As many as 40 million youth play sports in the United States. Thus, athletics represent a key domain in which youth development occurs, and a key context in which character development can be promoted, supported, ignored, or harmed. Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a national non-profit with the goal of transforming the culture of youth sports to develop athletes of character. Consistent with Sir John’s views of character development, participation in PCA programs, as part of the youth athletic experience, is expected to enable youth to grow in diligence, future-mindedness, generosity, leadership, honesty, humility, purpose, reliability, and moral courage.

We propose to evaluate the impact of PCA programs using a cohort-sequential longitudinal evaluation of high school athletes. We will employ surveys of athletes and coaches to compare the development of character attributes among athletes who receive PCA training with the character development of those who do not. These longitudinal data will be used to examine the hypothesized processes of character development and life outcomes. The results of this research will address two Big Questions – Can we use the ubiquity and attractiveness to youth of sports programming as a vehicle for character development? and, Can character-based sports programs foster positive youth engagement in schools and communities?

The outputs generated by this study will include PCA workshops provided to diverse Boston area schools, conference presentations, publications, and a data archive. The project will impact study participants, future PCA programs, and also the scientific knowledge base regarding character development among young people and best practices for youth athletic organizations. Beyond its impact on PCA, this work will also have enduring impacts enhancing all youth sports programs, promoting character for community engagement, and developing character and civic engagement among America’s young people.