Category Archives: Coach (sport)

Join Us In San Diego For The 2011 SwimAmerica Leadership Conference

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2011 ASCA World Clinic & Trade Show

It’s almost time for 2011 ASCA World Clinic & Trade Show.  This year marks the 53rd time that more than 1,000 coaches will come together for professional education purposes.  Attending the ASCA World Clinic is one of the very few fast tracks to success.  Getting out and comparing notes with your peers, listening to keynotes and topic specific presentations, chatting up some of the world’s greatest coaches, and taking time to explore the technologies and services represented in the Exhibit Hall – all this can give you quite an advantage over the stay-at-home staff from across town.

So, what are you waiting for?  Register today!

ASCA World Clinic 2011
September 6-11, 2011  •  San Diego, CA
schedule  •  register

General schedule

Certification Schools:     Mon. 9/5, Tue. 9/6, Thu. 9/8, Fri. 9/9 and Sun. 9/11

World Clinic:      September 7-10  (Wednesday 1:00 p.m. – Saturday)

Exhibit Hall:   Wednesday Evening through Saturday
Check out the 2011 Exhibitors
View a map of the Exhibit Hall
See the schedule of vendor presentations

Hotel information
Town and Country Resort Hotel
500 North Hotel Circle
San Diego, CA  92108
tel:  (619) 291-7131
room rate:  $132 per night
online room reservations available here

The Purpose and Measurement of a Swim Meet

The Swim Meet Coach – Part II.

“Purpose and Measurement of a Swim Meet

by John Leonard

In the first part of this series, we identified that there are specific skills to develop in coaching at a swim meet as opposed to “practice coaching”. In this article, we’ll begin to explore those skills. We’ll begin with thinking about the swim meet experience conceptually.

Lets first answer the question, “What Do You Think The Purpose Of A Swim Meet Is?”

 To begin, lets make an assumption, and that is, that we are purpose driven human beings attempting to teach purpose to young people. If that is the case, then there are several possible purposes of packing up the family and going to a swim meet.

It is an opportunity to test the quality and durability of what you have learned in practice. Why practice if not to compete and test it? This is a universal, regardless of summer league meet, USA Swimming meet, or high school/collegiate competition.

It is an opportunity to enjoy racing with other swimmers. In most meets, athletes are grouped according to relative abilities, so you’ll be competing with people relatively similar to yourself in ability. While this is likely true in highly organized competition like YMCA, USA-S age group meets, the grouping of athletes is likely to be less homogeneous in high school or summer league competition. You may be in over your head, or you may not have sufficient competitive challenge in your event.

It is a quality opportunity to see if you are a better swimmer today than you were the last time you competed. Universally true. Test yourself. Don’t depend on the competition. Test Yourself.

It is an opportunity to grow to a new level in our sport. If you are an age grouper, a chance to get a new B time, new A time, new AAA time. If a senior swimmer, a chance for a new Sectional cut, Junior or Senior National cut, or, if a high school swimmer, advance to your district or state meet.

It is FUN! Go enjoy it. Make the experience exciting, positive and fun. Learn and appreciate.

The point here is, every swim meet, every swim at every swim meet, should have one or more of the above purposes in mind. The athlete needs coach leadership to understand and put in context, the purpose of the meet and the swim. Don’t let athletes get into the “same old, same old” rut. Set appropriate purposes for each swim in front of each swimmer.

Sometimes its as simple as scoring points for your team in a dual meet. Sometimes it can be pretty complicated. But Purpose is everything!

And the backside of purpose of course, is evaluation. Once the purpose is set, then the coach and athlete need to work together to analyze the result and prepare for the next race, next meet, next season. The good coach becomes skilled at evaluation.

Evaluation may come in various time frames. First, is when the athlete walks back from the blocks. There is an art to good communication with the athlete immediately following the swim, and in this series of articles, we’ll explore the nature and content of those communications.

Second, is more in-depth post meet evaluation to look carefully at the entire meet and performances in context. Third, is the sort of end of season analysis that looking back at each meet in the season can provide.

