Changing the Game Project: Looking for Answers? FREE Booklet With Links to Our Most Popular Articles for Parents, Coaches, Athletes and Youth Sports Organizations



Here at Changing the Game Project, every week we get a call or email that says “remember that article you wrote about…? We want to use it in our newsletter and we can’t find it. What was it called?” Well, after four years of publishing thousands of words a month, we have realized that we sometimes cannot even find the articles we are looking for. Therefore, we developed a comprehensive resource guide as a way for you (and to be honest, us!) to easily find the articles you need to save you time and energy and keep you doing what you do best – coaching, parenting, playing sports, or running your organization. Below you will find links to the top 5 articles in each category so you can get started, as well as share this page with the coaches, parents and youth sports organizations in your life. Also, you can grab the entire booklet of every article we have ever published here (it’s only 4 pages, just title links)


How to Use The Guide: The guide is organized into five sections: Parents, Coaches, Athletes, and Youth Sports Organizations/Schools/Clubs and Book Recommendations. Obviously, some of the articles pertain to multiple categories, so feel free to peruse each category for headlines that interest you. As new articles come out we will update to keep it as current as possible.

Our hope is you will use this guide as a means to share a better experience with your friends and colleagues and continue to help us spread the resources for Changing the Game Project. If you are a Coach, link to helpful articles in your emails to parents or athletes. Parents, share articles about specialization, the ride home, and why kids quit with your friends. Send your athlete an inspiring article. Clubs, you can share an article or two to prompt discussion prior to a board meeting or AGM.  You could create a series of articles sent, add it to your website, or create study tracks that are required as continuing education. The information is all here in a categorized and hyperlinked format. Feel free to get creative with how you use it, and let us know what you do and how it is working.

Finally, while most of these articles have been written by John O’Sullivan, we have received some outstanding guest contributions over the years, and we want to thank writers such as James Leath, Reed Maltbie, and others for sharing their work with us.


Good luck!

Top 5 Articles for Parents 

The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports

How Adults Take the Joy out of Sports (And How We Can Fix It)

Why Kids Quit Sports

Is It Wise To Specialize

The Ride Home

Top 5 Articles for Coaches 

Are Great Coaches Becoming an Endangered Species?

The Adultification of Youth Sports

The Missing Ingredient in Talent Development

Our Biggest Mistake Talent Selection Instead of Talent Identification

Youth Sports Coaching: Not a Job but a Calling

Top 5 Articles for Athletes 

The One Quality Great Teammates Have in Common

More Important Than Talent

The Difference Between Winning and Losing

Dear Potential Recruit: Your Talent Only Gets You So Far

Life Lessons from my “Old School” Sports Dad

Top 5 Articles for Administrators/Organizations/Clubs/Governing Bodies 

Changing the Game in Youth Sports

Raising the Bar in Youth Sports

The Accountability Problem in Youth Sports

Is Your Child’s Youth Sports Experience Transactional or Transformational?

What is Your Club’s D.N.A?

Recommended Reading

Our 2016 Books of the Year

Our 2015 Books of the Year

Our 2014 Books of the Year

Our 2013 Books of the Year

Our All-Time Favorite Books

When Will What We Know Change What We Do in Youth Sports?



“My daughter and I had to miss her grandfather’s funeral when she was 12 for a cheerleading competition.”

I had to read that twice to be sure what I was reading. This was an actual comment we received recently on Facebook. We receive a lot of heartbreaking stories from readers, but this one sentence stopped me in my tracks. The mere thought that the funeral of a parent would play second fiddle to a 12-year-old cheerleading competition simply boggles the mind.

We hear incredible tales of missed family events, as well as coaches ordering players to skip siblings weddings and other life events. We hear of injuries that used to only occur in college age players now occurring weekly in kids as young as age 12. We hear about families forced to choose between supporting their child’s emotional and psychological well-being or allowing them to continue playing high-level sports for an unaccountable, bully coach. But missing a funeral took the cake.

“When will what we know change what we do?”

This was a question posed on a call the other day with the Quality Coaching Collective, a first of its kind group of dynamic authors, speakers, researchers and coaches from across the globe that I am honored to be a part of. All of us on the call work everyday to shift the paradigm in youth sports and physical literacy. We work with organizations to make the changes to their mission, values, coaching and accountability to make sports more user friendly for the kids involved. The question we all ask ourselves is this:

Why doesn’t science, research and coaching best practices drive our youth sports model?

