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Changing the Game

If you don’t know, two of our top goals for our Hustlers every time they take the field or court, for games or practices are to Have Fun and Get Better. However, these are not just goals for the kids, they our goals for our entire organization. As head coach and one of the faces of our organization I do my best to practice what we preach and lead by example. I personally, have fun getting better. And, I believe that when one improves themselves in any area of their lives that impact can be felt in all areas. My most recent studies however, correlate directly with coaching.

As I read, Changing the Game, by John O’Sullivan, I am reminded of many of the things we believe in, teach, and implement in our programs. I am also reminded that often the best way to get better is not learning something new, but rather improving on a task or skill already known, perfecting techniques, and doing the same thing over and over and over again…and then doing it more.

The subtitle of O’Sullivan’s book reads, “The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” He notes that 70% of young athletes dropout of organized sports before age 13 and says, “Rarely do kids just get to ‘play’ sports anymore. Instead they get to ‘work’ sports, a movement caused by the misguided notion that our kids need to specialize early and win at all costs to get that college scholarship and justify the investment made in youth athletics.”

O’Sullivan writes of three myths of youth sports; the need to specialize early, sports, especially travel or select teams, are an investment in a future scholarship or contract, and the need to focus on winning. We see these myths played out in the words and actions of many parents and coaches and the results are heartbreaking. The dropout statistic above is caused by the obstructions adults place in front of youth athletes such as, “the pressure to win, the absence of enjoyment, excessive criticism and yelling, sports as work and not play, poor adult mentors, and the list could go on and on.”

I am sure I’ve placed these obstructions in front of our Hustlers at times but I like to think we keep them to a minimum and I am obviously consciously aware of them and working to improve. The greater challenge we face though is not just making our programs better, it is assisting parents, coaches, league officials, and other adults in shifting the paradigm. We’ve had plenty of kids leave our teams to go play on a select or travel team, or in a more competitive league. Those individual cases are family decisions, and perhaps it will be more beneficial to the player, perhaps they will become a better player or better athlete. I am not convinced that those things are true and I am confident that another program will not produce the same results in cultivating the young athlete into being a better person.

If we are going to shift the paradigm, we have to first ask ourselves “why?” Why do we as parents, you as parents, have your child involved in sports? What is the end game? What are your goals, dreams, and vision for your child’s future? We have made ours clear in our mission statement and values. O’Sullivan writes of sports being used “to develop character and core values such as grit, commitment, integrity, humility, fairness, excellence, and self-control.” He also speaks about learning other things like “leadership, communication, accountability, responsible risk taking, self-esteem, determination, organizational skills, and curiosity.” I wish I would have read this book when we began but nevertheless it has been a great reassurance to what we are doing. Compare his list to the UnFettered Athletics mission statement and values. The choice of words differs at some points but they are almost identical and the things he mentions that we do not mention are still coached regularly, which many families can attest to.

We as an organization are doing what we can to shift the paradigm and change the game. What can you do as a parent? Be the parent. Make the best decisions for your child. This may mean that you tell them they are not traveling on a family weekend or that they are not getting a brand new extremely expensive and overpriced piece of equipment. Involve them and listen to their wants and desires but do not be afraid to tell them no or to guide them in the right direction. Set a vision and goals, short and long term, for what you want to achieve through sports. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask us our thoughts or opinions, observe what other families are doing and the results, positive or negative, from it, and get the book Changing the Game and read it yourself.

I intend to expand on these things and give more from the book in future blogs, but I will close with this: On May 6, 1954, a 25 year old medical student changed the game forever. He accomplished the impossible. For years, decades, and even centuries people, doctors, physiologist thought that it couldn’t be done. Then on that day, Roger Bannister ran one mile in under four minutes. Just 46 days later John Landy ran a sub-four-minute mile. Within the next 3 years 16 people had done what had never been done before in the history of the world. The paradigm had shifted and the impossible became possible.

UnFetter your own beliefs, values, and philosophies about the role of youth sports in your kids’ lives. Do not be afraid to not follow the status quo and go against the grain, have the courage to shift the paradigm, and let us together…change the game.

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