John O’Sullivan Interview with Guest Host – Anthony DiCicco

I am making the entire webinar with John O'Sullivan,  founder of Changing the Game Project, available as a special bonus to people who are following the work we are doing at Soccer Parenting.   I was sick and not able to interview John, and so asked my good friend Anthony DiCicco to step in and host.  Their conversation was thought provoking, insightful, enjoyable to listen to, and full of expert advice to improve our soccer culture.   

ENJOY!

Follow Anthony DiCicco on twitter @DiCiccoMethod and be sure to check out the all the great work John is doing with Changing the Game Project HERE.

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Anthony: So good morning John, or good afternoon I guess on the east coast.

John: Yeah good morning in Oregon.

Anthony: Thanks for being here. I assume most people who are here at this point know who you are but why don't you give everybody a brief introduction to yourself and the Change of the Game project.

John: Sure. Well also I feel like this is, back in the day when you and I were growing up, like an MTV takeover. So we're like Metallica and we've taken over Soccer Parenting for the day. We've hidden Sky away so we can do whatever we want, right?

Anthony: Was feeling like Gary Shamling, taking over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson except that the guest still is the high quality guest. So that's what people are really tuning in for.

John: Well this will be funny. This is giving you and I a chance to catch up again. I don't think I've seen you since the LA convention, United Soccer Coaches Convention or something.

Anthony: Yeah about two years ago. That's great.

John: Yeah exactly. So John O'Sullivan. I run an organization called Changing the Game project. I'm sure that many of the parents who follow Skye's work have crossed paths with the work that we do. Skye and I have worked side by side here for quite a number of years looking at everything from how we engage with parents to how we educate our coaches to how we get coaches and parents to work together.

John: So we're based out of Oregon but we work all over the world. I've spent 20 days in Europe this year already and last year was in Australia. I was in Asia. So basically what we do is we do coach education and parent education and Board development work in the youth sports arena. We have a team of speakers and then we also have a podcast called Way of Champions where we're just interviewing some of the best people in the world in sports science and coaching and psychology and all that as well.

Anthony: So we'll make sure to plug the podcast..

John: Because Skye has been-

Anthony: Sorry I was just gonna say-

John: Yeah no worries.

Anthony: plug the podcast again if we get towards the end.

John: Yeah sure, sure. That's what we do.

Anthony: Well so those of you who don't know me, my name is Anthony DiCicco and I am the former CEO of the Soccer Plus companies, which were founded by my father Tony DiCicco, the Olympic and world cup champion coach in 1982. As he was reentering professional and international soccer, I ascended to that role and we launched in 2008 a consultancy company called Soccer Plus FC, which really was tackling a lot of these issues and a lot of these questions at a time when this was really an it's infancy.

Anthony: And Skye and John have allowed for access to so many more people this idea that parent engagement is not a terrible concept. It's historically been that coaches and administrators want as little to do with parents as possible and my father's philosophy and my philosophy and I know Skye and John's is that we're actually squandering a massive opportunity to take advantage of the engagement potential of parents.

Anthony: My father used to say that the parents are his assistant coaches in our youth teams and I know if any of you follow Tom Byer's work, the idea that soccer starts at home is really a core principle to this evolving landscape of parent engagement. John let's start with this. How did you decide to get involved in this? Where did the inspiration to go down this path really come from for you?

John: So I'd been in coaching for a while. When I stopped playing I went and I got a high school coaching job and then I coached at the University of Vermont for a couple of years. Then I met my wife and we ended up moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan. So I got into the youth soccer space there and then moved to Oregon and helped start one of the branches of a big organization called Rush Soccer. But I think the Oregon Rush, we were about the 12th or 13th club in that organization. So I ran that for six years.

John: As a coaching director, technical director, executive director at the end, running this organization, you're in front of the same people over and over. In my world the people who were also running organizations, they all were kind've having the same kind of issues. How do we educate parents, how do we empower parents? How do we get parents and coaches working together instead of always spending 90% of my time cleaning up messes that usually start from bad communication?

John: So for me, it seemed like I was a little ... my kids were getting a little older. They were wondering why dad was never at dinner, things like that. So I said let me take a step back from the day to day coaching and decided to write this book called Changing the Game on what I had learned over 20 years of coaching. Then doing all the research from a psychological perspective and a cultural perspective and long term athlete development and all these sorta things. How can we best support our kids through the path of sport but really sport or any achievement actually? It could be school, this could be music.

John: So I figured if everyone else had the same problems I did and I didn't know where to find a solution that there was probably an opportunity to reach and influence more people. So I wrote a book and started Changing the Game project and here we are.

