‘Champion’ conference plays up the spiritual side of sports

Author: Gene Stowe

Play Like A Champion; University of Notre Dame

More than 100 youth sports leaders will attend the University’s Play Like A Champion Today (PLC) National Sports Leadership Conference June 24 to 26. It is the organization’s sixth annual national conference.

The event, “Mentoring Champions For Life,” gathers athletic administrators, coaches, educators and parents of children in youth and high school sport programs, both Catholic and public.

Play Like a Champion Today, a program of the Alliance for Catholic Education, emphasizes the importance of sports in the moral and spiritual development of children and adolescents.

Organizers say the issue is especially pressing because of young people in an age of computer- based entertainment and digital communication.

“PLC views play as an expression of human freedom and transcendence,” say director Clark Power. “Sports are by nature spiritual. Play Like a Champion Today is also dedicated to helping children to develop their character and sense of moral responsibility through sports.

“At this particular conference, we will focus on the growing number of children in poverty and the importance of coaches reaching out to these children as mentors and advocates. If sports are to develop children as champions, adults must commit themselves to championing the most vulnerable of our children.”

The organization, led by Power, a Notre Dame professor; program director Kristin Komyatte Sheehan, a former Notre Dame cheerleader; and associate director Oscar McBride, a former Notre Dame football player, has a highly developed online education and blogging presence.

The website includes pages devoted to “Toxic Coaching News,” “Problematic Parent News” and “Youth Athlete Issues News” as well as research-based education and certification training.

More than 15,000 coaches and 3,000 parents have completed Play Like a Champion Today workshops, and the organization estimates that the participants have been involved with some 500,000 young athletes.

The conference this year includes an opening talk by Jeff Burris, an All-American under Coach Lou Holtz, who installed the first Play Like a Champion Today sign in the stadium some 20 years ago. Burris, who played for 10 years in the NFL, now coaches in high school.

Other speakers include Notre Dame Women’s Soccer coach Randy Waldrum, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, and sports- related authors Bob Bigelow and Susan Saint Sing.

Participants will learn how to present Play Like a Champion workshops in their communities, build moral community on sports teams, understand coaching as a ministry and the spirituality of sport, and develop partnerships with athletic parents.

Topics include high school athlete retreats, strategies for distributing playing time, effective officiating, mentor-coaching in at-risk communities, sport-specific Safe Environment training, and sports injury prevention.

The event includes a tour of the football locker room and a banquet in the Notre Dame Press Box. For more information, visit the website or call 631-9981.