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Professor’s charity organization facilitates growth through youth sports

| Wednesday, May 3, 2017

After his own experience as a youth sports coach, Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) professor Clark Power said he founded charity organization “Play Like a Champion Today” to provide coaches with the proper training to effectively serve children and teach character development.

“What I found was that I was never given any real direction or discussion or a lot of help in working with the kids I was working with,” he said. “I had a little responsibility for other coaches — I was head of an athletic association — [and] I noticed that I want to provide coaches with that [training], but there really wasn’t an organization I could plug into.”

The North Lawndale Eagles Football Program participate in a "Play Like a Champion Today" sponsored trip to the Blue and Gold Game at Notre Dame on April 22.Photo courtesy of Clark Power
The North Lawndale Eagles Football Program participate in a “Play Like a Champion Today” sponsored trip to the Blue and Gold Game at Notre Dame on April 22.

The organization works with both religious and secular athletic organizations to provide training for youth sports coaches across the country. Power said a lack of training would be unacceptable in other lines of work in which adults serve children. Because this training is a necessity, all of the athletic organizations that partner with “Play Like a Champion Today” must require their coaches to undergo training, Power said.

“We would not allow that in education, in schools,” he said. “Nor would we allow that in pediatric medicine. Nor do we allow that in social work. We do allow that in sports — and we shouldn’t. If we work with you, we want to convince you that it’s mandatory so all your coaches will sign up and do this.”

If athletic organizations partner with “Play Like a Champion Today,” Power said, their coaches must also allow children equal playing time.

“The other thing we wanted to say is that the children who participate in this program — through the 6th grade — have to get equal playing time,” he said. “And we say that if we’re going to teach children to develop their character through sports, then we as coaches had to be fair to children.”

Power said the program emphasizes the importance of the players’ experience over the coaches’ desire to win.

“For the Catholic programs, we also called the coaches ‘ministers,’ and by that we meant servants of the kids,” he said. “The kids are not there for you — for you because you’re this big-time coach. You’re there for the children and you’re there to serve them. And it’s their game.”

Power said he was unsure how coaches would respond to the requirements and focus of “Play Like a Champion Today,” but the overall response from coaches was positive.

“I didn’t know whether coaches would find this hard, or they wouldn’t like it or whatever,” he said. “They loved it. They loved everything. They loved being called ‘ministers.’ They loved thinking of their work as this service to kids.”

The coaches wanted to carry out the principles embodied by “Play Like a Champion Today,” Power said.

“They really wanted to give playing time,” he said. “They learned the value of that. So we were just really encouraged by that.”

The coaches’ training also helped players to become more sensitive to the needs of their teammates, Power said.

“We also found that — with a little coach education — the athletes actually become more moral in the sense that they try harder to become good teammates,” he said. “They’re more sensitive to bullying. They’re more sensitive to teammates being ignored.”

Power said good coaching can help players to grow as teammates and build character.

“They actually begin to take care of each other, which is part of what we mean by ‘virtue,’” he said. “They become responsible, not just for themselves, but for others, and this is what we’re trying to do. So we’re very encouraged by the results.”

Power said one of the future goals of “Play Like a Champion Today” is to help connect underprivileged children with the resources to participate in sports.

“We feel like, as ‘Play Like a Champion Today,’ that if we’re all about fairness and we’re all about champions, then we have to devote our resources now not just to the people who are well-off, but to organizations that are dedicated to working with children in neighborhoods that are financially distressed,” he said.

Power said he hoped the organization would be able to work with athletic organizations to provide underprivileged children with as many opportunities as possible.

“We want to be there, and what we’re trying to do is just trying to provide all the support that we can so there will be more opportunities,” he said. “And then these kids are going to be coached in really good programs.”


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About Natalie Weber

Natalie Weber graduated in 2020 from the University of Notre Dame, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in journalism and computing. A native of Grand Junction, Colorado she most recently served as Managing Editor at The Observer. // Email: [email protected] // Twitter: @wordsbyweber

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