Education Chat

Sports Done Right

Karen Brown, director of the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching and overseer of Maine's Sports Done Right initiative takes questions on promoting healthy learning environments for young athletes.

Sports Done Right: Creating a Better Environment for Youth Sports

Aug. 10, 2005

Guests: Karen Brown is the director of the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching and is also responsible for implementing Maine’s Sports Done Right initiative, a program promoting healthy learning environments for Maine’s young athletes. The initiative has garnered a wide variety of interest and is becoming something of a national model for youth sports in schools and communities.

Craig Stone (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat on creating a better sporting environment for young athletes. This is a hot topic with implications that stretch far beyond schools’ athletic fields, affecting students, teachers, parents and the community.
Joining us from Maine is guest Karen Brown, director of the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching and coordinator of Maine’s Sports Done Right initiative. The initiative has become something of a national model for promoting youth sports as a lasting and positive learning experience in schools and communities.
I’m Craig Stone, senior online producer here at, and I’ll be moderating this discussion. We’re getting lots of questions for Ms. Brown already, so let’s get right to them .....

Question from Lynne Poston, Teacher, Summit View Middle School:
Do you believe that there should be a difference between sports at the middle school level and high school?

If so should a middle school student be able to play at the high school level during their middle school years?

Karen Brown:
Yes, I do believe there is a difference between middle level and high school sports. I encourage you to read the “special section” within the Sports Done Right™ report entitled, “Middle Level Sports: Matching the Program to the Needs of the Young Adolescent.” This section, in particular, describes what healthy middle level athletics should look like.

Regarding a middle level student participating at the high school level; I find this trend extremely troubling and I do not support such action. It is important for adults to understand that middle level students are undergoing one of “life’s most important developmental stages”. Often times, our lack of understanding affects the emotional and physical well-being of our young athletes.

Question from Dr. Alice J. Garrett, Administrator, Wake County Public Schools:
How can I get a copy of the report? When will parent, some unruly fans, get a chance to see this report?

Karen Brown:
You may download the entire Sports Done Right™ report at no cost when you visit the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching website at Schools may make copies and distribute the report during community conversations.

Question from Jeffrey Aronson, Principal, Piscataquis Community High School, Guilford, ME:
In different forums in Maine, I’ve heard you and your team speak eloquently about Sports Done Right. At the kickoff presentation last January, the project received great statewide media attention. Yet as the sports seasons progressed, the newspaper and television coverage seemed to forget the principles of Sports Done Right in their coverage of high school sports. What influence can the project have on sports reporters and editors about the focus of coverage on high school sports?

Karen Brown:
There are members of the local media in Maine who not only believe in Sports Done Right™, but are devoted to educating the local community on the latest developments. We hope this passion for covering the positives of sport continue to spread as communities begin the implementation process. For those of you interested in implementing Sports Done Right™ and are planning a community conversation, invite your local media and involve them in the process. The media can be your biggest ally.

Question from Chris Drew, student, Temple University:
Ms. Brown, One of the standards/principles promoted by this initiative is “increasing opportunities for learning through sports.” I was wondering if you could tell me more about the type of learning being promoted and give some examples of how sports are being used. “Learning” is pretty vague. Does the initiative propose to use sports to supplement school-type literacies; is it related to content in some way; is the hope/goal that instilling discipline via sports will transfere into the classroom?? I’m very much interested in this particular goal set forth by the initiative. Thank you, Chris

Karen Brown:
I refer you to the following core practice found under the Core Principle, “Sports and Learning”.

“Learning in sports is closely linked to learning in the classroom. Sports-learning is tied to standards such as the Guiding Principles of the Maine Learning Results.”

Successful athletic programs contribute to the guiding principles and help our students become: 1. Clear and effective communicators 2. Self-directed life-long learners 3. Creativve and practical problem solvers 4. Responsible and involved citizens 5. Collaborative and quality workers 6. Integrative and informed thinkers

Yes, these qualities transfer into the classroom as evident by the data found within the report.

Question from Tom Wirth, Parent:
How important is a coach’s open communication with parents in instilling positive athletic experiences for students?

Karen Brown:
Open communication is essential. Parents and student-athletes should understand the coaches’ philosophy and expectations before the season begins.

