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As youth sports leagues spring into action, caring climate is important

by Eric Gorton

Lori Gano-Overway


As youth sports leagues get ready to start their spring seasons, James Madison University professor Lori Gano-Overway recommends coaches focus on creating positive sport experiences for kids that teach physical skills and life skills. 

“Many youth sport programs focus on young athletes playing games with little emphasis on skill development and, maybe, an overemphasis on winning,” said Gano-Overway, an assistant professor of kinesiology and a co-author of, "A Coach's Guide to Maximizing the Youth Sport Experience: Work Hard, Be Kind," published by Routledge in 2020. “Many volunteer youth sport coaches do not realize the importance of creating a sport environment that supports athlete development, which sets the stage for performance excellence, and provides an enjoyable experience for kids.” 

The book, which she wrote with Mary Fry at the University of Kansas; Marta Guivernau at Kent State University; Mi-Sook Kim at San Francisco State University; and Maria Newton at the University of Utah, provides coaches with strategies they can use to create a positive environment based on evidence-based practices in sport psychology. “Over the last several decades research has demonstrated the importance of emphasizing improvement and effort,” Gano-Overway said. “More recently studies have emerged highlighting how caring and supportive coaches are important to athlete experiences and development.”  

The book provides numerous strategies and reflective exercises focused on five features of developing a positive sport climate. These features:

  • encourage coaches to value and reward effort and improvement
  • treat mistakes as part of learning
  • highlight the important role of every team member
  • create a supportive, welcoming, and respectful environment
  • foster collaboration and teamwork

“Youth sport should be about learning the importance of hard work, learning from your failures, treating others with respect and valuing each member of a community,” Gano-Overway said.  “My colleagues and I hope this book will help coaches consider ways they can do this on their sport teams.”


About JMU Kinesiology 

The department of kinesiology is dedicated to developing future leaders in professions that maximize the potential of individuals and society through physical activity. Programs include exercise science and teacher education in physical education and health.


To schedule an interview with Gano-Overway, contact Eric Gorton, media relations coordinator, at or 540-908-1760.



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Published: Monday, March 2, 2020

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 3, 2020

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