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The power of positive coaching: CGAA works with Positive Coaching Alliance

Approximately 125 youth coaches have attended at least one of the Cottage Grove Athletic Association’s Positive Coaching Alliance clinics. (Submitted photo)

Once Dan Smoot’s name hit websites listing him as the president of Jr. Wolfpack football and a board member of the Cottage Grove Athletic Association, the emails and phone calls started to roll in carrying messages of every which topic.

At least one of those messages stuck.

Smoot was contacted about the Positive Coaching Alliance, which recently started a Minnesota chapter.

“I’m like ‘Yeah, this sounds pretty good,’” Smoot said. “This is the right message, these are the things we should be talking about and working on and focusing on.”

Those messages were about the purpose of youth sports. Not just winning, but teaching.

According to its website the Positive Coaching Alliance centers around three cogs -- coaches who strive to win but emphasize the important life lessons learned through playing sports, parents who focus on the life lessons learned while allowing the coaches and players take care of the competition side of things and the athletes who look to improve themselves, their teammates and the sport.

Smoot brought the idea of incorporating the program and its lessons into the CGAA, and the rest of the board members approved, as well. Shortly after, a deal was struck.

Three years, four clinics a year and one primary message delivered to the coaches of Cottage Grove.

“There’s so much more beyond the scoreboard, and yes the score counts, otherwise we wouldn’t keep score, but that’s not the only thing that counts,” Park activities director Phil Kuemmel said. “We’re looking at using sports to transform lives.”

A unified front

Kuemmel was ecstatic when Smoot called him to discuss the CGAA’s potential implementation of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

“That day that day Dan called me, it made my day, my week, my month,” Kuemmel said. “It was incredible.”

Park had already been working with the “Why We Play” program instituted by the Minnesota State High School League. That initiative utilizes a very similar messages to the ones the Positive Coaching Alliance preaches.

Kuemmel had been wrestling with how to get the messages of a positive, life-lesson teaching experience for kids in sports at the younger levels.

Smoot’s call provided that answer.

Seven coaches from Park High School recently attended one of the CGAA’s clinics. Their response -- it’s very similar to what’s being taught at the high school level.

“They heard the message that the association coaches are hearing, which is really helpful,” Kuemmel said.

Because now the messages the high school coaches are trying to impress on kids are starting to be taught at an earlier age.

“I think it’ll be great that as parents have a chance to go through this program at the youth level, and then they come to us at the high school level as we continue to make that a huge part of what we’re doing,” Kuemmel said. “I just think it’ll make life so much easier that we’ll all be on the same page and kind of all work together with those common goals in mind.”

Funding the project

The materials for the “Why We Play” initiative have largely been supplied to Park by the MSHSL.

That wasn’t the case for the CGAA with the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Those materials, those clinics, have had to be paid for.

But the CGAA has been able to fund the program without raising fees for parents.

The money is coming from the CGAA’s charitable gambling fundraising, which stems largely from profits made off pulltabs.

Smoot said if the charitable gambling “hit a snag” each of the divisions of the association would chip in equally to fund the program, but the CGAA has worked to stabilize charitable gambling as a source of income.

“We’ve done a good job of getting that in place, so it’s now taking those funds that have gone to CGAA and allocating them toward something like this, so it’s really more about the charitable gambling money is kicking in and having an impact on the community,” Smoot said. “And the people of the CGAA are doing a really nice job of doing that.”

Keeping kids in the game

More than 3,000 kids participate in at least one sport through the CGAA.

But keeping kids involved in athletics has proved to be a difficult challenge across the nation.

The PCA’s website said 70 percent of kids quit youth sports by the time they’re 13.

“They’re quitting because they’re having some sort of negative experience,” Smoot said. “That could be a negative experience with a coach, it could be a negative experience on the field. There’s something happening that they’re dropping out of youth sports. And when you drop out of youth sports you really lose a valuable platform to teach kids life lessons.”

Keeping numbers high is a key to athletic success in any program, and it’s certainly one reason for the CGAA, and Park, working to keep kids involved in sports. But it’s far from the main reason.

“We want to keep them in because they enjoy it,” Smoot said. “This is all about fun. It should be about playing.”

Rolling the program out

The CGAA is the second association in the state, after Prior Lake, to adopt the PCA program association wide.

And it isn’t wasting any time to put it into action.

The CGAA has held three PCA clinics since it adopted the program.

An estimated 125 coaches have attended at least one of the clinics.

“Within a few short months we’ve reached to get our message out there,” Smoot said.

The PCA sends in trained presentors for the clinics, which involve presentations, videos and simulated situations where coaches are asked to come together and talk out plans of action.

The lessons taught have quickly been translated to the field.

Smoot asked parents of the Jr. Wolfpack program to nominate coaches to be the Coach of the Year.

Fourteen different coaches were nominated.

“Parents, across the board, were very, very pleased with the results from the season,” Smoot said.

But in the end, the selection was Dave Runion. He received a series of books and a $250 gift card along with the honor.

“He did everything on his own merit, he didn’t know that we were going to be providing an award,” Smoot said. “He just did some great things throughout the season.”

The hope for the CGAA is that the coaches across the association continue to do great things to keep kids in the programs and teach them valuable life lessons.

The PCA will be a part of that process for some time to come. The contract extends for at least another two years.

“We’ll just continue to build on it from a parents perspective, a coaches perspective and a players perspective for the next couple of years,” Smoot said.

Smoot said the effect of these messages can be felt community-wide.

“When we’re teaching things about putting in great effort and having a great attitude and a coaching spirit, the ripples effects off the field that will be felt throughout the community for a long period of time,” he said. “I think that is also the biggest build on it is we’re aligned as a community, aligned as an athletic association and getting the financial support … and have had some great individual efforts from some great coaches. That’s the part that’s been great.”