Question from Mary Dunn:
I was wondering; with our obesity, adolescent drug and pregnancy problems why middle school and high school sports are not more inclusive; why do kids have to try out and “make” the team? Would it be more beneficial for school sports, particularly for middle schools, to make all inclusive, non-cut sports be the priority? If it would then why does this not happen? Thank you, Mary

Karen Brown:
The Core Principle, “The Opportunity to Play” addresses your concerns. “Cutting when there are no other opportunities for team play in the community” is Out-of-Bounds and stated on page 13 of the report. Many of the 12 Sports Done Right™ pilot school districts have partnered with their local parks and recreation department to offer additional opportunity for our kids to stay active. In addition, many schools are re-establishing their intramural program and developing non-traditional activities such as martial arts and outdoor education.

Question from Mike Custer, Athletic Director, Glendale Elementary District:
Is there a parent education portion to the initiative? Is there any reason why the program could not spiral from the elementary setting to the high school? How did you enlist the support of your public administration? Are there any other professional organizations supporting this program? What states have adopted this initiative?

Karen Brown:
Yes, there is a Core Principle entitled “Parents and Community”. The Select Panel strongly believes change is possible when each stakeholder takes responsibility.

Although there is certainly no reason why the program could not begin at the elementary level, I recommend working with the elementary, middle level and high school administration throughout the implementation process. Consistency for our students is essential.

We gained support for the program with the help of the local media, by speaking at various conferences, holding informational forums across the state of Maine, distributing complimentary copies of the Sports Done Right™ report to Maine’s school districts, and much more.

The following professional organizations are partners in the Sports Done Right™ initiative: Institute for Global Ethics, Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, Maine Principals’ Association, National Center for Student Aspirations, Senator George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute.

Currently, no other state has officially adopted the initiative. However, the MCSC has been contacted by hundreds of individuals across the country, representing over thirty different states.

Question from Michael Ricketts, Chief Consultant, California Assembly Education Committee:
This year, our committee heard a bill that would have limited one form of interdistrict attendance currently authorized by California statutes. Existing law allows for a student to enroll in the school district where a parent is employed, rather than the school district of residence which is the default school district of attendance in California. This is intended for the convenience of the family where working parents spend considerable time some distance away from their residence.

The bill would have established a definition of employment that required a minimum number of hours of work per week for a family to be eligible. The reason? Ostensibly, a high school in one district had poached at least one star football player from a high school in another district by providing “employment” of about an hour per week to one of the student’s parents.

The committee did not feel that this was a compelling reason to make the requested change because of other consequences that would have resulted, but the fact that the concern drove a serious attempt to legislate away the possiblity of using this law to recruit players for sports teams made me think that, at least in some communities, we have a problem with high school athletics.

What is the role for state government in promoting “Sports Done Right”? Which branches of government have a role? States can, and often do, create any number of programs and provide funding for them. If that is the answer here, where are model programs that work?

Karen Brown:
As you may know, the initiative was funded by a Congressional Allocation secured through Senator Susan Collins office. However, at this point the implementation is being carried by and through the University of Maine Center for Sport and Coaching. We would certainly welcome assistance to help the MCSC carry the work forward into the future.

Question from Ellen Markowitz, Director, Sports Training Institute, Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation, NYC:
What is your coach education and/or professional development program like? What courses and trainings do you offer and to whom? Do participants pay? My agency is developing a training academy to help coaches, teachers and youth workers teach sports skills better and I’m interested in what has worked for you.

Karen Brown:
You can find detailed information about the course by visiting,

Currently, we offer the Online Coaching Eligibility Course. However, we are in the process of developing additional online courses designed specifically for middle level coaches as well as volunteer coaches. The course cost is $40.00 per coach, or $560.00 per school (covers unlimited number of coaches for one full year).

Question from Michael Bates, Special Ed and Coach, Pickens County:
Do you feel that athletic participation improves students academic standing?

Karen Brown:
Absolutely. Throughout the Sports Done Right™ you will find data that supports this fact.

Question from Thomas Baker, Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics for the Hendrick Hudson School District in Westchester County New York:
What types of specific things can I do at an event to help keep the negative fans or comments to a minimum? I have already posted rules, signed parental acknowledgements, public announcements, and even suspended fans. What else can I do?