Anthony: Well we're grateful that you did. So you and I have both gone in and consulted with or run various organizations. What are the things, when you walk into a board meeting for the first time, what are the things that you look for to determine the health of an organization in terms of a culture that's receptive and prepared to engage at this level with all their stakeholders? Parents, players, coaches, et cetera.

John: Well I think first sort've a clear mission and vision. Who are we and what do we do? I think a lot of youth soccer organizations don't really know who they are. So what happens is that a family with three kids can have three very, very different experiences because their experience becomes down to who's the coach and who are the parents driving what that team is doing. So I can be on one team that is competing for state championship and traveling all over the country and then my next kid comes in and it's a much different experience.

John: So I think first of all, organizations really need to know their niche. Who are we and what do we serve? Are we a recreational organization that we're just getting kids in the grassroots and we're giving this great start in sport and then we're moving them on? are we a developmental academy or ECNL where we're taking the best of the best and we're trying to send them to college or to the pros? Or are we somewhere in between? I think it's those tweener clubs that really get themselves in trouble.

John: So the first thing I always start with is if I look on your website, where is your mission statement? Where is your vision? What am I signing my kid up for? Because that's I think where it really starts and where most of your problems start is that we give parents a different experience than what they think they signed up for.

Anthony: Well and we've got a question that just came through from Tristan and it's the same point that I was gonna circle back to. Tristan says, he has three kids in the current system living exactly what John just referenced and it creates a frustration amongst parents. One of the things that I would always look at when I would walk into a club and we wouldn't just show up for a Board meeting, we would show up for a week or a weekend. But we would make sure that we got a full 360 degree perspective of the club. Is, is there equality of opportunity? Meaning is the player likely to have a positive, fulfilling life enhancing experience regardless of who the coach is or is this a club that is simply built and predicated on personalities?

Anthony: Because to me when you have personality, yeah that can be hugely appealing and it obviously has been a business model that's worked all over the country and all over the world. But it also undermines the more wholistic and comprehensive goal that I think youth clubs across the country really need to be tackling. Is that something you've seen as well?

John: Definitely. I think Todd Beane has been on one of Skye's webinars before and Todd describes it ... and Todd is also very forthcoming. He says, "Look this experience can also exist at the best professional clubs in the world. Where you have an experience that's kingdom by kingdom." So the things that are valued at 10 are different than the things that are valued at 12. That's very confusing for kids and it's also very confusing for parents.

John: So like Tristan said, I think his reality, I think a lot of parents reality are that. What did I sign up for? Now one of my kids was signing up for a different sport's club a year ago or so and I looked at the website. Right there on the website for their top team, this is their national travel organization, it said we are about winning. That's what we care about. When we go to an event, your child might not play because the result matters to us. Now philosophically to me, sport, athlete development wise, that's the dumbest statement I've ever seen. It makes no sense at all because we're talking about 11 or 12 year olds and the kid's not gonna play, might get on an airplane and not play.

John: However, at least they put it out there.

Anthony: Right at least they're being transparent.

John: At least they said, hey look what it says on the website and if you didn't read that, too bad. The problem lies where people say, hey we're about development. Every kid gets meaningful playing time, and then they do something different. So I have far less problems with this organization that laid it out front and center. I wouldn't pay for that. I wouldn't sign my kid up for it, but at least they said, hey this is what we're gonna do.

Anthony: Let me jump in on that point 'cause there was a follow up question. How do we get clubs and organizations to commit to that mission and to not chase all levels, more money, more players, this perpetual growth? I think there's a number of answers to that but the very first one from my perspective is a return to our "why". To understanding why we're doing what we're doing. If you're a soccer parent and you are choosing to spend thousands of dollars and commit probably a substantial amount of your time relative to the other extracurricular activities that are available to your sons and daughters, you really have to go into that with your eyes open.

Anthony: I think historically the confusion in the marketplace has served those clubs that do win because in the absence of other comparisons and other traits that allow parents to be discerning consumers, they go to the winners. We all understand that sentiment. We all want to win, but one of the things that at SoccerPlus we always viewed was winning and development are not contradictory principles. Winning simply has to be viewed as a component of development underneath that umbrella, where we wanna teach our players how to win. How to manage games, how to influence outcomes, how to express themselves as creative players.

Anthony: But we're not willing to go to the point where winning supersedes those other really core principles that are gonna dictate the students' experience. Any other thoughts on how to get clubs and organizations to commit to that mission?

John: Well I think first of all, it's giving them the belief that by committing to that mission, there's always people looking for something. They're looking for a certain thing and so you have to really define what that thing is. Then you'll find the people who want that. If you don't define it, you'll collect all comers. No one goes to McDonalds for pizza because you know what you get at McDonalds.

