Raising Elite Competitors

A Parent's Critical Role In Their Child's Athletic Journey With John O'Sullivan

December 05, 2023 Coach Bre Season 2 Episode 171
Raising Elite Competitors
A Parent's Critical Role In Their Child's Athletic Journey With John O'Sullivan
Show Notes Transcript

Are you wondering how to best support your child’s journey in sports? In this enlightening episode, we sit down with John O’Sullivan from the Changing the Game Project to dive deep into the world of youth sports and the pivotal role parents play.

What I cover in this episode:

  • Learn about John’s transition from athlete and coach to a youth sports reform advocate.
  • John shares his motivations for starting an initiative to make youth sports more child-centric.
  • Discussion on the positive changes in youth sports starting from the family level.
  • Insights into how parents can help their children discover and enjoy their sports passions.
  • Identifying typical mistakes parents make in their children’s sports journeys.
  • Tips for selecting a coach and environment that best suit your child.
  • The importance of supportive communication and giving space to young athletes.
  • How to match your aspirations with your child’s interests in sports.
  • Encouraging children to own their sports experience and find internal motivation.
  • Advice on handling difficult coaching scenarios and when to intervene.
  • Key takeaways for parents to support and nurture their child’s sports experience.

Tune in for a comprehensive discussion on fostering a positive and supportive sports environment for your child.

Episode Highlights: 

[00:00] Improving youth sports with mental performance coach and author John O’Sullivan. Learn more about the man behind the Changing the Game Project, his journey from a collegiate and professional soccer player to a youth sports advocate.

[05:27] Parental role in youth sports and creating positive experiences for children. Discover the importance of prioritizing children’s well-being in sports, with an emphasis on the need for families and communities to make changes to benefit student athletes.

[10:08] Parenting and supporting children in sports. Learn more about the importance of aligning parental goals with a child’s goals in sports, rather than pushing them towards a specific achievement that doesn’t align with their desires.

[15:20] Navigating coaching issues as a parent. Discover the importance of recognizing when to step in and when to let children face challenges and learn from them.

[18:56] Parenting and coaching in sports. Key takeaways for parents to support and nurture their child’s sports experience.

Next Steps:

Thank you in advance for joining us on our mission and leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts.

