Archives For sports culture

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.

Sharing Wisdom Series

A friend of mine shared a video recently that I’ve since seen circulated on several online platforms featuring St. Louis University High School baseball coach and Coach Baseball Right Founder, Steve Nicollerat. Once I watched (and shared) the video myself, I knew I had to reach out to Steve to introduce myself.

Here’s the 2:24 min video that every parent of a developing athlete should watch.

In it, Steve implores parents (many of whom appear to be dads) of youth baseball players to not allow our current sports culture to dictate what is right and wrong in terms of the total number of games that need to be played or to be pressured into early sports specialization.

Having two boys of my own as well as a daughter who all enjoy playing the game of baseball and softball, respectively (along with several other sports), I believe so strongly in Steve’s message. I see this window of time when they are actively engaged in sports as very narrow in the grand scheme of their lives and I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything in my power to help them enjoy every minute of their experiences.

I asked Steve if he’d be willing to help me kick off a new series, Sharing Wisdom: A Series of Coaching Perspectives, and he generously obliged. In the coming weeks, I will continue to share insights and guidance from many coaches whom I personally respect.

If you like what you read, please visit each of these coaches’ online platforms (if applicable…some are old school and prefer to maintain communications offline) to learn more about their individual philosophies. Reach out to me with questions or thoughts in the comment section below or by contacting me directly.

Without further ado, I bring you the first installment of Sharing Wisdom: A Series of Coaching Perspectives…

Q1: What is the single greatest attribute a young athlete must possess in order to be viewed as a “difference maker” by a coach?

Steve’s Response: I look for kids who can listen to instruction, be open to new ideas, and are not satisfied with being average. Too many or our kids are ok with being ok. Those kids really won’t do much for your program. The more a player invests himself in something, the more disappointed he is when things are not going well. That disappointment can turn into motivation. Too many kids never get to that level of investment.

Q2: How should a kid who wants to compete on a high school team mentally prepare or conduct himself in order to make that jump to the next level?

Steve’s Response: Being open to the idea that the number of games played does not make him better. The player needs to learn the game from his experiences and the experiences of players around him.

Just being present at the game, and playing in the game is not that important. Getting better from understanding what is happening around you is crucial.  It is the idea that players can spend their time or invest their time. Understanding the difference is big.

Q3: Tell me about one kid (you can name the athlete or choose not to) who left an enormous influence on you/your program and describe why that is.

Steve’s Response: I have had many young men impact me and our program. They all seem to be very balanced, handle success and failure well, and make others around them better.

They seem to put the concerns of others ahead of their own. They seem to know they are part of something bigger than themselves. They tend to challenge everybody around them to be a better player and person, not by saying anything, but by how they conduct themselves. They are very humble in their success. They are very solid away from the game.


Editor’s note: Notice how this coach attributes the overall success of his program to the combined contributions of many dedicated athletes as opposed to singling out any one young man in particular? It is my belief that this approach (valuing teamwork over individualism) will lay a foundation for how these athletes view their relationships with others both during and beyond their playing days.

Want to learn more about Steve Nicollerat? Check out and read his bio here.


Steve Nicollerat, St. Louis University High School Baseball Coach and Founder of Coach Baseball Right

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