Teaching ROOTS

When you became a Coach, you did so because you love the game.  Because you want to teach kids the sport you love so much.  Because you want to see the great history and tradition of your sport continue and carried forward by the next generation.  You also likely inherently knew that sport brought so much to your life and you’d like other young men and women to gain those same valuable life lessons.  

Because sports can be so valuable in helping youth learn life lessons that will impact them and their communities far beyond the playing fields, Positive Coaches want to do everything in their power to make sure the youth sports experience is positive. Positive Coaches conduct themselves by a code called “Honoring the Game.” To remember components of this code, remind yourself and your players that Honoring the Game means respecting the sport’s ROOTS, where ROOTS stands for Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self.

Introducing ROOTS to Players and Their Parents

Unfortunately, youth sports today can sometimes be a sea of volatile emotions.  Sadly some adults and athletes still have a win-at-all-cost mentality.  And the heat of competition can sometimes bring out the worst in both adults and kids.  

But members of the Play Positive community – parents and coaches – work hard to Honor The Game and teach the principles of ROOTS to our young athletes. And as a Positive Coach, you are a leader and culture shaper who is – rightly or wrongly – accountable for your whole team’s behavior, including players’ parents.

Use your first team meeting as well as your first parent meeting to introduce Honoring the Game and ROOTS :

  • Rules. As a team and as individuals, we refuse to bend or break the rules, even if we think we can get away with it.

  • Opponents. Recognize that a worthy opponent brings out our best and take a "fierce-yet-friendly" attitude into competition. In the locker room before the game, remind your players that a worthy opponent is what makes us better and what makes competition worthwhile.  Remind them to respect that. Instruct your players that when a whistle blows, help downed opponents to their feet. Make it a team rule that after every game, you as a team shake the hands of your opponents – win or lose!  As a coach, make sure you seek out the opposing coach and shake their hand – emulate the behavior you want to see from your team. After a tough loss, talk to your team about how thankful you are for a worthy opponent who tested you and, as a result, helped you learn more about the game by what your collective mistakes might have been and have inspired you as a team and as individuals to work even harder.

  • Officials. We respect officials even when we disagree with them.  Positive Coaches do not yell at officials, berate them or in any way disrespect them.  Positive Coaches teach athletes that officiating can be difficult (in fact, consider doing an Officiating Drill below with your team to help reinforce a respect for officials).  Honor The Game by respectfully discussing calls with officials and, again, emulate the behavior you seek in your team and from the parents in the stands: go shake the hand of the official after the match is complete.

  • Teammates. We never do anything to embarrass our team (on or off the field). We do what we can to lift each other up and help each other reach our potential.  Talk to your athletes about your Team Code of Conduct.

  • Self. We live up to our own standards of Honoring the Game, even when others don't. If the opposing players, coaches or parents act out, we still do not.

Tools for Honoring the Game

Because of your leadership role, you must set an example of Honoring the Game. When your players and their parents see you keep your temper in check, for example, after an official makes a questionable call, they are more likely to check their own tempers. Therefore, we suggest these tools.

Keeping Your Cool
  • Self-Control Routine. It helps to have -- and actually practice or rehearse -- a self-control routine. For example:

    • Take a deep breath
    • Remind yourself of the discipline required NOT to react
    • Engage in self-talk ("I need to be a role model. I can rise above this!")
    • Turn away from the action
    • Count to 20 (or 50!)
    • Quickly refocus on the next play

    Later, you can use the experience as a teachable moment with your players: "I was pretty upset with what happened, but I controlled myself so I wouldn't do anything that would dishonor the game. And that's an important lesson I want you to learn from sports -- how to develop your own self-control so you will always Honor the Game no matter what."

  • Drill During Practice. Just as you develop drills for improving physical skills, you can create situations in practice where players learn how to Honor the Game.  For example, during a practice scrimmage, make a bad call on purpose and see how your players react. If they react in a way that is consistent with Honoring the Game, praise them.  If they don't, use that moment to discuss how you want them to respond in a game situation (e.g., not letting the questionable call throw them out of their rhythm). You might also consider having your players  officiate during scrimmages to appreciate the difficulty of officiating.

  • Officiating Drill.  We all think officiating must be easy: until we try it ourselves.  It’s not so easy to see everything that’s going on out there.  And even when we’re looking, it’s sometimes hard to get the call right.  Try running a drill where one of your athletes acts as the official, umpire or referee and has to make the calls.  (Watch the example of a softball coach  and basketball coach  run the drill with their teams.) Watch them struggle – as we would – to make the right call.  Then talk to your team about what the drill teaches us about respecting officials. 

  • Think of Your Legacy. You want to be the coach that players fondly remember.  You want to be the coach that inspired athletes to continue in the sport.  You want to be the coach they remember when they consider coaching themselves.  Who knows: maybe one day your athlete will find themselves on the Olympic podium, giving credit to a youth coach who inspired them – the way Summer Sanders, Joy Fawcett, and Tony Dorsett did.  

Positive Coaches are they key to Honoring the Game and keeping our great traditions alive and to preserving the life lesson opportunity that sports can teach.


In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2014 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.

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