Karen Brown:
A core practice in the report suggests having the student-athletes take part in the development and implementation of the schools’ code of conduct. Sports Done Right™ is successful because the student-athletes were involved in its development. Now, many of the pilot site leadership teams have involved the student-athletes in the implementation process. It is working! Adults are beginning to listen and student-athletes are taking ownership.

Question from Robert frangione, Graduate student, Bucknell university:
What kind of oversight is necessary to keep a program such as this on track? How does one answer the phrase, “fans will be fans.” or “This is the way it always has been done.” when addressing bad sportsmanship and pressure to perform.

Karen Brown:
In order for this program to stay on track, the Superintendent should take initial responsibility by appointing “stewards” to the community leadership team. The leadership team is responsible for leading the implementation process by holding community conversations about Sports Done Right™. Examples of leadership team action plans are available on the MCSC website. (

Regarding the phrases “fans will be fans” and “this is the way it always has been done"; it is important to remember that this report was written on behalf of Maine’s student-athletes. They clearly stated to the Select Panel that such phrases are no longer excusable. Maine student-athlete Trevor Paul said it best, “It’s almost like a town’s mentality is tied into how the sports teams do. We’re only in high school, not professional athletes. This is a learning experience for us and we’re doing it because we enjoy it.”

Question from Sue Marden,Park and Recreation Commission, Merrimac MA.:
As a park and rec commissioner, I have observed and had many complaints from parents about the intensity and frequency of youth sport games and practices. Any recommendations for books or websites to share with our youth sports leaders?

Karen Brown:
The Maine Center for Sport and Coaching has many web site links available for coaches and several specifically for youth coaches. You may explore these links by visiting

I strongly recommend the book “Millennials Rising”, written by Neil Howe and William Strauss, to any adult working with today’s youth. Although this book is not a “sports” book, it will provide great insight into the minds of today’s children. More information is available at

Question from Angela McGuire, WestEd:
Is there an effort to link interested parties within individual states to facilitate the process of collaboration?

Karen Brown:
Yes! Therefore, if you are interested in getting involved in your state contact the MCSC.

Craig Stone (Moderator):
There have been alot of questions submitted referring to the funding of the Sports Done Right Initiative. To save Karen retyping answers she’s already submitted, let me point you to the story Education Week wrote about the initiative, to read after the chat has closed. This should provide further background on these issues.

“Maine Rallies Behind Rules for Athletics”

Question from James Jankowski, Program Coordinator, Josephson Institute of Ethics:
The Sports Done Right report mentions the importance of training and that individuals can “receive training from the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching and the Institue for Global Ethics.” Could you tell me a little more about the training programs available? Are they only in Maine? What is the cost? What information/topics are covered? Etc. Thank you

Karen Brown:
The MCSC and the Institute for Global Ethics has offered training sessions within the state of Maine and will continue to offer training to interested parties. If an organization is interested in receiving material, guidance, and/or training to implement Sports Done Right™, please contact the MCSC directly.

Question from Ron Suran, former teacher, Katyisd, Texas:
Texas has a policy of hiring only teachers as coaches. When I was in Ohio we had to hire non-teachers as coaches. Older teachers did not want to coach anymore. What do think of hiring non-teachers as coaches.

Karen Brown:
Maine’s student-athletes clearly stated “they want teacher- coaches”. We listened to them and as a result, included a core practice stating this fact. It is a concern here in Maine and across the country that needs to be addressed.

Question from J. Scott Leake, Exec. Dir., Va. Senate Republican Leadership Trust:
(1) What are your funding sources and how much? (2)In promoting the program what resistance or opposition have you encountered?

Karen Brown:
The work being done by the MCSC is currently being funded by the University of Maine. We are actively seeking additional funding to support our efforts.

The “winning” aspect is causing the greatest opposition. There is a position piece titled, “Winning with Sports Done Right” available on our website. It seems when we distribute this document, the resistance tends to decrease. Much of the opposition comes from adults who have not read the report.

Question from D McGriff Athletic Director:
Do you recommend surveys to parents at the end of athletic seasons?

Karen Brown:
Yes, evaluating of the program and the coach is extremely important. Make sure you keep the evaluations on file! You may need them down the road.

Question from Ellen Markowitz, Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation:
If you were starting this initiative again knowing what you know now, what is one thing you would do differently?

