Champion in Every Corner

Coaches Role in Creating Positive Environments

July 21, 2022 U.S. Center for SafeSport
Champion in Every Corner
Coaches Role in Creating Positive Environments
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Champion in Every Corner, Dr. Peter Scales from the Search Institute, joins us to discuss how coaches play an important role in creating a positive sport environment.

Learn more about Compete-Learn-Honor at
and Coach Pete Scales YouTube.  

Disclaimer: This podcast episode features a guest who is not an employee of the United States Center for SafeSport. The opinions, recommendations, comments, or representations made by the podcast guest do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Center. 

Producer (00:04):
Welcome to Champion in Every Corner, the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s podcast. Building a safe and positive sports community is what we're all about. So, you'll hear from experts about innovative ideas and abuse prevention practices you can put in play today. Before we begin, be sure you know your obligations for reporting actual, or suspected child abuse, and other abuse and misconduct. Ask a leader in your organization what policies and laws apply to you. This episode is hosted by Mariah Bures, Training Manager at the Center.

Mariah (00:40)
On today's episode, we are excited to kick off our miniseries about preventing emotional and physical abuse and misconduct: Tools for Athlete Well-Being. Dr. Peter Scales is joining us today to discuss the role that coaches play in creating a positive athletic environment. Dr. Scales is a developmental psychologist, researcher, author, speaker, and coach. His impact reaches far and wide and one of his areas of focus is working with coaches to promote positive youth development through sport. So welcome Dr. Scales.

Dr. Peter Scales (01:09 ):
Thanks Mariah. Glad to be here.

Mariah (01:12):
Could you tell us a little bit more about your background?

Dr. Scales (01:14):
Yeah, sure. I got my PhD, well, let's just say a long time ago. I've been working in the field of positive youth development for decades and done research in 30 countries around the world. Currently Senior Fellow at Search Institute in Minneapolis and became a high school tennis coach after I started taking up tennis at the age of 42, and 15 years later started coaching it. I was a volunteer, loved doing it so much that I became certified as a professional tennis teacher by the U.S. Professional Tennis Association at the age of 58, and now been teaching high school tennis coaching high school tennis for the last 15 years, boys and girls, and have given mental strength consulting to college teams. So much that I've got a column in Racket Sports Industry Magazine now called the “Bench”, which is about applying psychological and sports science principles to the mental-emotional game. Um, so I'm real happy to be here and, and talk about some of this with you.

Mariah (02:27):
Thank you so much Dr. Scales for being here as a guest in our podcast. Can you tell us about what Developmental Relationships are and how they impact youth development through sports?

Dr. Scales (02:34):
Sure. We at Search Institute have created this framework called Developmental Relationships to really describe the kind of deep and ongoing relationship that adults can have with young people that are really transformative in their lives. It's not just a supportive relationship or quote unquote, a positive one, but a relationship that really helps young people figure out who they are, you know, their identity development, what they're good at the skills they have, how those skills and strengths can help shape the trajectory of their lives and how they can use their gifts to connect with other people and to causes, greater than themselves and make a contribution. These are relationships that have to be nurtured intentionally. They don't just happen, you know, and it's not just being nice to somebody. It, it goes deeper than that in how you appropriately express care for a young person you're working with, how you challenge them, how you provide support, how you share power with them, and how you expand their sense of possibilities for their lives. Those are really the features of what we call Developmental Relationships.

Mariah (03:58):
Thank you. And can you elaborate more on the Compete-Learn-Honor model and how that defines success?

Dr. Scales (04:05):
As a high school tennis coach, I came up with this many years ago when I was looking for a way to systematize what I was doing in the mental-emotional game. I'm a psychologist. So the mental area of sport was kind of a natural interest of mine, but there wasn't really anything as systematic as I was looking for. So I created it, I realized this is what I've been doing. And it's really simple. It's founded in the belief that the goal of youth sports is to improve as people first and then improve as players. We're developing people before we're developing players. And the way we do that is to focus on not the winning and losing record but on how much effort we're giving. Are we giving a hundred percent effort? Are we open, curious, and humble learners?

Dr. Scales (05:06):
And by how we behave, are we bringing credit to ourselves, our teammates, our school, our opponents, and the game that we're playing? If we're doing all that and we're being emotionally and physically safe and we're having fun while we're doing Compete-Learn-Honor, then guess what we're being successful as student athletes, regardless of whether we win or lose. And of course the irony is the psychological and sports science overwhelmingly shows that when coaches do that and when players experience that kind of a sports environment, they actually are more likely to perform closer to their personal best. Which means a greater chance of winning, but without focusing on winning with all the negative implications of that.

Mariah (05:55):
Yeah, it certainly does sound very powerful. And your combination of being a developmental psychologist and being a coach, I think is really allowing you to be able to create this great work that you've been doing. Can you talk a little bit about where you have seen an overlap between your work as a developmental psychologist and as a coach?

Dr. Scales (06:18):
Yeah, it really is. And I mean, I don't even really like to use the word mental toughness, particularly, because that kind of to me expresses something that's very muscular and almost rigid. I like mental strength better because that indicates flexibility and adaptability and adjusting to conditions. The very, very important quality of being able to make mistakes and understand that mistakes are part of growth. Mistakes are essential for improving. If improving is a better goal than winning, well, guess what you can't improve unless you're making mistakes. If we have a coaching environment that is not friendly to mistakes, we have an environment where we're putting too much pressure on young people to perform perfectly and in the service of winning, I guess, but not really in the service of growing. And when we take that pressure off, that's when young people can really start performing at, at their best.

Dr. Scales (07:30):
So what I try and do, I actually even have a little poster I've made up that we put on the entrance to the tennis court, and it says, “Entering a mistake friendly and excuse free zone.” We want them to take responsibility for what goes on when they play, but our student athletes also need to know that we want them to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone's a learner, including the coaches, coaches are just farther along in their journey, but we're all learners and we're all making mistakes all the time as we enjoy the sport that we're playing.

Mariah (08:07):
I love that. And I love that spin on like its mental strength, not mental toughness. How does combining the Developmental Relationships and the Compete-Learn-Honor models promote a safe athletic environment?

Dr. Scales (08:22):
Yeah, that's a great question, Mariah. I think what we, what we do is the Developmental Relationships is how Compete-Learn-Honor is actually done. You've got to have the ability to express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power with your student athletes and expand their possibilities. It sets that relational tone that, “I'm here to help you grow. I'm here to empower you. I'm here to respect you. I'm here to help you find a larger purpose than simply winning or losing.” This is about something bigger. And then you can, within that kind of context that the student athlete understands. Now you can really talk about teaching the Compete-Learn-Honor habits about how we give a hundred percent effort, how we learn, what it means to be an open, curious and humble learner and what honor really means starting with respect.

Dr. Scales (09:31):
So I think what happens when you combine a specific way of, of deepening your relationships with the students that you're working with which is the Compete-Learn-Honor coaching philosophy, inside that way of developing deeper relationships, you create safety, you create empowerment, you create a sense of larger purpose and all that together gives, I think, everybody coaches and the student athletes and parents and everybody else around that team or that coach, student relationship a sense that this is an emotionally and physically safe environment. It's a fun environment place where we're gonna grow and just be treated really positively all around. It's very powerful.

Mariah (10:29):
Yeah, it certainly does sound very powerful. And your combination of being a developmental psychologist and being a coach, I think is really allowing you to be able to create this great work that you've been doing. So can you talk a little bit about where you have seen an overlap between your work as a developmental psychologist and as a coach?

Dr. Scales (10:51):
Yeah, I think it's been a great benefit for me to have the psychology background and not only psychology background, but my specialty always has been psychology of middle and high school students. It's a kind of perfect positive storm for me to be a high school tennis coach in that sense. It really has helped me understand motivation, I think. And, and one of the things that's really critical here about creating a safe environment is you've gotta understand why your students do what they're doing. Why are they there to play that sport? They need to understand their motivation, and you need to understand your motivation as a coach. And when that may be veering into areas that start getting unsafe for everybody. This gets back to the basic theory of human motivation that we work with most often in sports.

Dr. Scales (11:55):
And that is the ABC's of Self-Determination Theory. And that is every one of us has the needs to feel autonomy, to feel like we have choice that we have some control. Uh, the B is belonging. We, we all want to be liked and respected. And C is competence, we all want to be good at things that we value and that the people we admire value, right? So when ABCs are working everything's great. Sports is a situation where ABCs are constantly under threat. When you're in a competitive environment, you don't have control over the outcome. And we can very quickly go in our primitive lizard brain, the earliest part of our brain that developed to not realizing that all we did was shank a tennis shot, and instead it becomes life and death. It's like a saber-toothed tiger is, is chasing us.

