lab, CASEL, The Aspen Institute, Wyman and others to explore how youth-serving organizations are effectively remixing and embedding SEL practices, curricula and evaluation tools into their strategy and culture.
We are continually asked how – how to select SEL practices, curriculum, measures, and, maybe most importantly, how to build a culture and approach that integrates training, assessment, and support for staff to improve SEL practices and outcomes.
We worked in partnership with top practitioners and researchers to help answer some of these questions, and are excited to announce the launch of a series of case studies that explore how youth-serving organizations are integrating SEL into strategy and programming. By sharing what we’ve learned, we hope to stimulate new conversations on the importance of SEL and to help organizations identify and scale the most effective approaches for youth.
This first case study from the Y-USA highlights the development and launch of the Character Development Learning Institute (CDLI), the Y-USA’s collaborative, program-agnostic, and deliberate process of verifying, adapting, scaling, and sharing best practices that advance youth character development.
Early next fall we will share case studies from the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, School’s Out Washington (Seattle), Sprockets (St. Paul), After-School All-Stars (Los Angeles), Beyond the Bell (Milwaukee) and Wyman that explore how each organization has integrated SEL into their organizations.
We have also learned that there is a need for more tools that specifically deepen our understanding of the development of two skills in particular: empathy and emotion management. What are the best practices for building these two skills? We have partnered with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to create a set of resources that will be released this fall providing research and practices related to these specific domains.
We will continue to share what we learn from our partners and the field and welcome new ideas, comments and feedback. We are grateful to all our partners, and even more grateful that this issue is rapidly becoming a topic of popular conversation.
New Partnership Explores how Youth Sports can Improve Social and Emotional Skills
SCE is pleased to partner with the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program and National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development to explore how youth sports can improve social and emotional skills.
This year-long collaboration aims to:
- Spark a dialogue about what makes a good coach and how sports can improve social and emotional skills;
- Build knowledge and identify strategies on how to train coaches in SEL practices and outcomes; and
- Increase the number of coaches who understand and receive training in SEL practices.
Stay tuned for the release of research briefs, case studies, and tools to help put these findings into action slated for early 2019.