Good evaluation comes from data. Facts. “Feelings” and “opinions’ are certainly to be respected, and considered. But over time, most coaches have come to the conclusion that facts help form solid opinions and therefore, facts are important to assemble in as much depth as possible.

So, how do you measure results at a swim meet? Here are some ways.

  • Did you have a lifetime best time?
  • Did  you have a seasonal best time?
  • Did you swim the race with the effort pattern that  you had planned?
  • Did you swim the race with the technical elements that you had planned? (Stroke, turn, start, etc.)
  • Did you get the competitive result you sought? (Placing)

And of course, you can add others!

While certainly it is important to select ONE of the above as a primary objective of each swim, the fact is that sometimes swimmers, regardless of experience level, play “mix and match” (“I want to swim a best time and win the race.”) This makes it significantly more difficult to evaluate the race competently.

Now, as the coach, what do you measure?

Here are some ideas:

Measure percent of best times. (lifetime or seasonal)  “We swam 100 races this weekend. We had 42 best times. Our best time percentage for the weekend is 42%.”

Measure the number of new B, A, AA, etc. times on the team. “We had 14 new B times, 3 new A times and 2 new AAAA times, great job!”

Measure the  number of new  Sectional, JR, Sr. National qualifying times. Celebrate those!

Measure the percentage of best times in prelims. In finals. Track these. Compare over time.

Measure the total number of seconds improved by the entire team added together. This is a great “team incentive” that everyone can contribute to.

Measure the percent of best times by stroke. (“We had 22% best season times in backstroke.”)

Measure the percent of best times by distance. (“We had 46% best times in events 400 and longer, and 58% best times in teh 100’s”)

Measure best times by age group. (“the 10 and under girls swam 75% best ever times this past weekend! Congratulations!”)

Measure best times by gender. Then Gender and age group.

The more you measure, the more you have to think about. And you are thinking about FACTS. (Having facts also help in discussion with parents, who typically begin a conversation with “I think…” or “I feel…”  You have the facts.)

Having the facts allows  you to have intelligent post meet conversations with athletes.

“How do you think you did?”

“What was good? What was not so good? What can you improve on?”

“Why?”

“What can we do about it? What do you think we should work on in practice with you?” What can you do to get better?”

Facts also allow you to have intelligent conversations with the team as a whole. “Here is how we did. These are the facts. What do you think? What common traits do you see? What do we need to concentrate on? What simple things can we do as a group in practice to improve?”

Facts allow you to discuss performances with your coaches from a common ground. (if you have a staff.)

Facts allow you to give real information on athlete performance and improvement to your Athletic Director and Principal (whether he wants them or not!) and to your Board of Directors.

Having facts, means that you can be evaluated with facts. Most of us prefer this. (Though, sadly, not all….some want to get by on their charm and good looks…if you are not so blessed, facts can help.)

Summary: think about and have a PURPOSE. Develop and have FACTS!

 

 

Five Strategies to Help Elevate Your Positive Mindset as a Professional Coach

Monday

Focus on “Get to” instead of “Have to” – While driving to the office focus on what you “get to” do instead of what you “have to” do. With gratitude realize that you don’t have to do anything. You get to go to coach while so many are unemployed. Coaching is a job you love.  A job you are passionate about.  Gratitude floods your body and brain with emotions that uplift you and energize you rather than stress hormones that drain you.

Tuesday

Don’t Expect your Board, Coaching Staff and Swim Parents to Make you Happy – Realize that happiness is an inside job. Our happiness has less to do with forces outside of us and more to do with what’s inside of us. The way we think about work, feel about work and approach our work influences our happiness at work. For instance, just by making yourself smile you produce more serotonin in the brain-which makes you feel happier. You’ll also be happier when you focus on what you are giving instead of what you are getting.  Again, remember to smile…it releases happy enzymes to the brain.