Welcome back to the racing elite competitors podcast. I'm coach Bri. A mental performance coach for a girl athletes. And I am so happy that you are here. No matter if you have a lot of seasons under your belt, or you were just beginning this journey. As a sports mom, this podcast is for you. If you are looking to raise a confident and mentally strong girl athletes. I'm so excited about today's episode. I got to interview John O'Sullivan from changing the game at project. So if you haven't heard of John. yet you will get to know him pretty well inside this episode, but he is a heavy hitter in this whole world of helping parents navigate this whole sports journey. So I'll get into a little bit about who John is in a second, but before I do, I want to give a shout out to a mom inside our community. So this mom is going through the elite mental game with her daughter, Maya mom's name is Heather, and she texted me this the other day. She said yesterday, my daughter said these things. I am learning are actually working. She was referring to her reset routine and visualization in the past. She has been timid to shoot the basketball, especially if she misses one. Yesterday. She didn't do that huge growth. Now this literally gives me goosebumps to hear this, because I know that your daughter is just like this, right? Your athlete likely. Does hesitate after she makes mistakes, right? That's very normal because she doesn't want to make more mistakes. And the fact that Heather's daughter is utilizing these mental skills, her reset routine that we teach inside the program visualization, and that this is working for her is truly incredible. So I'm excited to continue to hear about the progress Heather and Maya are making throughout the program. All right, let's get into this episode with John. Like I said, John is the founder of the changing the game project. And after two decades, I was a soccer player and coach in the youth high school and college and professional levels. He is now the author of two number one bestselling books, changing the game, the parent's guide to raising happy high-performing athletes and giving youth sports back to our kids. And also every moment matters how the world's best coaches inspire their athletes to build championship teams. So John is a wealth of information in this whole space of how to help parents navigate the sports journey of their athletes without straining this athlete, parent relationship. So he really echoes a lot of what we teach inside our programs and in our community. And so that's why it was so cool to have John come in. and his work has been featured all over the nation, from CNN to ESPN, NBC sports. So it was truly an honor to be able to meet him. And I know you're going to learn. A lot from this interview. So go ahead and enjoy. I know you'll love this episode as much as I loved the interview. Hi John, welcome to the Raising Elite Competitors Podcast. Ah, thank you for having me on. We've been, trying to find time in each of our schedules for a long time here, so our paths finally cross again. I know, this is great. Yeah, we first connected months ago, but so excited to have you on the podcast and speak from your perspective. You and your work is... really in alignment with what we do here at the Elite Competitor. So can you though give listeners a background on who you are, what you do? Sure. Awesome. So the 30, 000 foot overview is I run an organization called Change in the Game Project. I was, collegiate and a pro soccer player, then a college coach and a youth coach now going on 30 years. But about 10 years ago or 12 years ago, I started this organization, changing the game project, which was, how do we put a little more play back in playing sports, right? That the sport environment for kids really wasn't serving their needs, seemed to be serving the needs of the business of sport, not the needs of the child in sport. So we do a lot of, you know, parent engagement, parent education, and we do a lot of coach development on the quote soft skills of coaching. And then we do a lot of leadership and team development as well. Just trying to make this, sport environment a lot better than it is for a lot of kids. Yeah, such important work. And how long ago did you start your organization? So the, the idea behind it happened in sort of 2012, early 2012, and the first thing I did was write a book, which became the book, Changing the Game, which is really a book for parents on how they could help their kids navigate. And so I wrote this book and then realized like, it's actually not super hard to write a book. It's really hard to let people know that you've written a book and that they might want to buy it. So, so that's how the, organization started. And at first it was a blog. Which led to a Ted talk, which then like a lot of the speaking really took off. And then in 2017, we started a podcast called way of champions and my friend Jerry Lynch. And so we're 340 episodes into that at this point once a week. And yeah, so that's kind of how it works. And, yeah, it's a lot of, I mean, I just got back from a. To Dallas and San Diego and LA and then next week I head off to the Middle East for two weeks. So, this isn't an American problem by any means. Yeah, that's great. Yeah, I asked that question because obviously, you know, our, our work, like I said, is aligned and people ask me all the time, you know, how, like, this is so important and can you see changes? You know, your, your organization is called Changing the Game. Have you seen changes in the game? No. Hard to measure, but. You know, it's very hard to measure. And I think when I got into it, I thought I was maybe a lot more confident that we could truly make systemic change right across the board. And what I've seen is so many forces aligned and so much momentum in the business of sport, right? It's huge business. It's multi million dollar business. It's a, it's bigger than the NFL youth sport as an industry, right? So, You know, that business and the sort of capitalistic free market of the United States, I don't think as a whole is going to support kids anymore. But where we can support them is certainly in our family, right? By doing things the right way. In our teams, in our clubs and in smaller communities saying, you know what, we're going to do things a little differently. And yes, people might leave and, and might not like the way we're doing it, but we're going to based our, we're going to base our sport development model around a human development model that suits the needs, values, and priorities of children. And so what I have seen a lot of is families, teams, clubs. Schools making huge changes to benefit student athletes in a really, really impactful way. But it doesn't always happen at the neighboring school or the neighboring club, which is sad. Yeah, yeah, I get that. And I think starting with families and with parents and the impact that we can have is significant. There is a quote actually hanging in our house from Mother Teresa that says, if you want to change the world, go home and love your family. And I think that's where, where our efforts are too. I mean, that we can't underestimate what we're, where we are right now and what we have right in front of us. And I think Other than, you know, seeing kind of the bigger changes, it's that, you know, hear stories of my relationship with my athlete is improved. They're enjoying their sport longer. They're, they're not beating themselves up anymore. And so those things really can make a huge difference. A hundred percent, a hundred percent. I think that's it. Right. So I take what makes me feel good is the email or the letter or the phone call from a parent who says, you saved my relationship with my son or my daughter, right? I've coached since we came across your work, I've coached totally different and I've impacted hundreds of athletes in a whole different way than I used to. Thank you. Right. That's a huge difference matters to those kids. Yeah, absolutely. So let's then get into it. How we can do this. As parents, there are some coaches that listen to our podcast, but we're mostly talking to moms and parents. So can you talk about what the role of the parent is in this athletic experience? I'd say two things, right? In general, I think whenever possible, our job as a parent is, is to try to help our child find their passion instead of determine it for them. Mm-Hmm. right. Because the, the ingredients of long-term participation in any activity are enjoyment, ownership. And thus intrinsic motivation. So when kids are young, we can force them into things and they will comply, but they will start pushing back and pushing back unless they own it and they love it. And they're motivated to go get better, right? If you're dragging your kid out of bed to go to practice, if you're, you know, dragging them to go do extra, something's missing, right? It doesn't mean that you don't have to sort of give them a nudge once in a while, but if it's a daily nudge, right? And then go, I don't want to do this probably kind of in the wrong spot and sometimes you get through those moments, but it shouldn't last month upon month and year upon year, you know, so, you know, I, I think that's it. And then I think number two, what's really important as a parent is thinking about, like, you're the general contractor. So the coach only sees this slice of your kid's life, and the private skills coach sees this slice, and the piano teacher sees this slice, and the school sees this, and whatever. You're the only one who can manage that load, the psycho psychological, social, emotional, and physical load on your child, right? And so, all those people can be the best of the best in what they do. They don't know everything else in your kid's life and so as the general contractor, you have to make it fit together and find them free time and make sure they sleep and make sure they eat well and, and as part of being that general contractor, sometimes you have to be willing to say no to great opportunities or great things. That sounds fantastic. Normally we'd love to do that. But it's just too much on her plate right now. Or hey, you know what? It's grandma's 90th birthday and it's the last time the family's getting together. And so we're going to have to say no to that tournament. Not the day before, but six months out. Sorry, can't do it. And I think that's the role that parents need to play because only you see the big picture. Yeah. And so knowing that, where do you see that parents get this wrong and start to kind of make it problematic for kids? I mean, I, I, number one, I think parents often get it wrong with great intentions, right? So they love their children. No one, no one is signing up for your program or listening to this podcast or listening to my podcast and thinking, Oh great, let me figure out how to screw up my kid. Right? Like no one's doing that. Right? So they're loving and they just want to help. But sometimes I think when trying to help. We tend to apply our values or our experience to our child's experience. Well, it's very different, right? The world they're growing up in is not the world we grew up in. Number two, our values on why we do certain things, right? We, we have 20, 30, 40 years of X of adult experience and perspective of why we might want to do something. Our 10 year old doesn't have that. So we might see. You don't understand this opportunity you have that I never have, but they don't understand it. Right. So they're not going to feel the same level of motivation or, you know, how gratitude that you might that they're in this situation. And so this is where I think it comes back to want to find environments that they love and enjoy the sport. And then give them ways that they own it, that they're driving the bus and I'm the passenger on the bus. And so what are their goals and how do they, and whatever my goals are, I have to kind of throw them aside and say, whatever your goals are, I'm going to support that. Now I can also say as a parent, like, Hey, you know what? This X amount of thousand dollar volleyball program or soccer program is not aligning with the amount of time that you're willing to spend playing your sport. So it's probably the wrong club for you in this moment, which is okay. There's nothing wrong. You can still love volleyball and play volleyball, but you just, we're not going to send you to Las Vegas and Florida and this and that if you never pick up a ball outside of practice. And, and I think this, that's the role of the, of the parent right there. So, so. You're applying your dreams to your child, taking away their ownership, taking away enjoyment in pursuit of some long term goal. Is usually the number one way people screw it up. Yeah. And so how do you know, as a parent, if this is something that you should step in and push, I guess, back enough, I get the question a lot of motivation and you mentioned, you know, if it's. Months or weeks or, you know, days and days on end where they don't want to go to practice and all of that. But the question I get a lot from parents is, where do I step in and push and try and motivate and where do I just kind of hang back and let things happen as they might happen? I mean, you know, there's no, as you know, there's no perfect answer to that, right? It changes. That's the gray. And you're going to mess this up once in a while. And I think the best way to not mess it up is to find that alignment with your child's goals. So if I know what their goal is, right? So let me give an example, I would, you know, coach a kid who, you know, and their parents, you know, what are their goals for their child? I want her to play at Stanford, right? And then the kid's goals come in. I think I'm done playing after high school. Those are not in alignment, right? And the kid is the one who has to do the work. So as the parent, that's where I have to let go of my dreams of seeing my daughter at Stanford and accept that this is what she wants. She just wants to play in high school. Great. How do I support that? And then I push her towards those goals. And not my goals that she wants nothing to do with. And what happens is when parents have goals that are so far removed for their kids, and then they lay on expectations and push them and push them towards that thing, that that's when it goes sideways in your relationship. And again, I don't think there's anyone listening saying, my kid's sport achievement is totally worth destroying my relationship with my daughter. Right. It's just not. No. Keeping the main thing, the main thing and realizing that is. It is so important. Okay. Another kind of area that we get questions a lot about and can be an area where parents feel like they do need to step in is an issue of like coaching and situations that can arise from that. So something that we encounter a lot is. You know, athletes will be maybe competing, enjoying and then all of a sudden they come across a coach that for whatever reason they'll say it has changed my love