Archives For Changing the Game Project

Sharing Wisdom Series2

If you’d like to read the first installment of this series, you can find that here.

I am incredibly grateful that forward-thinking, best-selling author and professional speaker John O’Sullivan has agreed to participate in the second installment of my Sharing Wisdom: A Series of Coaching Perspectives. John is the Founder and CEO of the Changing the Game Project and works tirelessly on helping coaches, parents, and administrators develop high-performing athletes through positive, child centered sporting environments.

John O Head shots (1)

John is the Founder and CEO of the Changing the Game Project. Find him online at


I’ve been studying John’s work for over a year now and one of the first things that he mentioned early on that made my ears perk up was this…

When we were all growing up and playing sports, sports were mostly about children competing against other children. And now, unfortunately, when you look around, a lot of times sports is adults competing against other adults through their children.

Boy does that statement hit the nail on the head.

As I’ve been watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament over the last several weeks and I see TV crews periodically cut to the players’ parents in the stands, I wonder if this is the end goal for so many disillusioned people who I’ve read about or ran across on the sidelines watching my own children compete?

I don’t offer up that question as a jab on parents of collegiate athletes. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. March Madness is unequivocally one of my favorite times of the year and the players who are talented enough to provide entertainment and life lessons to the rest of us watching from the comfort of our coaches are to be commended. How amazing of an experience it must be for their moms and dads to come along for the ride.

I’m just raising it as a way to address a larger question: How many parents will actually get to see their son or daughter compete on a stage that grand?

(In case you’re interested in knowing, the chances of a young man transitioning from a high school standout to competing as an NCAA college basketball player are small: 3.4%. If you narrow that down to Division 1, that percentage is even smaller: 1%.)

See a breakdown for each NCAA sport here –> Source: NCAA Estimated probability of competing in college athletics

So, for the vast majority of youth sports parents, the window of time that we are able to watch our children play the games they (hopefully) love is very brief.

What I respect about John is that he is helping guide the youth sports cultural conversation between parents and coaches. We all seem to want our children to play as long as possible (and to succeed). It therefore makes sense to talk about how to do that in a way that prevents player burnout, reduces injuries, maximizes individual development, and builds character through challenging and rewarding experiences.

Below are the three questions I asked John as well as his responses…Enjoy!


Q1: What’s been the hardest part for you in adjusting from playing collegiate soccer, then professional soccer, to being a parent and coach of children competing in sports?

John’s Response: I sure loved to play. When I lost the love, I stopped playing. The most difficult part about becoming a coach and a dad for me was coaching players, and even my own kids, who were not like me as a player. I was so competitive, I hated to lose a sprint, a pickup game, everything and anything I took it personally. Things never came easy to me, so I was used to fighting hard, working hard, and competing all the time. When I coached kids that things came easy for, kids that I did not feel put in sufficient effort, kids who did not seem to care when we lost, it was very hard for me.

Q2: You’ve presented a TEDx Talk, have garnered over 36,000 followers on your Changing the Game Project Facebook fan page, and have written a best-selling book all centered around helping parents, coaches, and young athletes view sports as positive and rewarding – evidence that this is a very hot topic in our society today. How did we get so far down a path that values short-term defined results over long-term improved process for our kids?

John’s Response: I don’t think you can point to any one thing and say that is why sports have gone down this path. Certainly the money in professional sports creates an allure that is hard to ignore. Youth sports has become a billion dollar business, so the competition for customers has driven year round commitments younger and younger, forcing kids to specialize. The social media culture, and pop culture in general, value things like fame, fortune, self-centeredness, and the like, and so we see these things in sport. We see a 12-year old on YouTube doing amazing things on the soccer field and we think Why can’t my kid do that? Am I a bad parent?

All these factors have worked together to create a place where we value games instead of practice, winning instead of developing, and value the short term results over the long term character development and other things sport can provide. But I do believe we can change that.

Q3: What’s the single greatest life lesson that a coach of youth athletes can bestow upon their team?

John’s Response: I think the best thing a coach can do is coach a person, not a sport. Every athlete needs something different. Some need structure, some need freedom. Some need a quiet word, others need more discipline. One size fits all coaching is never as successful as coaching each and every individual in the team setting. Coach a child, not a sport, and you will not only develop better people, you will win more games too.


John started the Changing the Game Project in 2012 after two decades as a soccer player and coach on the youth, high school, college and professional level. He is the author of the #1 bestselling books Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids and Is it Wise to Specialize? John is also a regular contributor for, and his writing has been featured in many publications including The Huffington Post and Soccer America. John is an internationally known speaker for coaches, parents and youth sports organizations, and has spoken for TEDx, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, IMG Academy, and at numerous other events throughout the US, Canada and Europe. Read more about John here.


The Sharing Wisdom: A Series of Coaching Perspectives is written by Heidi Woodard.