Wednesday

Don’t Seek Happiness – Ironically if you want to be happier don’t seek happiness. Instead share your strengths and decide to work with passion and purpose and happiness will find you. The research shows that people are most energized when they are using their strengths for a bigger purpose beyond themselves. Whatever your job, decide to bring passion to it and find purpose in it. I’ve met bus drivers, administrative assistants, janitors and fast-food employees who are more passionate about their jobs and happier than some professional athletes making millions of dollars. Every job will get mundane and “old” if you let it but purpose and passion keep it fresh and make you happier.

Thursday

Focus on Excellence instead of Success – When you focus on success you can easily fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, looking over your shoulder, feeling envious, playing office politics, and competing against your fellow staff members instead of collaborating. However, when you focus on excellence you measure yourself against your own growth and potential. You strive to be the best you can be. You simply focus on getting better every day and this makes work more meaningful and rewarding.

Friday

Celebrate Together – While we shouldn’t depend on others to make us happy, by building a positive team or support group at work we will be happier. So instead of expecting others to make you happy, you proactively create the positive relationships that enhance your engagement, productivity and happiness. One great way to do this to huddle with your staff at the end of the week and have each person share their accomplishments, victories, and great moments of the week. This will produce great feelings on each week that inspire you and your team to come back to each day, keep up the great work, and make a difference daily.

Mapping A Young Coach’s Education by John Leonard

Yesterday, an ASCA Life Member, John Dussliere of Santa Barbara Swim Club, told us that we should have a “roadmap” for young coaches education.  Great Idea! Thank you, John. So, while nothing is “mandatory” about doing it this way, and members are free to take what they want when they want, here is the ASCA Recommended Road Map to basic coaching education and competence.

First, take the ASCA/USA Swimming Level One Course.  It is the general philosophy and coaching of our sport – hence the title “Foundations of Coaching.” Included are starter materials on teaching strokes, training athletes, working with parents, etc.   Quite simply, it is Coaching 101. It makes you competent to step on deck and assist swimmers and other coaches.  It’s minimal, but it’s the START. Test is taken on-line and reported to USA-Swimming for your coaching membership there, and to ASCA, to start your certification process. You do need to also complete a Certification Application with ASCA to activate this. You can find one on our Website…www.swimmingcoach.org

Second, take the ASCA Level 2 – The Stroke School.  This course is designed to make you aware of world class strokes today, and more importantly, teach you to Construct Strokes in practice. That’s the primary thing that parents bring their children to you to learn…how to swim better.  This is the BEGINNING of your education about strokes. ASCA provides Advanced Courses in each stroke, both live and in manuals.

Third, comes the ASCA Level 3 – Physiology School. This is all about the planning and execution of training for athletes of all ages from 8 and unders to the elite. Along the way, you are “reminded” of some basic science.  Once you can teach strokes and understand the philosophy of our sport, it’s time to have a coherent training plan for your athletes of every age. Long term development of athletes is key to good coaching.

 Fourth, the ASCA Level 4 – Administration School.  We recommend that you take the Administration School, which teaches you ways to conduct and run your program, even if you don’t have the performance standards to meet Level 4 Certification  Use this info as timeless wisdom….Don’t reinvent the wheel…..swim teams have been in operation for many years…Lots of good ways to do things have already been found and documented.  Rather than trial and error, learn from past good ideas to operate your program…whether you are an assistant coach or a head coach, this is important information.  Special sections on high school and college teams.

Fifth, Level 5, the Leadership School. We’re thinking of “flip-flopping” this course with our current Level 4 since every coach needs to be a leader.  This teaches you how you become a leader and what to do with it once you have that remarkable ability. You lead your group, you may lead your team, you may lead your parents, you may contribute leadership to y our LSC or High School association.  It’s swimming specific and a great way to focus on your daily tasks.

Next, once you’ve done the basic 5 Required Courses, ASCA has 23 “Enrichment Courses” that cover many facets of coaching in an advanced and specific manner. Take them in any order you wish, as your interests dictate…much like when you were in college. We add an average of 1.5 courses a year.

SOMEWHERE IN THERE…..along the way, GET A MENTOR. Nothing is a better coaching education. All it takes is the simple question “Can I ask you some questions?” to a coach you admire and respect.