for the sport or is super, or you know, they don't understand why things are happening and then parents are wanting to know how to navigate that. Do you have any tips in that area as a parent? How do you kind of stay in your role? In that situation. I mean, I mean, number one, be careful where you sign up. Like I see parents do way more research on a plumber than they do on the person who's going to coach their child for the next year or two years or three years, right? And it's like, like, pay attention, dig into it. If we're going to switch clubs or something like that, who's the coach that she might have? Can I go to a match? How does he treat his players? How does he or she, you know, what about the people on the bench? Do they seem engaged or disengaged? Don't just look at, you know, what the best kids do. I mean, a lot of clubs, you know, they put, well, we have. You know, all these people who, you know, have gone on to play in college. And my question is always like, and how many of them started with you when they were eight? Right. Or did you just recruit them all through the years? And no one's been with you since they're eight, right? Because you're not actually a developer, you're a recruiter, right? So, so I think that's one, do your, do your homework the best you can. Number two, You know, you always have to ask yourself, like, is this situation right now, my child is struggling, is this difficult and is this a challenge and some adversity and discomfort, which is also a learning opportunity, or is this dangerous? And I need to intervene, get my kid out, right? And that's the thing is I see people intervening in difficult situations and preventing learning from happening, right? My kid got benched for the first time in her life. She has to, you know, she moved up to a better team and she's got to fight for playing time, which she never had to do before. Well. Let me see her through that, right? And say, Hey, this is the reality. This you jumped in a bigger pond and it's going to be harder, right? Or, Hey, you're going to play a different position. A coach sees you different. These are moments of difficulty and that's growth. Don't don't. You know, don't get in the way of growth. If this coach is abusive, attacking the human being, my kid's coming home in tears every night because she was called fat or slow or stupid or whatever, that's a problem. That's when you step in. That's when I think even it's okay for a kid to quit. Right? Not because it's difficult, because that, this is unacceptable behavior. And I say, if you're not sure, would your teacher in school be allowed to treat your, the student this way? Yeah. Math is hard. Your kid's struggling. She feels terrible. Tough luck. Calculus is hard. Right. You know, but if the teacher is like, you're so stupid, you don't belong in this class, you'd never be like, oh, well, that's okay. So I think that's a good sort of. Guidelines. Sometimes if you're not sure. Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that's a good reminder to that, difficult doesn't mean quit difficult, you know, if anything, it's those are the moments. That's why we have kids in sports, you know, to be able to navigate these things and experience them and. Advocate. So totally. Absolutely. Okay. As we're wrapping up, I want to hear just your, you've gone over a lot of information, a lot of things to avoid, a lot of things that, that we should do as parents. What are your, just like your top tips? If you were just to pick like one to two top things that you think move the needle the most in creating a good environment for athletes and parent perspective, what would those be? Number one, Let the ride home belong to your kids, right? So when you get in the car after practice or especially after a tournament or an event that didn't go well, give them space, right? Because they're emotionally, physically exhausted and so are we. And yet we often. I want to take this, make this a teachable moment. Right. And oftentimes like kids say, like, this is their least teachable moments. A lot of them say it's their worst memory of sport. And so every kid's different. Right. So like my daughter would get in the car and be like, how do you think I did? And the only question that's ever occurred to my son is what's for lunch. Right. And so it's like, I think that's part of it. Right. So if they bring it up, have a conversation. If you're not capable of having a conversation, cause you're angry. Stress, whatever, say, I don't think this is a good time, but don't make the car ride home a prison, right? That's mistake number one. And then number two, you know, how you can take positive action. I think the one of the most powerful things is just letting your kids know over and over. And this was when I did the TED talk in 2014. Sort of the idea we're sharing is tell your kids I love watching you play. Now, it's not my original idea, right? It's a biblical idea, I think. Right. But like, just let them know that your, your love for them doesn't depend on whether they won or lost or how they perform in sport and that this is their experience and your happiness does not depend on them. You have a life outside of them. So yeah, it can be disappointed. But I love you no matter what. And today just probably wasn't your day. And I think those two things, right? So the, like what I do in the car with my kids, if it comes up or after a game, whenever we debrief with my son, it's usually that night is I'll ask him the same three questions, you know, what went well today? So what was good about it? Right. What needs work and what can you do in practice this week? So that next week's better, right? And that's it. And they played their best game. What went well? What needs work? What can you do in practice? Played their worst game. Same three questions. And so that consistency of experience and feedback, I think is really important for kids to know that this is a good place to ask a question. And I'm not going to get my head ripped off today hmm. Yeah. That's so important. It's sending that message that no matter how you play, it doesn't, it doesn't change what I eat or the questions I ask. So super important. Well, thank you, John, for coming on, and thank you for sharing, where can people find more about you? Yeah, so my website is changingthegameproject. com, and you can find all the social media links there as well, and I'm not very good at social media, so it's kind of a one sided conversation there. Blogs and podcasts and everything, and then, Books are on our Amazon, you know, I think for your listeners, our new book is called the champion teammate and it's, how, you know, great teammates, sort of the three sections are how you connect, how you compete and how you lead in sports and life. Cause I think we tell kids all the time, be a great teammate, how to do that. And so Jerry and I coauthored this book. It's three page chapters. With discussion questions at the end, it's the exact type of book that you could go through mother and daughter. A lot of coaches have bought it to go through with their teams. A lot of schools have gotten it to go through with their leadership groups. And so, yeah, you can find that on Amazon right there as well too. That's awesome. Well, thank you again. And, I can't wait to continue to connect and I know our worlds will continue to collide. So, keep up the great work. The work you all are doing is amazing. And so, it's such an important thing. So thanks so much for having me on. Thanks.