On this episode of Champion in Every Corner, Kelly Kratz, National Lead Trainer, from Positive Coaching Alliance joins us to discuss how coaches can create positive sport environments for their athletes, and some simple steps they can take to enhance their team culture.
Disclaimer: This podcast episode features a guest who is not an employee of the United States Center for SafeSport. The opinions, recommendations, comments, or representations made by the podcast guest do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Center.
Welcome to Champion in Every Corner, the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s podcast. Building a safe and positive sports community is what we're all about. So, you'll hear from experts about innovative ideas and abuse prevention practices you can put in play today. Before we begin, be sure you know your obligations for reporting actual, or suspected child abuse, and other abuse and misconduct. Ask a leader in your organization what policies and laws apply to you. This episode is hosted by Grace Glaser, Education Coordinator at the Center.
Grace Glaser (00:40):
Today, we are excited to welcome Kelly Kratz, Lead Trainer at Positive Coaching Alliance. We'll discuss how coaches can cultivate positive and safe athletic environments. Kelly, thank you so much for joining us today. And we're so excited to have you here, especially with your deep background in sports, including coaching and competing yourself. So before we really dive into our conversation, what do you want listeners to know about you?
Kelly Kratz (01:07):
Thanks, Grace. I'm happy to be here. My name's Kelly Kratz and currently I'm the National Lead Trainer for the Positive Coaching Alliance. I live outside of Philadelphia and I am a parent of four beautiful daughters. That's pretty much the slice of life that I'm in right now. I've been with Positive Coaching Alliance. I was a trainer in 2009, which just meant I was somebody that went out and delivered workshops and I started full time on staff in 2014. So my role right now is a lot of content development for the workshops that we lead and a lot of it is delivering workshops myself, and helping to train people that want to become trainers and spread our message in charge of the educational piece of getting them ready to go out and deliver workshops.
That sounds amazing. I can't wait to kind of do a deeper dive of this conversation. So before we really get into kind of the nitty gritty components, how would you define positive coaching?
You know, there's the textbook definition and then there's what I really think it is. I think positive coaching in and of itself, the definition has always been to create an atmosphere that supports the best possible performance of athletes in sports. And our main goal for a positive coach is to be a double goal coach, which is a coach that strives to win, but also more importantly teaches life lessons. And I think when you're talking about what atmosphere needs to be created for performance in sports, it's the life lessons, it's the character development. And our goal is that every single youth athlete and child that's involved in sports has a positive coach that they know that they can trust and that can push them a little bit and help them to grow and learn in a safe place and feel valued and belonging. And that's really what positive coaching is. Overall, I think that's what it really encompasses is the experience that you have for the athlete.
So can you talk a little bit about creating that culture of acceptance and some initial steps coaches can take so they can go down that path?
The most important thing is, is trust and relationship. And I think as coaches we come into, um, my, you know, I started coaching when I got out of college. I was a three sport athlete in high school. So I had a lot of different coaches. I actually played three sports in college. So I had a lot of different coaches there too, and they all have their different styles. And I think when you become a coach yourself, you take a little bit of the good of what the coaches did for you. And you take a little bit of the bad and you say, “I'm never going do that.” So my first coaching experience was right out of college and I started coaching division two basketball, and I was an assistant coach and I learned a lot about coaching in that level, but it was very serious.
So I learned my first coaching experience. “Okay, we have to be serious. We have to make sure we don't, don't be their friend.” You know, you have to be respected. And then I went to coaching high school basketball, and I was with a different experience coach and it was a lot of fun and there was a lot of laughter and there was a lot of high fives going on and we'd take time before practice to talk about how their day was. And I went, “Hmm, this is interesting.” And then I looked back on the coaches that I had and I said, wow, the ones that I remember were the ones that really knew me as a person, wasn't just what I could do on the field or the court or the track. And so I think when you talk about how you can create a climate where athletes feel accepted it's about getting to know them as people outside of the sport.