That takes some courage. But take heart. I’ve never heard of anyone rejecting anyone in our profession.  Suck it up…ask someone for help. And when they help you, ask the next question…”Can I stay in contact with you so I can learn some more?”

Do you have to take the courses in that order? No. Do we “encourage it?” Yes. They are specifically ordered to provide an orderly progression of basic information for the framework of your coaching career.

One FINAL NOTE……HOW you take the course, matters. LIVE CLINICS (typically one day for required courses, and ½ day for some Enrichment Courses) are FAR BETTER learning experiences. You benefit from asking questions, listening to questions and answers from others, and the general interaction of live education.  Yes, it costs money to travel and takes time. Not everyone can do it. If you can, try to do it. It’s much better. You get the “two for one” of presenter and manual.

On-line Seminars – ASCA/USA Swimming Collaboration – more than 30 a year. See USA-Swimming website for schedule. One hour in length, mid-day. Saved for later, non-live presentation.  Avail yourself of these…worth ten ASCA Certification units per seminar. Experienced coaches sharing their information.  Free.

Home Study is convenient and easy.  Manuals are “loose leaf” to encourage you to ADD materials over time, as you find more articles you want to save  on the same topic. Young coaches often don’t get “respect” from parents….and they ask me how to sell “their” ideas.  You can’t. You’re too young for a parent ten years older than you to listen to you…but you CAN sell “expert power”.  Expert power is what an experienced coach who is not you, says. You can pull out an article from David Salo on Breaststroke, or Jon Urbanchek on middle distance training, or Ira Klein on age group progressions and they have “instant credibility” with your parents…if you educate your parents on who those coaches are.  You use “expert power” rather than, “in my opinion”. Parents aren’t interested in the opinions of young coaches very much, are they? With Expert Power in your corner, you’re ready to meet those challenges. And very coach in history before you, who succeeded, used Expert Power before you. We all do. Help yourself.

Coming soon….ASCA Level 2 School will be available “on line” with lots of video.

All the Best, John Leonard

Monday, in the office, after attending a meet all weekend…

Professionalizing the Coaching of Swimming

Professionalizing the Coaching of Swimming

by John Leonard

Coach Peter Daland frequently reminds me that swim coaches evolved from the old days of “bath attendants,” who spent all day at the (overheated) pool, in their bathrobes, providing towels to patrons. Naturally, since these gentlemen (no ladies to our knowledge) spent all day observing the motion of humans through water, they became a source of information on how various people succeeded or failed in doing so. Hence, the birth of swim coaching.

Not very glorious.

This humble beginning, combined with a recent conversation with an ASCA member, led me to consider the concept of a “profession.”  I know, intuitively, that swim coaching is a profession.  And, we know, intuitively, that we are professional coaches.  But, under objective standards, is coaching a profession?

Here’s what I found:

The word profession comes from the Latin professio, meaning “public declaration.”  Historically, when a person made a commitment to a profession, they were automatically branded a member of a religious community, by openly declaring a faith or an opinion.  Sound familiar?

Nowadays, various things have been tacked on to that original concept. Today’s common understanding of a professional are individuals vocations requiring a highly specialized body of knowledge and experiences.  Another factor in the definition of a profession today is its universality.  Coaching swimming is indeed a global profession, with people practicing it on most of the continents.  Additionally, the idea of a profession is imbued with the concepts of a “discipline” and an “order” to the vocation.

How do we measure up against this standard? What has ASCA provided that helps us meet those expectations from the public we serve?

First, is there a common philosophy?

I would say yes, there is. Quite simply, we are in place to assist those who wish to swim in a more satisfactory fashion. This can range from learning to swim, to setting world records. We exist to serve our clients. Within that context, multiple philosophies of “how to” exist, largely to the benefit of the public we serve. Diversity provides a learning process and improvement process for everyone we can touch with our collective efforts.

Second, is there a common body of knowledge?