Sadly, it’s because youth sports and physical movement education have become, in far too many cases, more about the needs of the business of sport than the needs of the child in sport. When over 70% of kids quit sports before high school, it is their way of telling us that this model is not working for them.

It is time for what we know to change how we do things in youth sports.

We know that playing multiple sports and getting adequate rest and time off is a key component to preventing injury and burnout.(click here for American Society for Sports Medicine position statement). We also know that in many sports less specialization prior to the teenage years is a greater predictor of elite level performance. Sadly, what we do is continually force children to specialize far too young, increasing the dropout rate and resulting in an up to 70-90% higher injury rate according to this recent study by Neeru Jayanthi.

What we know is that autonomy, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation are critical components of long-term sport performance, according to researcher Joe Baker, author of the critically acclaimed book Developing Sport Expertise. What we do, all too often, is take these away from kids. We limit a child’s ability to try many sports by forcing him or her to choose one far too early. We focus on outcomes (did you win?) instead of enjoyment (are you having fun?). As a result we prevent kids from developing the intrinsic motivation to continually improve, and to be driven to succeed without us having to even ask.

What we know is that a coach’s words can leave a lasting impact on a young athlete. A coach’s influence is never neutral! We must be intentional about everything we say and do with kids. Sadly, what we all too often do is allow coaches to treat young athletes in a way that we would never allow a teacher to treat a child. We allow poorly trained and behaved coaches to continue to work with kids, even after numerous incidents of poor behavior, because they win a few games. We allow coaches who are demeaning under the guise of being demanding. And, as author Jennifer Fraser found in her great book Teaching Bullies, we even ostracize the children and parents who try and stand up to coaches who treat others poorly.

What we know is that no young athlete says “I love it when I can hear my dad yelling at the officials.” We know that the vast majority of kids, when asked “what would you like your parents to say on the sideline of your games, emphatically say “NOTHING!” What we do is attend our children’s games, coach them on every play (“Pass, shoot, hustle!”) and disrespect officials, often over inconsequential calls. Then we become outraged when children disrespect other authority figures in their lives and ponder “where did they learn that?” Spend a weekend on the sports field. Kids hear what we say, but they imitate what we do.

What we know is that research says the #1 reason athletes play is “FUN!” Though an 8-year old might have a different definition of fun (learning new things, being with my friends) than an 18-year-old (being pushed to be my best, high-intensity competition), they still speak to the importance of enjoyment. What we do too often is take the “play” out of playing sports, and say “we are here to work.” Kids don’t work sports; they play them.

What we know is that randomized, games-based learning promotes creativity, decision making, assessment and more transferability to competition. What far too many coaches still do, unfortunately, is promote blocked/massed practice, endlessly repeating the same technique over and over to “get our touches in.” It’s not that this doesn’t have some effect, simply that it’s about the least effective way to make use of your limited team training time.

What we know is that clubs who follow a proper athletic development model, and craft a mission statement and values focused on developing the person, not simply the athlete, will create more loyalty and greater player retention than those who do not. What we often see are organizations that pay lip service to child development and values, and do not hold parents, coaches and athletes accountable for upholding those values. What a huge abdication of responsibility and lost opportunity to really make an impact on kids.

What we know is that sport development is all about the process and long term focus. There are no overnight successes. Failure and adversity are all part of the process and focus on excellence. Sadly, what we do is operate out of fear. We get caught up in short term outcomes (did we win this weekend?) vs the focus on continuous improvement (what did we learn from losing that will help us get better?).

Finally, and most importantly, what we know is that what our children need most, after a tough game, is something to eat and to know that we love watching them compete and play. They don’t need a critical recap on the ride home. They don’t need their coach’s decisions questioned, or teammates criticized. Just love them, unconditionally, and take into account their state of mind before you offer up your thoughts on how to get better.

When will what we know change what we do?

How long can we keep ignoring the research and evidence on sporting best practices?

Change will happen when great parents and coaches stand up and build youth sport organizations and school programs that serve the needs of the kids. Change will happen when the silent majority take a stand against the vocal minority of adults who care more about the bottom line than the welfare of children.

Change will only happen one family, one club and one town at a time. As author Carl Safina writes, “one doesn’t wait for a revolution. One becomes it.”

Let’s align what we know and what we do. Our kids deserve it.

