Our Story

Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a national non-profit organization with the mission of creating a positive, character-building youth sports environment that results in BETTER ATHLETES, BETTER PEOPLE.

Youth sports currently involves 40M children, which presents a tremendous platform on which to develop youth character and life skills. Research has shown that in order for youth to accrue these benefits from sports, sports needs to be done in a way that creates a positive youth development culture. PCA ensures sports are ‘done right’ with programming that is research-based and designed to have an impact at three levels in a youth sports organization or school:

  • Youth experience improved life skills and character development.  They also perform better!
  • Coaches become more positive and increase their focus on using sports to teach life lessons.
  • Youth Sports Organizations & Schools see their cultures become more positive and everyone involved has more fun.

Since its founding in 1998, PCA has established 18 chapters nationwide, partnered with roughly 3,500 schools and youth sports organizations to deliver more than 20,000 live group workshops, reaching 19.2 million youth. PCA offers interactive online courses and has thousands of multimedia tips and tools for coaches, parents, athletes, and leaders available free of charge on PCADevZone.org. PCA also runs two annual awards programs: a scholarship program for high school student-athletes and a coach award program to recognize youth and high school coaches who strive to win and teach life lessons.

PCA gains support from a National Advisory Board of elite coaches, professional and Olympic athletes, organization leaders, and academics who share PCA’s mission including Dusty Baker, Carol Dweck, Herm Edwards, Julie Foudy, Phil Jackson, and Steve Kerr. PCA is proud to partner with more than 50 national governing bodies, youth serving organizations and professional leagues and teams including Boys & Girls Club of America, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and US Lacrosse.

The PCA Way

The PCA Way is a document that establishes and helps maintain cultural norms at Positive Coaching Alliance. PCA Founder Jim Thompson -- who defines "culture" as "The way WE do things HERE" -- was inspired to create this document by his time at Hewlett-Packard, where he experienced The HP Way. You can download the document as a PDF by clicking the image below.

At PCA, we have a relentless commitment to continuous improvement. One of the ways we constantly look for better ways to do established things is through our annual PCA Staff-Wide Book Club. Learn more about that book club here.


We talk to one another and nod our heads and say that we need to create a positive culture around youth sports, but what do we really mean? Before we can take steps toward it, we must clearly define "a positive culture in youth sports."

What a Positive Culture Looks Like

Bottom line, we want to create a culture where kids love to play the game. They look forward to practices and games as times when they will have fun. The joy they find in playing will last a lifetime.

In a positive youth sports culture, all resources do not flow to the elite level. Athletes have options determined by their ability and interest. Elite athletes compete in "meritocratic" environments in which a place on the team and playing time are determined by ability, performance and effort. Less talented or skilled athletes, or simply athletes who want a different kind of experience, have the option to play in developmental or recreational programs in which they are guaranteed the right to play at least a part of every game.

At every level, players are proud to have their families and friends see them play. Knowing that they are an important part of the team contributes to this proud feeling; their coaches are supportive and do not embarrass them in front of those watching; they are confident that their parents are supportive and will not confront the officials over questionable calls; and ultimately, they know that those watching are proud of them whether or not they win the game.

All involved in youth sports (players, coaches, parents, officials, and fans) realize what a special time this is. They look at their involvement as a privilege that they never want to dishonor. They realize that sports provide a time when they get to interact with people they do not see on a regular basis, and they come to cherish this time. Players know that this is a time when they can learn from each other (as well as from the coach), and the coach sees how much can be learned from the players. Players look forward to playing challenging opponents because they push them to perform to their highest potential.

Coaches feel the responsibility not only to teach their players the skills and strategy behind the game, but also a respect for the tradition of the game and for all who are involved (teammates, opponents, officials, and fans). Learning to honor the game contributes to a growing sense of responsibility and maturing moral reasoning that helps athletes prepare to become contributing citizens of the larger community.

Coaches realize that what they are teaching their players carries far beyond the field into the classroom, the home, and even into future jobs. Coaches have their players (and team as a whole) focus on their effort and personal improvement, rather than simply on the results of the game. They help players recognize that mistakes are an inevitable and important part of the learning process and that a key to success is being able to rebound from mistakes with renewed determination. This way, players gain a sense of control over their own development and confidence in their ability to succeed, in life as well as in sports.

Players have an important voice in creating this positive culture, and there are multiple and ongoing opportunities for them to shape their own environment. During team discussions players speak and contribute. When decisions are being made that affect the entire team/league, coaches and league organizers make a concerted effort to be approachable and players' ideas are sought out and considered. Having this voice increases players' sense of internal motivation, and they feel a stronger sense of control over their surroundings.

This positive culture encourages athletes to play multiple sports and never pressures players to specialize in one sport too early in their careers. Coaches resist the urge to pressure their players to give up other sports besides their own, realizing that what might give them the best winning percentage is not always the same as what is in their players' best interest.

The Challenge 

When a game is on the line, can we really live up to this description of a positive culture? Can we really expect coaches, players, fans, and parents to uphold this positive culture if it might result in losing the game? The answer has to be, "Yes!" All involved must realize that winning cannot be the only goal. Maintaining a positive culture where positive character traits are developed in our players must come first. When the game is on the line and tensions are running high, it can take a high level of moral courage to keep our focus on what is really important, but if we can do that, we will teach our children an invaluable lesson. We must believe that maintaining this positive culture is so vital that we are willing to stand up to others that are putting it in danger. Our vision needs to stretch far beyond winning a specific game to making a lasting impact on the lives of our players.

In March 2000, 50 youth sports leaders came together at the first annual Against the Grain Forum convened by Positive Coaching Alliance based at Stanford University and the Center for Sport, Character & Culture at the University of Notre Dame. This vision statement emerged from that event.