Yes, we’re improving. Within ASCA’s five required Certification Levels and 14 additional Enrichment Schools, ASCA has created and continually improves and evaluates and expands, the skills and abilities of its members. Globally, we are moving towards agreement on the foundational concepts of swimming and forming the basics of a common body of knowledge. Already, with international clinics, and the communication and learning possibilities of our digital age, information and education is increasingly accessible to any individual who really wants to be a swimming coach.

Third, is there a formal Education Process? Yes and no.

In the USA, thanks to our partners at USA Swimming, we have “required” education for our newest coaches before they get a coaching license. Above Level 1, education is required only for certification by the ASCA. The good news is that 12,000 (and growing daily) coaches have committed themselves to certification and the required education process it includes. This VOLUNTARY association clearly is superior to any forced mechanism we can create. The market for our profession – our clubs and employers – have a way to require and demand continuing education from our profession.

Fourth, are their standards of entry?

Yes.  All new coaches, within one year of starting to coach, must complete the Level 1 Coaching School through ASCA and USA Swimming. Unfortunately, no such standard exists for NCAA coaching assistants or high school coaching (though individual states have some requirements for HS coaches).

Fifth, are their guidelines for behavior?

Yes.  In 1991, the ASCA passed the first ever Code of Ethics in Olympic Sports coaching. (Since that time, twelve other sports have followed suit.)  And, USAS requires coaches to pass a background screen, which is a key protection for those whom we serve.

Sixth, does the profession have consistent communication mechanisms in place?

Yes! With the American Swimming Magazine, the ASCA Newsletter, and the Journal of Swimming Research, we provide information from the anecdotal to the rigorously scientific, on a monthly basis, in addition to 18-20 live clinics a year.  USAS conducts regional clinics, sends regular email communications and engages in on-site visits with coaches and teams.  Both the ASCA website and the USAS website are forums for thought leadership and fast communications of ideas.

Seventh, do we have leaders who serve as mentors and role models and are they active in leadership roles both formal and informal?

Yes, the ASCA Board, and more recently the ASCA Fellows Program, provides a set of mechanisms to evaluate past efforts, think about and plan for the future of the profession and then pass on accumulated wisdom to future generations of leaders. Our leadership role and individuals are highly active, highly visible, and provide key links from our past into the bright future.

The work of creating, maintaining and improving a profession is never done. But daily, the collective coaching community is committed to doing what we do, and believing in what we say, and envisioning what will come.  So, hold this close:  As a coach, you are part of a profession…The Swimming Coach.

(evaluated from Crain’s Chicago Business Journal, “What defines a profession?”)

Advice to Assistant Coaches on Selling Ideas to Your Head Coach (and Advice to the Head Coach on Selling Ideas to your Board)

Advice to Assistant Coaches on Selling Ideas to Your Head Coach (and Advice to the Head Coach on Selling Ideas to your Board)

by John Leonard

Let me state up front that none of this is “original thinking”. The sales literature in the world is so extensive that literally every idea comes from “someone else”. So with apologies and thanks to the “originators” of these ideas, here goes.

First, when you are selling to the “CEO”, you need to understand first what THEIR concerns are:

1)    Staying “profitable”. The CEO has to make sure the paychecks get written and the bills get paid. They have to do this FIRST, or the organization goes out of business and you don’t have a job. So if you whine “but its always about the money!”, grow up and recognize that you are correct. It IS always about the money. Unless you’re planning on donating your salary to the club this month?

2)    Keeping the majority HAPPY. The CEO has a lot of “constituencies” that they have to please. Make enough people unhappy and you’re looking for a new job. Bringing “correct” but wildly unpopular ideas to the boss is not going to win you a new friend. And it will, if repeated enough times, label you as “difficult”. After you read that, see the last sentence of number one again.

3)    Value. How important is the idea to the success of the organization? CEO’s need to spend their time on the key issues.

4)    Agility. How easy/how fast/how simple is your idea? CEO’s want clarity and simplicity. If you can’t explain it in about one sentence, your idea needs “refinement” before presentation.

So, now you have thought of those things. Lets work on describing your idea in a sentence. (or two, if you have a patient CEO.)