As 2015 winds down, I want to express my sincere gratitude for everyone who has supported the GiveTheGameBack movement.

I want to thank my very first brand ambassadors (see pictures below), Chris Breeling at the Omaha Indoor Soccer Center for his moral and financial support, John O’Sullivan at Changing The Game Project for being a mentor, Creighton University’s Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing for filming my story, the Pat&JT Show on Q98.5FM for allowing me to talk (and talk and talk!), fellow sports parents for sharing your stories and encouraging me to forge on, Maureen White at The Graphic Edge for quality promotional items, my dear friends Shannon and Melissa for always reassuring me I can do it, and finally…especially…my husband and kids for allowing me to pursue this path.

You have all helped me accomplish what I set out to do: Spread an incredibly important message to parents and promoters of youth sports, reminding everyone of how blessed we all are to be able to cheer on our able-bodied, motivated kids throughout their playing careers…no matter how long or short those careers end up being.

I can’t wait to see what Year 2 brings!

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Written by Heidi Woodard

I had the privilege of visiting my old college campus and presenting to a Feature Writing class on blogging.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon in Omaha, Nebraska. The air was crisp and led my mind to leisurely untangle itself from daily distractions.

Creighton University: Hard to articulate the impact of this place on my life.

Creighton University: Hard to articulate the impact of this place on my life.

As I walked down the same brick path I had traveled over 15 years prior to make my way from class to class, I reflected on perspective that only comes with age. A wisdom that reinforces something I had always known, but never stopped to fully appreciate. I was blessed beyond measure to have had the opportunity to walk this path, both literally and figuratively.

The brick path that has the power to take you places if you let it.

The brick path that has the power to take you places if you let it.

During my time on campus that day, I visited with both my former softball coach and my academic advisor – two people who helped me pave my way when I wasn’t yet old enough to grasp the weight that adulthood carried. Both pushed me beyond where I had falsely assumed my potential peaked.

Coach Vigness still teaching young ladies how to become better people in addition to better athletes.

Coach Vigness still teaching young ladies how to become better people in addition to better athletes.

When your academic advisor gives you such rave reviews, your first boss will forever refer to her as your "Aunt Eileen."

When your academic advisor gives you such rave reviews, your first boss will forever refer to her as your “Aunt Eileen.”

To see those two influencers after all these years and have a chance to absorb the enormous roles they played in shaping the person I am today is something I won’t soon forget.

Remembering what it was like to be young, carefree, and seemingly limitless.

Remembering what it was like to be young, carefree, and seemingly limitless.

Walking past the place where my husband and I shared our first kiss.

Walking past the place where I shared a first kiss with the love of my life.


I followed up that memorable day with an equally gratifying evening later in the week. Since launching my own GiveTheGameBack movement in January, I have watched the work of international speaker and best-selling author John O’Sullivan. His organization, Changing The Game Project, has positively impacted athletes, parents, and coaches alike, through education and training on how to accelerate positive youth development experiences, as well as critical life lessons along the way.

He wrote a book titled Changing the Game, which was released in 2013. In it, he talks about how adults are taking over today’s youth athletic experience. “We stream 10 year old baseball games to our offices, we buy $400 bats and $300 shoes, chasing the myth of scholarships and guaranteed high achievement. At a time when popular culture is promoting numerous self centered values, our children need sports more then ever to teach them about courage, discipline, commitment, and humility. Yet 70% of kids are dropping out of sports by the age of 13, most of them because sports are no longer fun!”

Let that reality absorb in. Three out of four children are done with sports before high school. As parents, do we not owe it to our children to attempt to understand why so many drop out? As a former athlete who knows how much sports impacted my life, I want my own kids’ experiences – no matter how long those experiences last – to be positive.

I do not believe having a positive experience is synonymous to having a winning record; rather, it is in the athlete’s capacity to recover from setbacks and stretch their own personal potential beyond what they believe is possible. As John so eloquently puts it, “In the real world, the most successful people are the people who are willing to fail (and try again) the most.”

John spoke to a room full of coaches and parents and delivered messaging that I know to be true, but see so many people (including myself) easily forget. According to him, elite athletes need three things to succeed, i.e., make the leap to higher levels of competitive play:

  1. They must love what they do.
  2. They must be allowed to own their experience.
  3. They must be intrinsically motivated.

Here’s a wonderful Tedx Talk featuring John speaking to a group in Bend, Oregon.

I’ve now talked to John on more than one occasion and am happy to say he is the proud owner of a GiveTheGameBack t-shirt and Steering Perspective wheel reminder.

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be. -Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn


It’s been uplifting to hang out with so many great people as of late, men and women who have had positive impacts on me and countless others.Thank you for hanging out with me, by taking time out of your day to read these words. Have a wonderful week ahead and never forget about those in our world who are suffering. May we never take for granted how lucky we are to live in a country where we can share our thoughts freely.

Written by Heidi Woodard