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Greg Coleman, former NFL punter and current Minnesota Vikings sideline reporter for KFAN, speaks during the Rosemount Area Athletic Association annual stakeholders meeting Feb. 25.

‘Line drawn’ with Positive Coaching Alliance

The Rosemount Area Athletic Association is at a transitional point in its history.

Paul Essler, RAAA president, said the organization is taking steps to transform the culture into one focusing on respect and positivity.

“We’re drawing a line in the sand,” Essler said.

They’re all in with the Positive Coaching Alliance.

“The city is behind us,” Essler said. “The high school is behind us. We’re asking all coaches to embrace the same philosophy and we’re getting really strong support.”

What is that PCA?

According to its website, its mission is to have youth and high school student athletes have a positive, character-building experience resulting in better athletes and people.

RAAA has conducted a number of PCA workshops for leaders, coaches and parents as both stand-alone workshops, and to coach and parent meetings.

RAAA began a partnership with the organization about three years ago, but it wasn’t universally embraced.

Essler said members of the board have been asked to resign and coaches have been let go if they don’t buy into the philosophy.

“If they can’t be a positive coach in front of our kids, they can’t be in front of our kids,” Essler said. “It’s the referees’ job to ref. The parents’ job is to cheer. The coaches coach and the players play. ... If it’s not best for all kids and they can’t be objective, we ask them to step down.”

It’s an ongoing process.

Essler said the RAAA Board still welcomes diverse opinions, which is positive for the organization.

“It’s about listening to each other and the focus is what’s best for the kids,” Essler said.

The issues surface when parents of high-performing athletes think their children aren’t getting enough playing time or instruction.

“Sometimes (board members and coaches) worry about their own kids,” Essler said. “We have to favor what’s best for all and balance between the A-team players and the C-team. It’s a tough sell sometimes.”

The biggest pushback from the PCA philosophy is that it seems to put fierce competitiveness in the backseat, but Essler says that’s not the case.

“The goal is to do your best,” Essler said. “We all know one person’s best is not the same as somebody else. There’s a lot of things that go into the quality of how you play your sport. But it goes back to this life lesson, if you’re having fun, you’re doing your best. ... There’s always someone better and you need to use that to push you to become better. Win or lose, stick with it. That’s the message.”

Essler said he finds parent/coach relationships have improved as a result.

“Coaches who weren’t doing an effective job, it was hard for parents to watch that happen,” Essler said. “If coaches are presenting a negative influence on the kids, parents want to step in. When coaches are aligned with this philosophy, we’ve seen parents get a lot calmer.”

RAAA has some strong voices behind its philosophy.

The annual stakeholder meeting on Feb. 25 featured several special guests including high school coaches, Rosemount City Council members, leadership from District 196, and city staff.

Jeff Erdmann, RHS varsity football coach, one of the evening’s speakers, is on board.

He said while he’s interested in developing the student athletes that feed into his football program, it’s not just about those who eventually become varsity starters. It’s about all students in Rosemount.

“It’s so critical kids have great experiences so they keep coming out,” Erdmann said. “We have too many people focused on winning and getting their kids rebounds and points. It’s about keeping kids coming out for sports and continuing to be challenged. To develop that discipline.”

He said everybody starts at the lower levels and everyone has a chance to run the football.

“Football is a numbers game,” he said. “We wouldn’t have the success we’ve had if kids didn’t stick with it.”

Erdmann said there’s countless examples of late bloomers who became key players on varsity who may have given up along the way otherwise.

He said his program’s top award is the Pat Tillman award, which represents loyalty, being humble and lifting teammates up. It’s the most coveted.

“Instead of being individuals, like we see in the NCAA and NFL, they want to be team guys,” Erdmann said.

Erdmann has had two of his own children go through the RAAA program with success.

“I appreciate the leaders who have the courage to promote this concept,” Erdmann said. “This isn’t the easy way out. The easy way is to do it like everybody else. We don’t worry about what other people are doing.”

Another speaker, Greg Coleman, former Minnesota Vikings punter and current KFAN Vikings sideline analyst, is around many of the premier athletes of a generation.

Essler said Coleman seemed impressed with the efforts of RAAA to be a leader for having a positive youth sports culture.

Joel Maturi, former University of Minnesota athletic director, helped with the question and answer session. He addressed ways RAAA can become the leader when it comes to a positive sports culture in Minnesota.

Jeff Grayson, FOX Sports commentator and RAAA PCA coach honoree, spoke about what he does to create a positive environment as a youth coach. He was one of 18 coaches recognized with a PCA award.

Members at RAAA recognize that youth sports coaches can be incredibly influential.

“It’s complimentary to what their teachers and parents are teaching them,” Essler said. “Their parents can talk about it, about teamwork and sportsmanship, but to be part of a team, it’s apparent in sports. The concept of lifting each other up and being excited for someone’s success, you have to see it in action.”

RAAA is a volunteer, nonprofit organization serving the children of the community through 23 different athletic programs designed to develop both social and athletic skills.

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