WOC #15 Julie Foudy, Two-Time World Cup Champion and ESPN Analyst, on Choosing to Matter



ulie Foudy is a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist. She played for the United States women’s national soccer team from 1987–2004. Foudy finished her international career with 271 caps and served as the team’s captain from 2000–2004 as well as the co-captain from 1991–2000. In 1997, she was the first American and first woman to receive the FIFA Fair Play Award.


From 2000–2002, Foudy served as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 2006, she co-founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, an organization focused on developing leadership skills in teenage girls. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame with her teammate, Mia Hamm. She is currently an analyst, reporter and the primary color commentator for women’s soccer telecasts on ESPN.

Foudy is the author of Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU and appeared in the HBO documentary Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.


Subscribe to the Way of Champions Podcast on iTunes

Show Notes

6:15     What she has noticed about even the most confident woman

9:00     Leadership isn’t Positional it is Personal

14:45   When did Joy and Winning become mutually exclusive

20:00   Julie’s qualities of the best coaches

23:45   On Anson Dorrance – Loyalty is gained through love, not fear

31:15   Greatness doesn’t happen overnight – “don’t get stuck in your junk”

34:30   What Julie discovered about herself after writing her book

37:15   Julie’s final thoughts for parents, coaches, athletes


Finding Julie

Twitter – @JulieFoudy

Facebook – JulieFoudy

Website –

Julie’s Book – Choose to Matter on Amazon

WOC #11 Jon Gordon, Best Selling Author and Leadership Expert, on The Power of Positivity



Jon Gordon’s best-selling books and talks have inspired readers and audiences around the world. His principles have been put to the test by numerous Fortune 500 companies, professional and college sports teams, school districts, hospitals, and non-profits. He is the author of 17 books including 5 best-sellers: The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, Training Camp, You Win in the Locker Room First and The Power of Positive Leadership. Jon and his tips have been featured on The Today Show, CNN, CNBC, The Golf Channel, Fox and Friends and in numerous magazines and newspapers. His clients include The Los Angeles Dodgers, The Atlanta Falcons, Campbell Soup, Dell, Publix, Southwest Airlines, LA Clippers, Miami Heat, Pittsburgh Pirates, BB&T Bank, Clemson Football, Northwestern Mutual, Bayer, West Point Academy and more.

Jon is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a Masters in Teaching from Emory University. He and his training/consulting company are passionate about developing positive leaders, organizations and teams.

Finding Jon:
Jon on Twitter
Jon on Facebook
Jon on Instagram
Jon’s Website
Jon’s Books on Amazon: Jon’s Amazon Page

Subscribe to Way of Champions Podcast on iTunes

Show Notes:
7:00 Jon’s Transformation Through Positivity
9:00 The Energy Bus
12:30 The Story Behind The Hard Hat
16:00 You Win in the Locker Room First
21:00 Why Positvity Changes the World
24:45 Dabo’s Safe Seat
31:30 How to Create a More Positive Team Environment
36:45 Final Thoughts and How to Find Jon Gordon

WOC #13 Nicole LaVoi, Co-Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport



Author of Women in Sports Coaching, Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in the area of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota where she is also the Co-Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, and the co-founder of the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium. She received MA (’96) and doctoral degrees (’02) in Kinesiology with an emphasis in sport psychology/sociology from the University of Minnesota. After completing her graduate work, Dr. LaVoi was a Research & Program Associate in the Mendelson Center for Sport & Character at the University of Notre Dame (2002-‘05) where she helped launch the Play Like a Champion character education through sport series, and was also an instructor in the Psychology Department. LaVoi was an Assistant Professor of Physical Education and the Head Women’s Tennis Coach at Wellesley College (1994-’98), and the Assistant Women’s Tennis Coach at Carleton College (1991-’93).

Subscribe to the Way of Champions Podcast on iTunes

Show Notes

5:00 When she became interested in issues for Women in Sport Leadership?
8:00 Why is there a decline in women in sport leadership?
15:00 What would it take to get more women coaching sports?
21:00 Why does Nicole think kids are quitting sport?
28:00 Nicole explains “background anger” and how it affects children
35:00 What is Kid Speak?
48:00 Winning and Character Development are not mutually exclusive

Get in Touch with Dr. LaVoi

On Twitter: @DrSportPsych @TuckerCenter
Her Website: The Tucker Center
Her book – Women In Sports Coaching

A Case for Nurture Over Nature



“Your daughter is so beautiful.” The kind woman said, smiling at my 18-year-old daughter.