Ask yourself:

1)    Current issues in our business….does my idea impact something that is important to my boss NOW? In the immediate future? Or is it something with a longer timeframe that should wait till a “planning session”?

2)    Does your idea have a direct effect on the CUSTOMER you serve, the swimming family? Or is this idea away from the customer? Most CEO’s will be most amenable to something that positively impacts swimmers and/or parents on the team.

3)    Impact – does the idea provide a lot of “bang for the buck?” if so, you’re in business!

4)    ROI – What is the “Return on Investment” that the CEO will get if they invest money and time in your idea? Conversely, what is the negative ROI “risk on investment”. If return is high and risk is low, you’re in business. If return is low and risk is high, better think twice before presenting it. If they are about even, rethink. How can return go up and risk go down?

Now, you’ve analyzed your idea. Time for action. Recognize that your idea needs great presentation.

Make it fast. Literally try to explain your thought in one or two sentences. CEO’s time is valuable. Clarity is valuable.

  1. Review the financial impact first. Does it bring in money? Cost money?
  2. Review the return. Why should they “buy” this idea? This is the CONCLUSION you have drawn from your thinking.
  3. If the CEO is interested in the CONCLUSION, then they will ask you for the story itself.
  4. Be prepared to provide the story in either full oral or written fashion.
  5. In either oral or written, give FACTS that support your conclusion, not “feelings”. Decisions based on data are much more powerful than your intuition.

What else many enter into the decision?

First, your reputation. Do you traditionally bring the CEO good ideas? Is this the first idea you have ever brought to the CEO? Or, on the negative side, have ideas you have brought before been not exactly raging successes? If so, see number 6 above. You’re fighting an uphill battle, be VERY PREPARED with facts.

Second, the reality in life is that the CEO often likes to be the person with the good ideas. This is a about a little thing called ego. Sometimes, it has to become the idea of the CEO before it gets accepted. This outrages some people. In the real world, if you want to see your idea implemented, you forget that it’s “yours” as soon as possible and it becomes “ours”.

The nice thing about this progression is that over time, as you learn how to prepare your ideas by thinking like a CEO, you are preparing yourself to become one. And at some point, someone else will have their ego in play on your idea, and you will decide “gee, I can do this myself” and find a way to become the CEO yourself.

Then you’ll get to make all those cool decisions and live with the consequences of your ideas and the ideas of others.  Congratulations!

Coaches: Sign up for ASCA’s Swim Parent Newsletter Today

Coaches — Add another tool to your arsenal today with an annual subscription to the Swim Parent Newsletter!

The Swim Parent Newsletter is a weekly publication coaches can use as a parent education tool.  Each week we publish a topic we think will be valuable to your swim team parents.

Recent titles include:

“Do We Really Want our Children Drinking Energy Drinks?”

“Guidelines For Going On The Road,”

“2 a Day Workouts for 12 and Unders?”

“Resolving Conflicts with the Coach”

“The Praise Craze”

“The Nature of Stroke Work”

“Enough Already With Kid Gloves”

ASCA’s Swim Parent Newsletter is emailed to 44,000 families each week by the coaches who subscribe to this highly relevant parent education resource. What do other coaches have to say about Swim Parent Newsletter?

  • “Wow! Good one! Thanks!”
  • “This is what I needed to send to one of my parents who pushes his daughter too hard,”
  • “The Swim Parent Newsletter is amazing. My team loves it! It’s so great that it can actually be applied to any sport!”

Subscribe at the ASCA online store or call us at 800.356.2722.  An annual subscription is only $25.  Click here for a advanced copy of the next issue. What are you waiting for?  Sign up today!


Enough Already With Kid Gloves

News For

SWIM  PARENTS

Published by The American Swimming Coaches Association

5101 NW 21 Ave., Suite 200

Fort Lauderdale FL 33309

Find us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/swimmingcoach

chasing squirrels

Enough Already With Kid Gloves

By Christina Hoff Sommers

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even “frightening” for a young person. The principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh advises teachers to use only “pleasant-feeling tones.”