Dr. Scales (12:53):
And our brain thinks it's life and death. So it becomes emotionally very, very fraught. And this is why it's absolutely crucial to deemphasize the winning part. That doesn't mean we're not training to win. We are training to win. We wanna win. Winning is more fun, usually, than losing. Okay. But that's not the most important thing. When we deescalate how personal it becomes and the judgment about our human worth, that comes from winning and losing and we help our students know that winning does not make you a better person. Losing does not make you a worse person. I'm not a better coach because I win. I'm not a worse coach because they lose. It just doesn't work that way. Those are the kinds of things that set the groundwork, the foundation for the coaching environment and the learning environment as a player where it's like, “Wow, this is safe because I can win, or I can lose.” But what this is really all about is I have to learn, I don't have to win, but I have to learn. And knowing all that about motivation, I think has just been a real asset. And so, I try and teach the players a little bit about where their motivation comes from and how our environment that we're creating is trying to satisfy those needs for autonomy, belonging, and competence that all of us have.

Mariah (14:28):
I think that coaches can get a lot from this podcast episode, from you, Dr. Scales, and learning about how they can create these positive environments for athletes, safe environments. Can you talk a little bit more about what behaviors or habits coaches should model to show that these athletes, that they prioritize their well-being?

Dr. Scales (14:48):
The primary thing before we even get into that is to, for coaches to understand this is a giving relationship. You're a servant leader. You give, you give, you give, and what all you can legitimately expect back from your student athletes is that effort we want hundred percent effort, be an open curious, and humble learner, and behave honorably. With great sporting behavior, sports-person-ship. You don't even expect a thank you. You can't expect anything beyond that. It's a one way relationship in that sense. It starts with that. And the way I put it is coaches have to care about their players, but they can't care for their players. And, and that's where there's a little line where we just talked about motivation and the human needs that we all have for the ABCs.

Dr. Scales (15:48 ):
That's where the line is, where it can start to veer into caring how your players react to you. Other than the basic respect, effort, honor, learning, that's where we get some danger where we're not satisfying the athlete's needs, but somehow expecting them to satisfy our needs as a coach. You know, when I was training, um, in psychology, I, I didn't end up as a counseling psychologist, but I trained as a counseling psychologist. And one of the things we first learned, was we all had to go into therapy ourselves. That was a part of the training. And we learned not only that your patients, your clients could start putting feelings onto you as a therapist that were feelings of that they would have for a parent or a romantic partner, these kinds of things, but you as a therapist could also transfer those kinds of feelings to your patients and clients. And you had to watch out for that, obviously the appropriate boundaries. I think there's something similar that coaches have to be wary of and just very sure about this is giving not receiving if they thank you. That's great, but you can't expect them to that's it.

Mariah (17:14):
Right. I think that's a really helpful distinction to be made for coaches to understand that. And I like how you frame that as like caring about athletes, right? What parting advice do you have for coaches as they think through how they can create a more inclusive and positive sport environment?

Dr. Scales (17:32):
Well, I think that the reason young people play sports, the reason why we all do, not just young people, is that it's fun. That's if it's not fun, why are we doing it? And yet the studies show, you know, that fun is a complex thing. It isn't about amusement park, thrill, ride type fun. Laugh a minute or a coach has to be a comedian. Sense of humor helps, but you don't have to be telling jokes. But the fun when young people are asked, what is it they love about playing fill in the blank, your sport. It's almost never about winning. It's about the challenge. The challenge of doing something that's a little hard for them right now, that they're not great at, and then seeing themselves get better. It's about the socialization that they can do with other teammates, the people they meet, the relationships they establish.

Dr. Scales (18:26):
It’s about all, it's about the physicality of it. Feeling mentally and physically stronger because they play the sport. You're always having to make sure that the three things you're doing as a coach is keeping them safe, giving them fun, and helping them grow. And if you're doing all those three things and we think, you know, building Developmental Relationships and like Compete-Learn-Honor coaching philosophy does that, you're doing all those things. You're a successful coach and you have a successful sports program. That's really it. That's keep your eyes on that. That's the goal. Not the W’s and the L’s. Those are fun. I mean, we've had undefeated seasons and during those undefeated seasons, we almost never talked about winning. It was always about Compete-Learn-Honor. I think that's the message for coaches that I'd like them to walk away with.

Mariah (19:17 ):
That's great. Thank you so much, Dr. Scales, for being here as I guest on our podcast and kicking off the Tools for Athlete Well-Being series.

Dr. Scales (19:21):
Great speaking with you, Mariah.

Producer (19:23):
One final important note information about or reasonable suspicion of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, must be immediately reported to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport and individuals must comply with other applicable state or federal laws. 

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