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Changing the Game is an awesome book, with many ideas on improving our role in the development of our children. Here is a detailed member review, thank you, Ben.

Changing the Game: The Parent's Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids by John O'Sullivan

The quote that opens this book perfectly sums up its theme:

"Sport is like a double-edged sword. Swung in the right direction, the sword can have tremendously positive effects, but swung in the wrong direction it can be devastating. The sword is held by adults who supervise children's sports. Whether sport is constructive or destructive in the psychological development of young children greatly depends on the values, education, and skills of those adults." -Rainer Martens-

A wonderful book that offers parents, coaches, and program administrators a glimpse into how to maximize youth sporting experiences to offer children life lessons and opportunities for excellence to emerge.

A question parents should be asking ourselves is: “How can I change so I can be the best parent for my child, and my child can perform his best?

A compelling argument is made for why sports matter, that things aren't the way they should be, and offers a actionable approach to take personal responsibility for improving what we can. O'Sullivan has a website where he regularly posts materials which are a great, free resource. However, the book is worth purchasing as the depth of material is greater and each chapter ends with "Game Changing" questions or prompts for Parents to consider.

The author suggests 3 factors limiting sport experiences for youth prevalent today.

Encouragement to "specialize" in a given sport at earlier ages (against the backdrop of sports science suggesting there is little to no value in focusing on a single sport earlier).

More companies selling stuff and amateur clubs becoming more expensive seeking to communicate sport as an "investment" to parents. Taking a sport seriously is sold as a ticket to future academic opportunities.

The third factor influencing current state of youth sports is the incorrect view that in order to encourage high performance, a focus on winning and outcomes is key. Sports are organized around competition teams and schedules where kids are "performing" v. "playing". The balance of competition to training is backwards and time spent developing skills and investing in the "process" takes a back seat to competing.

These three factors are combining to create a "professionalization" of youth sports where "play" has been replaced with "work". The number one reason kids seek out sport experiences is for "fun". The dramatic increase in dropout rates across sports where over 75% of kids are done with sport experiences by the time they reach high school age in North America is largely attributable to the kids no longer having "fun".

The sad irony of the increased seriousness of youth sport is that achieving high performance is actually being hindered. By removing play and making sports work-like, too many promising young athletes are leaving before giving themselves a chance to truly test their limits.

He then seeks to offer detailed guidance to move things in the right direction. Parents typically have good intentions. They want what's best for their kids and need some help understanding how to best provide support.

The author observes that youth enjoyment in sport "comes from having control, gaining competence, and having a sense of purpose through participation in sports".

O'Sullivan writes, “Parents need to realize that their job as a youth sports parent is to help their kid be the best athlete he can be and receive the lifelong values that sports can teach, not a scholarship. Parents need to take a hard look and see that what we are doing in youth sports, and what we are doing to our kids, is wrong and has to change."

O'Sullivan seeks to provide a structured outline of how parents (& Coaches) can seek to be a productive influence on kids/athletes by helping them develop "a high performing state of mind". "State of mind" is viewed as the largest determinant of high performance. State of mind defined as "how one shows up". This includes mental, emotional, physical, and physiological components.

"A high-performing mindset...allows an athlete to fully utilize his talents, encourages effort, and gives him accountability and control over the learning process."

The balance of the book devotes a chapter to each of the 7Cs. The 7Cs include:

  • Common Sense - keep things in perspective.
  • Conditions - includes safe environments and understanding of LTAD++.
  • Communication - how to listen to your children as well as how and when to seek to talk to them.
  • Control - sometimes the best way to help out is to get out of the way. "Release your child to their game".
  • Competence - what it is...
  • Confidence - what it is, where it comes from, and why it matters.
  • Caring - you are not your child and how to separate being a participant from being a fan.

At the conclusion of each chapter, he highlights "Game Changing" questions for parents to ask themselves as well as questions to ask their children. These alone are well worth the price of the book as they may be immediately used by readers.

This review won't dive into all of the 7Cs. We will just touch on the first one seeking to develop some perspective about the role of sport for our kids.

Parents are encouraged to "think about what you want your children to get out of youth sports. This will give you a vision of your child five, ten, even twenty years in the future. You are the architect of your child’s future, and your dreams for them are the plans from which you will construct their future. Every parent I have ever met intend for their children to achieve greatness in their lives. But what do we do to get them there? Let’s be like an architect and design a plan."

Please complete each of these exercises for yourself; write them down and put them in a safe place where you can refer to them from time to time:

  • List the core values that you want your child to possess as an adult.
  • List the life lessons that you would like your child to learn from sports.
  • Envision your child as an adult, possessing these values, these strengths, looking you in the face, smiling.

You now have a vision of your child. Sear that image into your mind. This vision you have formed will be your plan, your architectural rendering, of your child as an adult. Everything you do from here on out will have a single purpose: to ensure this vision becomes a reality. Everything. Now ask yourself one simple question. Are my actions today leading to this future person, or leading to something entirely different?

Those of us in ski racing circles may be familiar with psychologist, Dr. Jim Taylor. He is quoted in Changing the Game several times and offers a perspective for us to consider: “The primary purpose of my child’s participation in [sports] is to gain its life lessons and psychological, emotional, social [and physical] benefits including, but not limited to, fun, love and mastery of an activity, motivation, commitment, confidence, focus, emotional maturity, ability to handle competition and pressure, responsibility, discipline, cooperation, leadership, teamwork, and time management, which will benefit my child later in life. Anything else—for example, great success, fame and fortune—is just icing on the cake. After reading Changing the Game, I sat down and tried to detail what I would like my kids to obtain from sports and came up with the following:

  • to have fun,
  • to find something they still want to do in some way 10, 20, and 30+ years down the road.
  • to uncover the connection between effort and excellence.
  • to feel confidence that follows competence.

If feels good to be good. Basically, if I try at something, I get better, and if I am better/good, then I am recognized which feels good, too... but also want kids to find an activity they like enough that we parents can use the activity as a carrot/stick to help "motivate" kids.

"Through your words, and especially your actions, model the behavior you want others to model. Help your own child to get the most out of sports, and always maintain perspective. Eventually other parents will ask “What are you guys doing?"

For coaches and program administrators, one final thought worth considering: "most youth sports organizations devote time and resources into coaching education; only the best make a concerted effort to educate the parents as well". If we can take some time to consider the sound ideas O'Sullivan provides us, we may be able to better inform other parents and programs to adopt these ideas which will at worst enable participants to enjoy themselves more, but, at best, will keep more youth constructively engaged for longer allowing opportunity for high performers to materialize.

Ben Sillem


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By: Razie | 2017-03-04 | Tags: post , coaching , review , book


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