“Thanks, she got her mother’s looks.” I said reflexively. Then I cringed.

That’s my “go to response”. Anytime I receive a compliment on my daughter’s looks, I immediately reply about her genetic connection to her mother.

She did get her mom’s looks. There is no doubt. My wife and my daughter could be sisters. Regardless of how they look, that response brings a cringe each time it escapes my lips.

It’s not because of their beauty, it’s because of what I am perpetuating. My wife is intelligent, hard working, compassionate, morally upright. My wife is my role model and hero. She holds me accountable for the man I wish to be in the lives of my children. She demands excellence from herself, and our family, and ensures we all have solid values in place to create that excellence. Yet, I perpetuate the social belief that looks matter more.

My wife is an amazing human being. My daughter is following in her footsteps. She is following her in more than the looks department, and that is why I cringe when I respond in that manner.

I shouldn’t celebrate the looks. I should celebrate the work ethic, the values, the moral compass. I should tell people that genetics don’t matter. It’s not the nature that matters, but the nurture.

My wife has been a positive, nurturing influence in the lives of my children, as have I, to create excellent human beings. Yet, all people want to see are my daughter’s looks and I reflexively celebrate that instead of point out the more important factors. The details that will help her succeed in life, overcome all obstacles, make the world a better place.

When people saw my sons in their soccer uniforms they asked,

“Are they soccer stars like their dad was?”

Each time, my wife jokingly apologized they inherited her genes and are not much into sports like I was. Who cares? I don’t want my sons to follow in my footsteps athletically (Don’t Turn Your Youth Athlete Into a Mini Me ). I want them to be great young men with solid values and a heart for service.

This has weighed on me for quite some time – how much we tend to celebrate the genetics of children. I don’t want my daughter to be good looking like my wife. I don’t want my sons to be good athletes like me.

I want them to be better people. I want them to learn great ideals from us. To take away the great qualities we modeled and taught them, to improve on the areas where we fell short but owned up to, and to be better people than we were. I think each generation can build on the next.

Why do we celebrate those genetic traits over which we have no actual control, when we could be focused on the environmental traits we can control? Why should we care only about nature, when nurture has so much more potential for growth?

There are a lot of “great athletes” out there who are total jerks. There are a lot of “good looking” people who make bad choices on and off the field. The news is rife with those stories. We should be more focused on better people, regardless of looks or sports acumen.

But this is what happens in sports. We look for the more athletic kids at young ages. We seek the fastest, the strongest, the most physically prepared. No one seems to care if we nurture the traits we can control as long as they are winning trophies for us. The better looking our kid is on the field, the better looking we are as parents.

We choose coaches who are athletic. We hang the future of our children, and the 5-day-a-week powerful influence of a mentor and role model on a former pro or collegiate athlete and don’t even check to see if the person coaching our child has strong values, is a positive role model, and can teach great life skills. So we sacrifice the most important developmental years in our child’s life for someone who will build on their genetic talent to add more trophies to the mantle.

Who cares if the coach will model great behaviors and teach life altering values as long as he was a great player and picks my athletic son to win more games, right?

Here’s the kicker: looks fade, and athletic ability is soon hindered by age and wear and tear. What happens to my “beautiful daughter” or my “athletic son” when nature runs its course? What happens when they need to use their brains, draw upon a solid foundation of work ethic, or stand by their values when it matters most in life? Some day they will need to get past the genetics and use what they’ve learned to survive and thrive. Unless all we’ve ever done is focus on the genetics. Then they are ill-equipped for the real world.

If I don’t begin focusing on what really matters, I fail as a parent to properly raise my children. I should be compelled to make them better people, not better athletes. Most importantly, I should demand it of anyone who coaches my children too. The people influencing my children should not care about nature unless they are willing to also provide the nurture.

I get these are just words, but words hold vast power. They shape people, they mold brains, develop habits, and pass along knowledge and wisdom. A response of “she got her mother’s looks” may sound mundane, but it tells my daughter looks matter more than the other factors and it begins to cultivate in us this myth of the power of genetics. We become what we speak of and I want my children to become excellent humans. I should speak of them in that way so they learn to become that way.

For all of us, we need to begin focusing on the controllables and the important life traits. I know hearing your kid is a great athlete makes you feel good, but it’s not about you feeling good. It’s about you putting your children in a position to succeed and demanding of your coaches that they teach more than athletics. In youth sports it must be more about nurture than nature.