Karen Brown:
We knew this was important work, but we had no idea it would take off so quickly at the national level. We are passionate about this work and want to assist communities nationwide, but capacity is still a concern. We will continue to do our best and thank you for your support!

Question from Jim Reynolds Oklahoma State Senator:
Karen, I coached a number of years and became acquainted with the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA), an organization focused on the betterment of youth sports. Are you familiar with the organization, they share a similar philosophy.

Karen Brown:
Our philosophy compliments the NYSCA philosophy. I hope the MCSC, NYSCA, PCA and other organizations devoted to improving youth sports can begin to work together in order to create a positive environment for our youth. I am confident they agree with Sports Done Right™ and I look forward to working with them.

Question from Bill Wadlington, Principal/Activities Director Cascade High School, Leavenworth, WA:
While it is most appropriate to focus on sports, academic competition, music, dance and other activities seem to be absent from consideration. Has the time come to talk about all student activities with the same concern and care?

Karen Brown:
Yes, I certainly agree with you. Until then, schools may discover that many of the Core Principles within the report can transfer to other co-curricular activities.

Question from Joe Morin, science teacher & JV soccer coach, Holy Family Catholic High School, MN:
Why should “pay to play” be an “out of bounds” issue to avoid. Many hockey parents pay $4000 to $15000 per year for their kids to play youth hockey before high school. Why should paying a few hundred dollars as an athletic fee be such a big deal for those who can afford it? To me this is a far better solution than foisting the costs on taxpayers or parents of nonparticipating athletes. I always wondered why the 72 year old lady across the street had to spend part of her earnings in taxes to pay for my daughter’s hockey breezers. Thank you.

Karen Brown:
Unfortunately there are many struggling families who can not afford the “few hundred dollars” in order to have their child participate in interscholastic athletics. Socio-economic status should not be a barrier to participation and we stand by the statement. Children a loosing out on the many benefits of sport because of pay to play policies.

A great story I must share is of one of our pilot sites. The school eliminated their pay to play policy because of Sports Done Right™. Now more children will have the opportunity.

Question from Dan DiTursi, football & lacrosse official, Troy, NY:
Since there were no officials on the Select Panel, what input did officials’ organizations have on the process of creating the document? What are you looking for from officials as the program goes forward?

Karen Brown:
The Select Panel interviewed several game officials to gain their perspective on youth sports programs. All the stakeholders need to know and understand Sports Done Right™.

Question from Angela McGuire, Parent and Institute Coordinator, WestEd CPEI:
I reiterate and will expand a little on my question about students with disabilities: Does Sports Done Right address the inclusion of students with significant cognitive and/or physical disabilities? It seems to me that these are students that could benefit greatly from participation (5 benefits so eloquently stated earlier) but who are routinely left on the sidelines.

Karen Brown:
We believe that EVERY child should have the opportunity to participate in sport at some level.

Question from Lois Kahl, Athletic Director:
Karen: Is it possible to e-mail you in the future for additional information? If so, how may we contact you or your staff?

Karen Brown:
Yes, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. My email address is

Question from Joe Copeland, Editorial Writer, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
If schools put more emphasis on widening participation, do they face risks of becoming less competitive or less attractive to top athletes? Is recruitment of gifted athletes by private schools or even other public schools something schools do or should worry about?

Karen Brown:
We do not believe that is the case. Recruitment is a concern here in Maine and across the country. Again, the “win-at-all-cost” mentality is taking hold.

Question from Jeff Jacobson, Prinicpal, Platteville High School:
In a less “emotionally driven” atmosphere, do ou feel kids will be drive themselves to achieve excellence and surpass their own assumed limitations?

Karen Brown:
When Sports Done Right™ is implemented, we feel there will still be an emotional atmosphere. The difference is that it will be a positive one! Kids will hear their parents cheering rather than screaming at an official. This change will only motivate our kids to excellence.

Craig Stone (Moderator):
Well, unfortuantely time has run out folks. Thanks to all of you for taking part this afternoon in this thought-provoking discussion. And a special thanks to our guest Karen Brown.

Sorry we couldn’t get to all of your questions--there were over 100 questions still left to answer--but i hope those questions that were answered can provide some new ideas and perhaps a starting point for your own programs.

A transcript of this chat will be available shortly at

Thanks, and have a nice day.

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