And I think athletes can see through a coach a mile away. And if you are coaching for the right reasons, you're coaching for the care and growth of the athlete that you're coaching and the child that you're coaching, they're going to feel love. They're going to feel accepted. We often say that there's no way that sports can teach character without a coach that's building it. Character doesn't just come from playing sports. They say, “Oh, it's a great way to build character.” Well, I think sports is a great way to reveal character, but if you don't have a positive coach and a person in that space, that's going to help these, these children learn character it's not just going to automatically happen.
I think that's phenomenal. And like you said, they're people first then athletes. So just really promoting an entire athlete. So as you kind of think through how coaches should be showing up in a positive environment for athletes, what do you want to be asking them? How can they be supporting athletes on and off the field?
Yeah, that's a great question. And I think it actually has changed over the last few years. We've always really errored on the side of safety with coaches, make sure that your athletes feel safe. And you know, for example, I'm a female coach. I coach high school girls lacrosse. I'm not as concerned about anyone thinking that I would be doing something unsafe to my athletes. My husband, on the other example, on the other hand was a high school swim coach. And he was a lot more careful about his swimmers and you know, he coached females and males. So he made sure that he was never, he never would put their hand on their back or he was never alone in an office with any of them. So I think just society and safety is really important. What society looks at is okay and not okay.
But, on the other hand, I think just to be connecting with athletes in a way that can just be informal and that has a lot to do with creating an atmosphere where that's okay to do a lot of, as I said, the coach, I first started coaching the athletes were all afraid of him. They were scared to go up and say anything to him. And so when they had an issue, they would come to me. I was the assistant coach. I was the safe one. I think creating an atmosphere where you have time before practice, just to chill. We call it chill time where you just kind of talk and see how everybody's doing and check in. We do a lot of happy crappy, which sounds really silly, but just to take a couple minutes before practice to say, “Hey, everybody, go around and share your happy crappy for the day.”
It's really, really valuable. And it, it helps the players know that I want to know how your day is going, because if I'm going to expect you to give me a hundred percent at practice today, and you only have sixty percent to give, I want to make sure that your tank, we call it at PCA, we call it filling the emotional tanks. We want to make sure their emotional tanks are full so that they can give us their best. So in terms of communication styles, I think, you know, conversation is the best way to do it. Like know their name, know their story. Be able to spend a lot of time at the beginning of the season, talking about their families and what's going on in your life and how's school. And what are some things that are challenges for you when the pandemic hit and a lot of us were, you know, forced to go virtual?
There was a lot more of that going on. It was a great time for teams to be able to do things outside of the sport and have Zoom calls and team building activities. And I know we were a little tired of all the Zoom, but it really was a great way to bring people together. And we had a Zoom talent show once where we learned like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that those players could play the violin,” or do whatever they could do, do yoga or, you know, so I think that connection is super important, but in terms of connecting on a regular basis, I think it just comes down to checking in and asking a lot of questions. And we use an app called Team Snap, which I know there's a lot of different versions of it out there, but it's just a safe way that we can text athletes back and forth and their parents can see it. So it's, it's a safe way to be able to have one-on-one communication with a player before or after a game or after a practice or give them a little encouragement or say, “Hey, you know, what's going on,” but it's a safe space because the parents have access to be able to see everything that we're communicating.
Right. And ensuring that that transparency is there. So the way the parents are looped in at all times. I want to go back to when you said athletes showing up at sixty percent, that kind of made me think of a scenario. Let's say you have an athlete who kind of is consistently only showing up at sixty percent. Usually they're on time to practice, they work hard, and you start to see that slip. Maybe they're slacking a little bit during practice. They're not performing optimally. How would you recommend that coaches check in with that athlete?
I think the biggest thing is being aware of where the player's emotional tanks are when they start. So I think, you know, each practice it's really great to just check in and, you know, thumbs up, thumbs down, how you feeling today? But when you see a player that is just acting out of character or something's not going right, a lot of times as coaches, we might walk over and say, “Hey Grace, how are you doing today?” And 99% of the time, the response is going to be, “Fine. I'm fine. It's all good.” So one of the things that we like to do, and this probably comes a lot from my counseling background. I, I have a master's in counseling and I also, I'm always thinking about ways to get information out of kids. I have four kids of my own and I know fine just is not good enough for me.
So a lot of times I'll say, well, tell me about your day. Tell me about what's going on. And if you start with that, then you actually can engage in a dialogue and body language is huge. And looking for those red flags, looking for things that are going on that are different. I think it's okay to talk to some of their friends too and say, “Hey, I've noticed that Jane's acting a little different today. Is there anything going on I should know about?” That's if you're not able to communicate indirectly or directly with the athlete themselves. But checking in, if you are concerned, check in with their parents. I think there's no reason that a coach should shy away from asking too many questions because safety is the number one. And, you know, unfortunately with the pressures that these kids are under these days and with the recent, you know, tragic stories of athletes that have taken their own lives, I mean, this is just, it's a real thing. And I don't think we need to be scared that that's going to happen to our athletes all the time. We don't want to be paranoid about that, but we do need to be aware.
That's a great approach to meeting the athlete where they're at and making sure you're looping in everyone who needs to be involved. Obviously we don't want that to be a one-time check in. So what would your recommendation be for kind of continuing to check in with that athlete and making sure that after that first interaction, they still feel supported and they still feel strengthened and they can show up as the whole athlete that they want to show up as?
The biggest point, as I said before, is just creating a culture on your team where the athletes feel comfortable to be able to come to you if there is an issue. And one of the things that I think is just a fantastic idea for coaches to do is offer time in their day where athletes can come talk to them. So even if they don't take them up on it to say, “Hey, you know, just to let you know, I'm here every day, 20 minutes before practice starts, I'll be out on the field or at the court or in my office. If you want to talk to me, and I stay for 20 minutes after if anybody has anything they ever want to talk about.” And the other part that I think is really important that I've done more of probably within the last two years is just sharing my own things that come up in my own life.
Because I think as coaches, sometimes we think we have to be perfect and we have to show up being ready to go. I've started to be a lot more vulnerable about, you know, just having a bad day just to let you know, this is what's going on. And, and just to model that for the athletes, that it's okay to not be okay for the athletes to see that in you and to see that, “Wow, you know, coaches trusting me with this information,” and it's so cool to see the athletes come around me and say, oh, that's so hard. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend or what can we do to make it better? I think that's just a really good model. Just, just the whole gamut, just letting yourself be open and available to that. The other thing that I also encourage coaches to do is we say it's important to individually check in, but pull in another coach or pull in one of your athlete's friends. That can be another witness there for you. If you're having a conversation, just again, error on the side of safety. It actually helps too because sometimes your perspective might be different.
Absolutely. And at the Center we have the Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies, and one of those is limiting one-on-one interactions. So, making sure that there's a second Adult Participant in the room on the field. Just ensuring that there's transparency there. And I also want to circle back to what you said earlier about you practicing vulnerability as a coach and that's so powerful and I can only imagine how much your athletes appreciate you showing up in certain ways, especially maybe when you're not feeling that great and increasing that transparency in you as a person.
Yeah. It's neat for them to take care of the coach too. I think they feel like, “Wow, I can, I can do this. I can help you out.” And usually the behavior's a little better that day too because they know like, oh Coach Kratz is having a bad day let's let's be on our best behavior.
Yeah, absolutely. So, in your time at Positive Coaching Alliance or even dating back to when you first were an athlete and then transitioned into being a coach, how have you seen sport culture change?
Well, going way back. Um, I, you know, the biggest change that I saw from my high school experience to coaching the girls that I coach in high school was just the, I feel like their, the priority for sports has changed. I think when I was in high school, playing sports was what we did for fun. It was a way that we got together with our friends, and we blow off steam. We had a goal, of course I wanted to play division one, so we were serious about it. But when the game was over, good or bad, we were like, all right, let's go get pizza. Like we're good to go. I think what I noticed a lot of is when, you know, my kids were growing up and then when I have been coaching is just the amount of pressure that sports put on kids these days.
When I was in high school, there wasn't this business of sports. There, there were a few opportunities for you to join like a travel baseball team or travel softball team. But as soon as this business of sports started where pay to play, kids can pay exorbitant amount of money to be on this elite team and they have to try out for the team and if they get picked, then they're playing in tournaments all summer long. This year-round sports culture, I think, is what the biggest difference I've seen. And you know, in many ways, yeah, athletes are definitely playing at a higher level. But on the other hand, the, I think the first time I saw a game where I was coaching and we were on the bus on the way to the game and you could hear a pin drop.
Every player had their headphones in their ears and nobody was talking to each other and I got on the bus and I was thinking back like, wait, when I was in high school, we had music playing, we were cheering. We were chanting. We were like fired up before the game. And every single one of these players was just completely silent. And I thought, okay, what's going on here? Like, like what happened? I just realized they were so serious. They were all just I'm in the zone, I'm in the zone coach. And I just thought, my gosh, like where's the fun in this? That's something that we've tried to bring back in to just help the team realize this is fun. This is what you do for fun and to be with friends. And so I think that the biggest difference, I would say to sum it up is the transactional versus the transformational.
Like a lot of these parents and kids and businesses are like, okay, if you give me all this money, I'm going to get your son a D1 scholarship. And so parents as young, as kids, as young as like second and third grade come up to me and they say, oh, how am I going to get my kid a scholarship? And so that's the transaction. And they put so much money and effort and time they give up so much time to do this. And then they think, oh, well, if my kid's not performing the way they should be, they're failing. And I think that pressure is what's translating into a lot of stress and anxiety for athletes. Again, some of them getting to just a tragic ending to sports careers and, you know, sports is such a great thing to teach kids life lessons. And we just wanted to make sure it's, it's put in the right place.
You make a really great point. And obviously through Positive Coaching Alliance and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, we are so invested in athlete well-being and supporting entire athletes. That ties back to your answer about culture change. So in thinking forward, why should coaches strive to create a positive sport environment?
I mean, the biggest reason is because they care about kids. I think it goes back to why do you coach? Why do you coach and why are you here? And a positive sports environment, there's no downside to it. The, the kids, they will give you more. You'll have more fun. They're going to be more invested. They're going to create lifelong relationships. They're going to build resilience and growth mindset. And there's really, there's really no better place that a kid can learn some of these lessons and these character building experiences than sports. But if we create a safe environment and a positive environment where these kids can take risks and fail and get back up when they fall and know that they're supported, man, those are lessons that are going to last in their entire lives. I really just think that creating a positive environment, it's more fun for everyone all around and it also is a lot less stressful for coaches.
I absolutely agree with you. And I'm really looking forward to seeing the path that Positive Coaching Alliance heads down and just knowing that you're constantly advocating for coaches, for athletes, for everyone in the sport ecosystem.
Yeah. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a great journey for me. And I think one of the biggest things I love to do is bust some myths that positive coaching is all about everybody wins and everybody gets a trophy. And I mean, we're all about competition and we're all about performance. And we have 120 national advisory board members that are behind us. You know, Steve Kerr being one of them right now, who's playing at the highest level in the NBA finals. And he he's one of our national advisory board members. So it's really cool to be able to use ideas from these high level coaches and Olympians and say, yeah, we're all about winning and we're going to show you the right way to do it.
Kelly, this was such a great conversation. So engaging. I feel like I learned a lot. I hope coaches, parents, athletes take away a lot from this episode. So thank you so much for joining us today.
You're welcome! Thanks so much for having me.
One final important note information about or reasonable suspicion of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, must be immediately reported to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport and individuals must comply with other applicable state or federal laws.
Visit safesport.buzzsprout.com to hear more episodes and share them with a teammate coach or colleague, and feel free to share your own ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for all you do to give athletes a champion in every corner.