If my son is not a great athlete, then what do I do? What should sports be about for him if he won’t fill the trophy case?

What if my son learned to be a good person, learned to persevere, to work hard, to follow rules, and to succeed in life all through the vehicle of sports? Is that a good enough result? I should be just as proud to hear “your son is a fine human being” or “your daughter as a great role model”.

We can begin to demand that the focus be on the nurture rather than the nature in youth sports if we choose to:

  • Seek out coaches who care more about values and life skills than wins and athleticism. Winning can be a nice byproduct of great culture, values, and good coaching.
  • Stop the bleed of great people who get forced out of coaching because they were not as athletic as the other people. I have known many great role models who quit coaching or were denied the opportunity because they didn’t play on college or professionally. I want to have my son play for a good person who is invested in him.I could care less how much she played the game. She is a coach now. Can she teach my son to succeed beyond the game itself or simply dribble circles around him?
  • Stand up to the people who exploit athleticism for profit and personal gain. If your coach values athleticism more than work ethic, your club cares more about how many wins they rack up or how many kids they’ve sent on to the next level than they do their core values, they may not be focused on building quality people. If you feel values are being compromised for glory and the wrong lessons are being taught, don’t just leave the club, stand up to them. Your voice matters and if others hear your voice, they’ll be inclined to speak up too. A thousand voices can change the game but that requires us all to use our voice.
  • Speak to our children as people who will change the world first, and maybe they just so happen to have their mom’s looks or athleticism. My daughter needed to hear more about how hard she worked and how great she was at problem-solving. My sons needed to know about what great values they had and how resilience mattered in the face of adversity. Good looks don’t garnish advanced degrees and athleticism doesn’t guarantee success in life. They need more nurture than nature to succeed.
  • Cease to make such a big difference between girls and boys (we care about how a girl looks and how a boy plays sports) and they notice the difference. This is another article all together, but stop using different language. Girls can be amazing athletes too, so why does everyone always talk about their beauty first? Words shape thoughts, thoughts give way to dreams, dreams drive action, and action defines people. My daughter should have a shot at defining herself as more than just a pretty face.
  • As a coach, look for kids who want to be grown as people first and athletes second. See them as people and not numbers on your roster or positions on your field. The saying goes “culture eats talent for breakfast”. Culture has nothing to do with genetics. It has everything to do with strong values, work ethic, shared mission.
  • As a coach, look for the intangibles in kids and try to find a role for them. Everyone has a role. Some of the greatest kids I ever coached were not the best athletes or the “best looking” players at tryouts. They were the ones who had that x-factor and I wanted to build on that to see how great a person they could become. Amazingly, those same kids helped make all the others great people too! They played the most important role on my teams.

Finally, talk and think about what really matters. When someone says to me “your daughter is so beautiful” I should tell them “thank you, but she is smart, hard working, and has a great heart too. I hope she is as amazing a person as her mother is”. Or when they ask “is your son an athlete like his father” I can respond “yes, but he is also a great student, has a tireless work ethic, and wants to change the world like his dad too.”

For a long time I wanted my daughter to be good looking or my sons to be athletic because that’s what we are taught to expect. Maybe that helped me believe I was extending the Maltbie legacy.

Now I realize the legacy should be less about what they inherit and more about what they learn. If I want my children to succeed, I need to pick nurture over nature when it comes to youth sports and life.

If we stop caring about genetics, start focusing on what we can teach, we can begin instilling what matters in our children. They will have strong values, work hard, overcome adversity, and possess real skills to help them succeed. They won’t be just another pretty face, they’ll be changing the world!

Genetics make no difference unless the person is given the tools to use them properly.

WOC #10 Angela Hucles, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist Talks About Leaving Space for Introverts to Lead



Founder and CEO of Empowerment Through Sport Leadership, Angela Hucles is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist for US Soccer, two-time World Cup Bronze Medalist, former professional soccer player of the Boston Breakers and the US Soccer Foundation’s 2009 Humanitarian of the Year. After her retirement from professional soccer, Angela was a sports broadcaster and analyst for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics (NBC) and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup (FOX). Angela is a TEDx speaker and served as the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by Billie Jean King.
Angela led the U.S. team in scoring with 4 goals in the 2008 Olympics; 2 of these goals came in the U.S. victory over Japan. With a passion for helping others achieve their goals and dreams and over 30 years experience in the sports industry, she founded the Leadership Series in 2012, an event focused on discovering sports leadership skills and athlete transitions that translate to life success. Angela has become a regular speaker on topics of sports leadership, equality, inclusion & safe spaces, anti-bullying, and the power of sport and its impact on personal growth and development.

