Jim Thompson’s Positive Coaching Alliance has been helping youth athletes build character through positivity for twenty years.

Thompson will speak on Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, January 23.

PCA is an organization Thompson founded to change the way youth sports are coached by providing online and in-print resources for coaches, parents and others involved in the world of youth sports, as well as group workshops and online courses on the subject.

The road that led Thompson to found PCA was fairly long. Thompson formed his relentlessly positive philosophy when he got a job as a teacher’s aide in St. Paul, working with students with developmental and behavioral disabilities.

Later, while living in California, Thompson’s son began competing in youth sports, and Thompson entered the world of youth sports coaching.

“I was just stunned at how much negativity there was around sports,” Thompson said.

He saw an opportunity to change coaching for the better by applying his positive philosophy.

The teams Thompson coached did well—they won a lot, and he said parents would sometimes come up and tell him they wanted to get their kids on his team.

Thompson eventually became a girls’ basketball coach and wrote a book about his experiences, Shooting in the Dark: Tales of Successful Coaching and Leadership.

“I realized how much potential there was in sports,” Thompson said.

He also authored Positive Coaching: Building Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports, but it never had the impact he hoped it would.

“My mom read it;” Thompson said, “My wife says she read it, but it didn’t change the world.”

Thompson was later appointed to a national task force on building character through sports, and authored the task force’s report on the subject. However, he realized the task force would disband following the report, and further action based on the task force’s recommendations might not be taken unless someone stepped up.

Putting to use a background in organizational culture he learned while completing an MBA at Stanford, Thompson eventually created PCA to put his positive coaching ideals into action. The organization promotes three aspects Thompson sees as necessary for youth sports participants: They need to feel they are a part of something bigger, they need to believe they can get better, and they want to be a part of a team that does things the right way—without cheating.

“When your emotional tank is full, you can do great things,” Thompson said.

One key element Thompson sees in PCA’s success over the years is the ability to make things practical—for example, he believes fundamentally that kids in sports need to feel like they can make mistakes and move on from them. This observation is based on psychological research, but PCA applies it in the form of “mistake rituals,” in which teams establish an action or phrase they use to quickly deal with or move on from mistakes, like “flushing” mistakes, or wiping their foreheads to symbolize wiping the mistake and putting it out of mind.

“Most of the people involved in PCA are volunteers,” Thompson said, “and the question is, why? And the answer is our vision.”

For more information on PCA, visit positivecoach.org. 1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Stage at Island Park.

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Austin Gerth