About 40 high school coaches from across the Los Angeles Archdiocese took time June 16 to discover how to encourage their young athletes to “play like a champion.”But instead of learning new warmup drills or in-game strategies, these coaches were learning how to see their roles as more ministry rather than simple athletic training.“There are so many similar characteristics between being a good coach and being a good minister,” said Oscar McBride, former Arizona Cardinals’ football player and associate director of the “Play Like a Champion Today” (PLAC) program based at his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, who facilitated the workshop. “Think about it,” he continued. “A good coach has to be selfless, a leader, a good listener, prepared and patient — all the things that made a good minister.”Held several times a year, these workshops are sponsored in partnership with the Department of Catholic Schools. Three years ago, PLAC was brought on board for training since they reflect Gospel values within its curriculum.The June 16 workshop at La Salle High School in Pasadena was the eighth held for the coaches who work at the 50 high schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese; all California high school coaches are required to go through a similar type of training for certification. McBride noted that, when asked the biggest challenge facing high school coaches, they will respond in unison, without skipping a beat, “Parents.”“Sure, parents want what’s best for their children, but their expectations can be so inflated,” said McBride. “They are not focusing on what the child is actually learning in sports. We also see them comparing their children to professionals which can be very unfair.”“People don’t realize that often times they are living vicariously through their children’s experience,” added William Middlebrooks, head basketball coach for Cathedral High School. “I realize that my assistant coaches work more with the kids on their game, while my role has been to deal more with the parents and issues that the kids have outside of the court.” “Parents think they are helping their kids to go to the ‘next level’ when they hire outside pitching coaches or shooting coaches,” noted Anthony Harris, La Salle athletic director. “But what is that really telling a child? What kind of pressure is that?”Adding to the challenges of over-zealous parents is a culture that both idolizes sport figures while also encouraging a sedentary lifestyle with computers, iPods and video games. Coaches at last weekend’s workshop recalled that, in their youth, it was easy to join in a neighborhood basketball game, quickly organize a football match or find some sort of outdoor athletic activity. “Now,” said Harris, “people sign their kids up for basketball camps or workshops. You have nine-year-olds playing elite soccer. How do you specialize at a game when you are nine years old? Those kids need experiences, not more intense practices.”The coaches, however, understand that sports — given proper emphasis — can provide students with a sense of worth and an appreciation for teamwork, communication and personal perseverance. High school sports have a distinct position in a young person’s life because it’s often here they reach the pinnacle of their athletic abilities. “For many kids, they will never again have the pageantry of the game, with cheerleaders, fans and families,” says Middlebrooks. “For 99 percent of them, this will be their NBA finals or their Super Bowl. We as coaches have to remember that especially when it comes to the idea of ‘winning at any cost.’”Indeed, one scenario at the workshop brought about much discussion. You, the coach, have a two-year starter who is now a senior. A new sophomore comes in and he’s a better player than the senior. Do you start the senior or do you make the best team possible with the sophomore starting?For Middlebrooks, it is a no-brainer. “You put the senior in because this will be his last year to have that experience,” he said. “The games are not about the winning, it’s about playing and doing.”Throughout the four years of high school, “doing” sports can give students an understanding of their place in the world. “Sports utilize many important developmental milestones for students and give them life lessons for now and later,” said Harris. “It teaches them dedication, fitness and a sense of self that is invaluable. It’s our job, our ministry, to help them get to that destination.”For more information on Play Like A Champion, visit  HYPERLINK "http://playlikeachampion.org/" http://playlikeachampion.org/.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0622/coachesclinic/{/gallery}