Click Here To Subscribe in iTunes

Finding Angela:
Her Website:
Twitter: @AngelaHucles
Instagram: @AngelaHucles
Ceres Platinum Group: Ceres Platinum Group Website
Her TED Talk: Why We Need Introverted Leaders

Show Notes:
8:00 Who Were Her Great Teammates and Why

12:30 Leaders is About Relationships

14:00 Embrace Your Role, Prepare For New Roles

18:00 Angela on Getting Back to the Joy

27:00 Introverted Leadership and Allowing “Space” for Intoverts

34:30 Learn to Lead from Your Strengths

39:00 The Social Impact of Sports – Paving the Path for Women in Sports

WOC #8 Catch Them Being Good with Olympic and World Cup Champion Coach Tony DiCicco



Tony DiCicco is the former Head Coach of the US Women’s National and Olympic Soccer Teams, as well as the US U20 Women’s National Team.  He coached the US National Team to their famous victory in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Championship, the largest women’s sporting event in history. In 1996, he coached the US Women’s Olympic Team to the first ever Gold Medal in Women’s Soccer. In 2008, in his return to international soccer, he coached the US to the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup Championship in Chile. Tony DiCicco is not only the most successful US National Team Coach of all time, but he is a person who understands a thing or two about building culture, team dynamics, and leadership.

Tony is also the President, Founder and Technical Director of SoccerPlus Goalkeeper School and SoccerPlus FieldPlayer Academy.  In this information-packed podcast, Tony discusses the characteristic of players such as Michele Akers, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett, and others. He also talks about a special characteristic that made Mia Hamm great, how to get athlete buy-in, the importance of a team-first mentality, and some of the defining moments of his career.

Click Here to Subscribe and Listen on iTunes

You can get book, Catch Them Being Good, here – Buy it on Amazon

How to find Tony:
His website:
His email: [email protected]
His Twitter: @tonysocc

Show Notes:

5:30 How (and when) Tony got into coaching

9:15 Tony explains how to get athlete buy-in

16:15 What really makes Mia Hamm so special

20:00 Can you cut a player and help her career?

27:15 What must the US do to produce high-quality players

32:15 Winning does not equal development

40:00 Every kid has a path

46:00 Did Tony coach his own children?

48:00 Tony’s Rule of One Moments

54:30 Tonys Coaching Philosophy

Can We Shift the Paradigm in Youth Sports?


I was recently in Ohio for a family event. At this event, my father and his friends began sharing stories of their childhood. Everyone shared stories of their days of triumph on the sporting fields in their small Midwest town.

As the event progressed, it evolved into a full on discussion about youth sports coaching that spanned 3 or 4 generations of athletes. Each person was giving their experience, perspective, and evaluation of what it was like to play sports in their generation.

I began to notice a very surprising phenomenon. In all these stories about sports, there were common threads, such as bitterness about the abusive coach who caused damage to his players and frustration with the overzealous parent who would cause a humorous disaster (or at least humorous 30 years later). Most tell, though, was the lack of clarity regarding scores and outcomes but very clear details about the memories made.

I was struck by the lack of change. It didn’t matter if the story was from 1917 or 2017. The same issues existed back then and now. I could switch out dates and names and those stories I heard are the same stories I hear every week from our readers and on social media.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

This is a real crisis for a guy who spends his days writing, speaking and trying to shift the paradigm of youth sports. In 2015, I stood on a stage at TEDxCincinnati and called out coaches for how poorly some of us treat our athletes. Was my life’s work simply an exercise in futility? Could things ever change? I think they can.

Recently, Changing the Game Project Founder John O’Sullivan and I were discussing a talk I was to give in Midland, Texas. I would be delivering the keynote at an end of season banquet and then would spend the following day training coaches, athletes, and parents. I had a chance to reach the three main parts of the youth sport equation.

He suggested I structure the talk around a story told by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to set the table for the following day’s workshops.

In short, Jeff Bezos once explained he’s always asked the same question: “What will be different in ten years?” He said that is the wrong question to ask. Amazon has been hugely successful because they asked the question “what will be the same in ten years” and set about building their competitive advantage around those constants – low prices, wide variety, and fast delivery. In ten years, things will change too wildly and quickly for companies to adapt to every change in the marketplace, but no one will ever want higher prices, less variety, or slower delivery.

If Amazon continued to be the leader in the three areas of constancy, they would still be the market leader regardless of what had changed in the market. In other words, the more the Amazon world would change, the more they would stay the same, and still be the leader. As Bezos said, “In ten years, no matter what has changed, no one is going to tell me they love the variety and the delivery speed but just wish Amazon would raise the prices”.

This is a great lesson for us youth sports people. Maybe we need to think about what will never change in youth sports and focus on making those the most important factors in all decisions we make. This sounds crazy for an organization aimed at “Changing the Game” to focus on keeping things the same, but to accomplish our mission of making it the very best experience for our kids, we really need to think about what will never change.

I delivered my keynote on April 20th to several hundred athletes, parents, and coaches from City of Midland Aquatics on the three things in youth sport that will never change. Years from now the world will be different and youth sports will continue to evolve, but it should still be structured around three key elements that really must remain at the core of our mission:

  1. Why do athletes play sports?
  2. What do athletes need from coaches?
  3. Who always attends the events?

To prove my point to the room, we had a little fun with sticky notes. I asked them to write on three separate sticky notes answers to each of those questions. One by one we answered the questions as a room.

First, I asked all the athletes to come up and put the sticky notes with the answer to “Why do athletes play sports?” on the wall to the left of me if they said they play sports to win/get medals/get scholarships or any other “outcome.”

Not. One. Athlete. Moved.

“Don’t be shy. Come on up and place the sticky note.” I said.

“I wouldn’t write that!” One athlete yelled. The entire room laughed.

“Okay, come up and put your note on the wall to my right if you wrote anything like be challenged, make friends, be social, learn new skills, master something, work hard’.”

In mass, they all came up and slapped their notes on the wall to my right. As I stood there perusing the notes and reading them to the room, I clicked to my next slide.

It was a picture of a sticky note with the word “FUN” written on it. Of the 70 or so responses on the wall, 46 of them said “Fun” in them. The others alluded to fun, as defined by children in studies done by researchers like Amanda Visek. Being a good sport, facing a challenge, playing against great competition, making friends, mastering a skill are all defined as fun by kids.

My sticky note predicted the answer of every single athlete in the room.

We did the same for what athletes need from coaches. This time I included the coaches in the exercise. When we were done placing our answers, there were no sticky notes on the side of the wall that had to do with learning a skill, technical proficiency, or knowledge. Some 70 athletes and a dozen coaches all put notes on the side of the wall that I deemed as “athletes need connection from coaches”.

The coaches and swimmers wrote words such as “advisor”, “mentor”, “love”, “empowerment”, and “inspiration”. Not one of the notes talked about needing to learn how to swim. Yes, of course learning a skill is important, but it is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a transformational coaching experience.

For the final note, I asked the people who went to every swim meet to stand up and I asked the athletes and coaches to thank them. All the parents or guardians in the room stood up to a standing ovation. I pointed out how this, also, will never change. Parents will always be on the other side of the pool, rink, court, or field. No matter what changes in sports, they will always be there and we must embrace, engage and collaborate with them.

We had a lot of fun playing with sticky notes, but we also learned a valuable lesson that night. No matter how much time passes and how much we change youth sports, there are three things that will never change:

  • Athletes play because they WANT to have FUN (even when their definition of what makes it fun might change)
  • Coaches NEED to CONNECT in order to get great results on and off the field
  • Parents like to ATTEND their kids sporting events

Since we can say pretty confidently that those three things will not change, shouldn’t we focus building a youth sports experience around these three constants? Isn’t that where we should put our time and money?

We think so, and here is what we can do:

Kids WANT To play sports for Fun

  • Children define FUN differently than us. Therefore we must talk to our kids, understand what makes sports fun for them, and do those things. We need to put own the joystick and let them own the experience.
  • Buildresearch-basedd, pedagogically sound programming: We must realize that the structure needs purpose and science behind it, the challenge we provide needs to be developmentally appropriate, and that we can demand excellence without demeaning a child.
  • Include children in the building process too. Let them help develop the team values, take part in halftime adjustments, request favored activities, or choose a training session once in awhile. Empower them and they will rise to the standard you expect of them.