Major pen manufacturers appear to agree. Robert Silberman, vice president of marketing at Pilot Pen, says teachers “are trying to be positive and reinforcing rather than harsh.” Michael Finn, a spokesperson for Paper Mate, approves: “This is a kinder, more gentle education system.” Which color is best for children? Stephen Ahle, principal at Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, Calif., offers lavender “because it is a calming color.”

A calmer, gentler grading color? Are schoolchildren really so upset by corrections in primary red? Why have teachers become so careful?

It seems that many adults today regard the children in their care as fragile hothouse flowers who require protection from even the remote possibility of frustration, disappointment or failure. The new solicitude goes far beyond blacklisting red pens. Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. The rationale: too many hurt feelings. In May 2002, for example, the principal of Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif., sent a newsletter to parents informing them that children could no longer play tag during the lunch recess. As she explained, “In this game, there is a ‘victim’ or ‘It,’ which creates a self-esteem issue.”

Is anything OK?

Which games are deemed safe and self-affirming? The National PTA recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive “tug of war” called “tug of peace.” Some professionals in physical education advocate activities in which children compete only with themselves, such as juggling, unicycling, pogo sticking, and even “learning to … manipulate wheelchairs with ease.”

But juggling, too, poses risks.

A former member of The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports suggests using silken scarves rather than, say, uncooperative tennis balls that lead to frustration and anxiety. “Scarves,” he points out, “are soft, non-threatening, and float down slowly.”

Is the kind of overprotectiveness these educators counsel really such a bad thing? Sooner or later, children will face stressful situations, disappointments and threats to their self-esteem. Why not shield them from the inevitable as long as possible? The answer is that children need challenge, excitement and competition to flourish. To treat them as combustible bundles of frayed nerves does them no favors.

Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Minnesota, has done careful studies on playground dynamics. I asked him what he thought of the national movement against games such as tag and dodge ball: “It is ridiculous. Even squirrels play chase.”

Children who are protected from frank criticism written in “harsh” colors are gravely shortchanged. In the global economy that awaits them, young Americans will be competing with other young people from all parts of the world whose teachers do not hesitate to use red pens. What is driving the new solicitude?

Too many educators, parents and camp counselors today are obsessed with boosting the self-esteem of the children in their care. These adults not only refrain from criticizing their young charges when they perform badly, they also take pains to praise them even when they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

But two decades of research have failed to show a significant connection between high self-esteem and achievement, kindness, or good personal relationships. Unmerited self-esteem, on the other hand, is known to be associated with antisocial behavior — even criminality. Nevertheless, most of our national institutions and organizations that deal with children remain fixated on self-esteem.

The Girl Scouts of America recently launched a major campaign “to address the problem of low self-esteem among 8- to 14-year-old girls.” (Never mind that there is no good evidence these girls suffer a self-esteem deficit.) With the help of a $2.65 million grant from Unilever (a major corporation that owns products such as Lipton and Slim Fast), its new program, “Uniquely ME!,” asks girls to contemplate their own “amazing” specialness. Girls are invited to make collages celebrating themselves. They can play a getting-to-know-me game called a “Me-O-Meter.”

Uniquely ridiculous

One normally thinks of the Girl Scouts as an organization that fosters self-reliance and good citizenship. Me-O-Meters? How does that promote self-reliance? And is self-absorption necessarily good for young people?

Yes, say the mental health experts at Girl Scout Research Center. The Uniquely ME! pamphlet tells its young readers, “This booklet is designed to help boost your self-esteem by celebrating YOU and your uniqueness. … Having high self-esteem … can help you lead a more successful life.”

The authors of Uniquely ME! and the executives at Unilever who funded it should take a careful look at an article in the January issue of Scientific American that debunks the self-esteem movement. (“Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.”) The authors, four prominent academic psychologists, conclude, “We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.”

The good intentions or dedication of the self-esteem educators and Scout leaders are not in question. But their common sense is. With few exceptions, the nation’s children are mentally and emotionally sound. They relish the challenge of high expectations. They can cope with red pens, tug of war and dodge ball. They can handle being “It.”

Reprinted from USA Today.  Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the co-author of One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance.