college of education | fall 2005
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-- New Director has Big
Plans for the Venerable Institute for the Study of Youth Sports
- It is a bit of a homecoming for you. You taught at MSU for a short time in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, you are back as director. What led you to take the position?
There were a lot of issues. The first is that Michigan State is a great university and I loved my time here the first time around. I also love the Midwest and the people. So part of it was the desire to come back to a great university. I have always felt that of all the universities I have been at, I fit this one the best in terms of the land-grant tradition. I do scholarly research but I am also known for disseminating that research and getting it to people who can use it. The president of the university talks about advancing knowledge and transforming lives, and that just fits my orientation quite well. And then there is the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, which was the first of its kind in the country. I have always been interested in sports in general as well as youth and elite sports and athletes. It’s also personal. My own kids have had great coaches and sometimes not so great experiences with coaches, and being able to make a contribution for the last 15 or so years of my career in helping people enjoy sports, especially kids, is very important to me.
- The institute has such a proud history. What role can it play here in Michigan and nationally?
We definitely have a proud and long
tradition at the institute. It is my honor to come back but I came back
with a specific vision in mind and that is that this institute can
transform sports for kids in the United States to make it a great
educational experience, whether we’re talking physical, psychological, or
social. That is my driving force. I love sports, and I’ve always loved
school and education, so how can we make sports a great educational
vehicle whether it’s in the classroom or out of the classroom. There are
some great things about youth sports and there are some problems in youth
sports today. My goals are, minimum, for this institute to be the most
important organization that advances knowledge on youth sports in the
United States and, I hope, the world. I make no bones about it. I didn’t
come back here, and Michigan State didn’t hire me, to be a small
- If you had the power, what is the one thing you would change about how young people experience participation in organized sports today?
If I could change one thing, it would be the social context. Not because it is so terrible but right now we only have one way to keep score. You either win or lose. We’ve actually toyed with the idea of coming out with a report card. If every kid in America got a report card on their youth sports team experience every month and it rated your child’s physical development, social development, psychological development, as well as won-loss record, things would change. Again, it’s not that I don’t like to win and kids should try to win, but what we forget is that not everybody can win but everybody can become healthier and can learn to love being physically active. And sometimes losing is a better teacher than winning. So I’d love to see society have a better grading system for the developmental benefits of youth sports, and those developmental aspects would get stressed. So when you read the paper it would say, “Lance Armstrong Improved Self-Esteem for Seventh Time in Tour de France.”
- You are a sports psychologist by training. Your areas of research interest include burnout in young athletes, the relationships between stress and athletic ability, and the psychological foundations of coaching. How active will the institute be in terms of research?
Research is our number one priority at the institute. There are a lot of groups around the country that provide coaches education programs and we are certainly involved in that. But there are very few groups that identify the significant issues facing kids in terms of youth sports and physical activity. What are the problems and what are the issues? Our job at the institute is to identify significant issues and then take all the wonderful resources we have in the department and college and bring them to bear upon those issues. So that research component is our most unique thing. When I was considering the position, I spoke to groups all over the country and there wasn’t one of them that was focused on doing applied, cutting-edge research on these issues. So research is central, but another issue is dissemination of that research. Now, we don’t have the staff and the budget to go around and educate every parent and coach in America. But the approach we are going to take is to train the trainer. So we’re doing things like partnering with great organizations like Think Detroit, which provides sports and recreation programs to thousands of kids in the Detroit area. We’re working hand-in-hand with them to develop a coaches education program. We partner with the Michigan High School Athletic Association, helping them with their coaches education program. So our model involves identifying the issues, doing the research, and then packaging the research so that we can train trainers to deliver it.
- As you mentioned, you have developed close ties to the Michigan High School Athletics Association and next summer the National Council for Accreditation of Coaching Education’s national conference will be held here at MSU. So is outreach another essential aspect of the work of institute?
Personally, outreach is
why I am back here. I have always felt that Michigan State truly lives that
land-grant tradition, that it is truly committed to knowledge for some
purpose. We are a world-renowned university, but relative to a lot of other
universities, we are the people’s university. We try to go out and help
society. Outreach is so essential to that orientation. And, for me, almost
all of the ideas for research come from doing outreach, from doing
workshops, talking to athletes, and so on. So outreach is essential to
getting our research to people who need it and can use it, but it’s also
important for us to hear from coaches and parents about what the important
issues are out there. The bottom line is that if we listen to the
consumers—the coaches, the teachers, the kids—and find out their needs, and
then use all of the tremendous knowledge and resources at the university to
address those and put the information in ways that people can understand and
use it, we will do very well.
The Institute for the Study of Youth Sport’s Web site is now sporting a new look after a complete redesign. Institute Director Dan Gould and Assistant Professor Bob Benham took the lead on the redesign, which features a more graphical look and a new logo.
“We were definitely
seeking an upgrade,” Benham said. “So we’ve given it a much more
contemporary and attractive look.” The site has also been made easier to
navigate. It now includes clear links for coaches, parents, researchers, and
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