Changing the Game in Youth Sports

Last week, Shannon Schmidt, the coordinator of Salt Lake County Ice Hockey sent a link to a blog entitled “Release Your Child To The Game,” written by a guy named John O’Sullivan. As Shannon tries to impart useful coaching advice to his small coterie of volunteer coaches, I dutifully followed the link and read the article. And I had a road-to-Damascus epiphany.

Well, okay, maybe that description is a bit overwrought, but believe me when I say I that O'Sullivan's post, and the approach advocated within, validated and offered solutions to much of what I’d long wrestled with as intractable challenges in today's youth sports. The guy seemed to be onto something. Kudos to Shannon for spreading the word.

I clicked around O'Sullivan's site, aptly entitled The Changing The Game Project and found that he had been a professional soccer player, a Division 1 soccer coach, an author, and more recently a Ted speaker.

Impressed by his talk, I read through his other blog posts, all touching upon some part of the coaching/youth sports environment that I’d been contemplating in different ways in two big spheres of my life (my work at RallyMe, and my youth hockey coaching). One after another, his blog posts brought into sharp relief so many of the vague notions that had been churning around in my head. He’d found the switch and was shining a bright light through the murk onto topics that every youth sports coach, or parent, for that matter, should be thinking about:

• participation trophies

• early specialization

• the adult-ization of sports

• winning versus development

• the myth of the college sports scholarship

• even an inspiring story about one of my NHL favorites, Martin St. Louis.

Here was a guy who was trying to blow the whistle on the heedless travel-team arms race. Who was this O’Sullivan? And what was he doing inside my head? I bought and read his book, re-watched his Ted talk, and started scheming a way to talk to the guy.