Coaches NEED to Connect

  • Teddy Roosevelt said “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. If you want them to learn from you, you must be in it for them.
  • Coach the child, not the sport. You will be able to influence them beyond just the game itself and teach them the valuable life lessons and skills needed to succeed in anything if you focus on the individual needs within the team.
  • Connect before you correct. This connection will make it easier for them to respond positively to your feedback (even if it is negative). It will also teach you how to provide effective feedback to each child based on his or her personality.
  • Why do you coach? Get clear on this. Write it down. It will transform how you coach, and in turn, you’ll transform lives.
  • Finally, realize that invitations to weddings, graduations and important life events are a far better indicator of whether you have been a “successful” coach.

Parents WILL be there

  • Engage parents and make them collaborators by communicating often, teaching them what is helpful and what is not, giving them tasks, and asking them to help reinforce team culture and key learning.
  • Coach the parents. The day after my talk at a training session for the athletes, we ran about 30 minutes over because we were having a blast. I apologized to the parents and one said “It’s okay, you came here for them, just like we did.” That says it all. Most Parents are willing to be coached, guided, informed, and lead. I have yet to speak to a room of parents who have pressed their hands over their ears and yelled “na na na na na, I’m not listening!”
  • Most parents are not willing to be left in the dark, treated like second class people, or be excluded. The more we treat them like the “walking dead”, the harder they will claw to get into our little camp. Engage the good ones instead of using the bad ones as an excuse to ignore them all.  Set very clear ground rules and codes of conduct but stop treating parents like cancers.

Jeff Bezos’ simple, but brilliant, perspective shift has allowed his company to strive, survive, and thrive in a volatile digital world where we’ve seen multitudes of digital retailers and old brick and mortar goliaths erased from existence. Amid all the turmoil and change, Amazon has succeeded by focusing not on volatility, but stability. So must we.

Though we must continue the march forward to create a better youth sports experience, and there is much we still must change, we cannot ignore the power of what Amazon discovered. We must pay attention to the constants in the youth sport equation and channel our energy into them.

Make sport fun for the kids. Connect with our players as coaches. Include parents in positive ways. In order to survive and thrive in an ever changing world, focus on these constants and watch the magic happen.

WOC #7: Destination Unstoppable, The Journey of No Teammate Left Behind with Author Maureen Monte


Maureen Monte is the author of the incredible book Destination Unstoppable: The Journey of No Teammate Left Behind, one of our favorite books of 2016. She was also a participant in our first ever Way of Champions Conference in 2016, and will be joining us again in Princeton NJ June 2-4 for our next event. In her book, Maureen tells how she utilized her experience building strengths-based teams in the corporate world and helped to transform a talented but struggling Cranbrook-Kingswood High School hockey team into a state champion.

Maureen builds winning teams by harnessing the untapped talent in the locker room and the conference room and aligning it with success, starting by using the Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment and teaching teammates how to understand and utilize everyone’s strengths instead of focusing on weaknesses. Her approach has been honed with over ten years of experience in large companies, tech startups, and sports teams – from San Francisco to Singapore.

Maureen believes there are three universal truths about teams:

  1. All teams struggle
  2. There is untapped talent on every team
  3. Most teams haven’t defined what success looks like

Those teams and companies that leverage every ounce of talent to overcome the struggle and align with success will win. That is where she comes in.
Education & Experience

  • BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering
  • MS in Leadership & Business Ethics
  • Gallup Certified StrengthsFinder and Entrepreneurial Profile Coach
  • Certified Emotional and Social Competency Coach (Emotional Intelligence)
  • 20+ years of success in Fortune 500 companies


Finding Maureen Monte:

Her website –

Her book –

On Twitter –

On Facebook –

Email Maureen – [email protected]


Show Notes:

4:45 How to use the StrengthsFinder tool for leading teams

9:15 Beyond Moneyball – What StrengthsFinder really measures for athletes

12:30 The 3 things Maureen believes about teams

16:30 The unlikely hero of her book – Destination Unstoppable

25:00 How much of a role the coach plays in her process

30:00 Maureen gives an example of a Culture of Responsibility

32:30 Are men and women athletic profiles the same?

38:45 Single best piece of advice about StrengthsFinder

43:30 Maureen talks about what the Way Of Champions Conference did for her

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