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VATICAN-SPORTS Nov-15-2005 (670 words) With photo. xxxi

Coaches, parents must root for whole player, say speakers at Vatican

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Coaches and parents need to get on the same team and root for the spiritual and personal development of their children on the court or in the field, said some participants at the Vatican's first meeting on sports.

"There's a lot of pressure to develop more elite teams, more winning teams" in youth sports, because "parents want their kids to play in college or to play professional" sports, said Clark Power, associate director of the Center for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

But this often "leads to unrealistic expectations" about what kids can achieve and puts them "under pressure," he said.

Power said coaches should be helped to see that "you're not here to produce the greatest athletes, but you're here to help kids grow."

U.S. Father Kevin Lixey, head of the Vatican's church and sport desk, which sponsored the Nov. 11-12 meeting, said that of all the resources poured into sports coaches typically receive the least investment, even though they usually have a tremendous impact on kids.

The international seminar, titled "The Christian Mission in the Field of Sport Today," invited about 50 participants, some of whom were sports psychologists, professors, professional athletes and just "parents of kids who play sports," said Father Lixey.

One interesting point made at the conference, he said, was that on a parish level or in Catholic schools a typical child may spend "20 hours with a catechist, but then spend maybe 200 hours a year in front of a coach."

But "one of the things we least invest any resources in is the coach, or the volunteer, even the physical education program in a Catholic school; there's really no vision at all of how sports should be played," he told Catholic News Service.

Another conference participant, Darrell Miller, a former Major League Baseball player for the California Angels, said "fewer coaches are teaching values and espousing those values" and parents, too, are "losing perspective" by not fostering these values in their kids.

Power said it is often the parents who put pressure on the coaches to hammer out a winning team or turn their child into a star player.

He said efforts should be focused "on the parents and coaches together, to get them both on the same page, talking the same language, with the same basic philosophy" that put values and the welfare of the child first in sports.

A recent survey by Notre Dame researchers found "a greater incidence" of "poor sportsmanship and worse" in Catholic rather than in public school programs, according to a Nov. 8 university press release.

Power said sports should be seen as a ministry. He said coaches should be teachers and ministers and be reminded they "are here to serve the children."

Adults' attitudes toward youth sports should be "I'm here to help the child to play" and to remember "it is just a game," he said.

Power's Play Like a Champion program, which has been selected for use by the U.S. National Center for Catholic Youth Sports, aims to create "a better athlete," not just a nice person.

"What's better for the development of an athlete is also best for the development of the person," he said.

Miller, who is now director of Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Baseball Academy in California, said sports, done right, teaches a person valuable lessons in life like how to "handle success and failure."

Also, learning about self-sacrifice on the field so one's team can win carries over into life, he said, when "you ask how do I sacrifice for others" and "do that for my family."

The church needs to help promote "an understanding of the value of athletics and use it for the common good whose byproduct is personal good," he said.

People need to be reminded that sports should be played "for the good of mankind" and that it is "not about wins and losses, but betterment of human development," said Miller.


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