The Patriot Activities Club has spearheaded the Pequot Lakes’ youth basketball program for several years, but recently, it decided some changes needed to be made.

The club feared the athletes in the program were not having a good time, and were also not learning the valuable lessons team sports can provide.

“There was a need to educate the volunteer coaches and create a controllable, value-driven culture for the program,” PAC President and youth basketball coordinator Scott Ebnet said. “Before that, coaches were handed a bag of balls and told, ‘OK, have a good season.’ That is pretty much it.”

The program, which coaches boys and girls in grades 3 through 6 the ins and outs of basketball, sought outside help. Scott Savor, performance coach and founder of the Uncommon Competitor program, was hired to meet with coaches and PAC members on a monthly basis in an effort to get the volunteer coaches “on the same page” to make the experience more enjoyable for each athlete.

The goal of the program is to impart on the young student-athletes four core values: joy, awareness, competition and compassion. The presence of these values on the court is more important to the coaches than anything the scoreboard says.

“It’s important to show the accomplishments, but a lot of what we have been putting into the program has been outcome-based,” PAC member and volunteer coach Rob Birkeland said. “We would rather demonstrate those core values.”

Shortly into implementing this program, Birkeland had a parent tell him that their child was not only improving on the court, but also doing better in class.

“That made me realize that this works,” he said. “I could see it on the basketball court. We were getting better and the kids were having fun through stressful situations."

“The whole idea is to give volunteer coaches the skillset to be confident and create an atmosphere that is fun for kids so they learn,” Ebnet said. “Not every kid in PAC is going to play varsity basketball, but they can still have a great experience.”

In the few months since this culture change began - coaches met with Savor for the first time in October - those involved claim the difference is already noticeable.

“I observe practices, and there is a lot of positivity,” Ebnet said. “When I took over as youth basketball coordinator last year, I got occasional complaints from parents about certain things - their kid isn’t having a good time and things like that. This year, I haven’t really had anything like that. In fact, I actually hear a lot of positive things from parents. I see a very positive change in these few months that we have been working with Scott.”

Though the primary focus of the coaches and teams is not on the end score, Birkeland insists the teams are still doing their best to compete. However, coaches hope competitiveness stems more from a desire to improve as athletes and individuals, and less from a simple desire to win.

“We are very competitive, but we aren’t tying (success) to the outcome,” Birkeland said. “We are tying it to the process and to those core values. If we just focus on beating a team, that limits us. We need to be the best we can be. If we happen to beat that team, great, but there is always someone better or working harder. The goal is to be constantly working.”

Ebnet said PAC’s hope for this change to the program is that the young athletes will be able to take the skills and values learned within the program and use them as they grow and play at the varsity level, or even just utilize the skills as adults in their daily lives. PAC also expects the changes made to have a lasting effect for the program.

“I truly believe that my kids are benefiting from this now, but the kids that will benefit the most, we don’t know yet,” Birkeland said. “As these kids become varsity players - if we can continue that culture - they can have a dramatic impact on what is done. We are just in the first inning of this.

“I’m really proud of where we are at, and I am excited about where we are going.”

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.