John: So a lot of times your clubs who think they're McDonalds all of a sudden you got people coming looking for pizza. If those people are strong personalities they can drive a pizza agenda. What I'll say is look at companies that have great success and I always use the example of Southwest Airlines. The only airline in existence that has been profitable every year its been in existence. Through all the ups and downs and these terrible times, they make money. Now they don't have first class. They don't have food. They don't have a lot of things that a lot of other airlines have but they know what they are and they know that we're gonna be the best at this. And we're not competing for the parent that wants ... or the parent, the flyer that wants a first class ticket. If you want that, don't fly Southwest.

John: So I think clubs, you have to be very careful. What you can do if you're in that middle is say we will provide this place where your child will fall in love with the game and they will get better. Then some kids will need to move on. Let's celebrate that. Let's celebrate the fact that these four kids are now at the DA of DC United or whatever. We can celebrate that but this is what we do here.

Anthony: [crosstalk 00:15:18]-

John: It's when all of a sudden we try and turn our team into a DA team that we get in trouble.

Anthony: I was just on the website of a pro team and I saw something that I've seen very, very rarely historically, which is on their roster for their DA players they listed the previous club where these kids had come from. Because I think it's disingenuous to look at any major club but a Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester United and say we made all these players. Well no you didn't. All these players had soccer experiences that brought them to the point where they garnered your attention and then you took the reigns and assisted and supported them in elevating their career. But this is a, it takes a village.

Anthony: One of the things I say all the time is it's not about you and I think so many of these club directors and leaders tend to get so caught up in the egos of their FIF-dom that they only view their players as commodities and we lose that humanity that every player's individual player pathway needs to not only be celebrated but also understood so we can serve these players in the best possible manner.

Anthony: I don't know exactly how you convince someone to make it less about themselves other than to expose them to the experiences of these families. Even myself, it took me making a lot of mistakes as a club director to get to the point where we weren't making the same mistake over and over again. And we were just as focused on the 18th player on our roster as we were the kid who we knew, everybody knew, was gonna get a Division I scholarship.

John: Yeah. I mean I think Anthony, it comes back to first of all we shouldn't expect organizations to be perfect. When you're managing a thousand families and then that many, a couple dozen coaches, you're not going to have the highest of the high level for all of them. But I think we can have a certain level of expectations that again fit around this mission and vision of what is this experience going to be like and what crosses the line.

John: Even if an organization crosses the line, are they willing to say sorry, we messed that one up and we're going to fix it? Maybe we hired the wrong coach, maybe we put the right coach with the wrong age group. Or someone who's better with boys and we put them with girls or vice versa. So we're allowed to mess up as long as we tidy up, just like our players.

John: I think as a parent in that organization, I think it always comes down to if you ask parents what do you want out of your sports experience, what they will answer in that unemotional moment for your kids is usually not what they sign up for. So this is where we have to be, I think as parents, better consumers of where are we signing our kid up for 'cause oftentimes the thing on the website is we sent 12 kids to play in college last year. And you say but my kid's a U-9 how many of those kids started with you at U-9?

John: In most places it's like 20%.

Anthony: It's interesting that you bring up that U-9 because we actually have one of the parents just sent in a question that asks what if your club says they're about developing your nine year old and then they never deliver on the promise? Then you end up in a situation where there's fear of retaliation or they're in a place where geography was limited club opportunities. How do you navigate some of those conditions?

John: I mean that's such a hard situation to be in, especially if you add in the geography piece. If you live in the Washington DC area, yeah you might now say okay we'll drive 20 minutes instead of 10 but we know we can go. If you live in a different place, that drive might be an hour. That drive might be three hours. So then you get really, really stuck.

John: So I say if you're stuck, one of the first things to do is how can you step in and make a difference? Can you run for the Board? Can you start saying ... can you go to a Board meeting? I mean if your organization's a nonprofit, those Board meetings are open. Now we just had, I had a situation where someone wrote me an email the other day and it was a really sad story about how they had about that age kid and it was supposed to be about development. And the way that they treated the kid was terrible, so that the kid's coming off the field crying. They went to the club and the club said, sorry this development thing is for the younger kids. Your kid's 10. He doesn't get to play.

John: They said, well here's all the documentation. Here's the PowerPoint that you sent us of what we signed up for and here's the website link. The owner of that organization said, "oh sorry that's a mistake. That should've have been for your age, and they kicked him out of the club."

John: So I mean that's a terrible story. It's awful. But I think in the same boat, I mean this is the reality we live in. I live in a town where it's easier to be a skier than it is a soccer player. Sometimes we make other choices for lifestyle or whatever and it's hard. I wish I could say snap my fingers and fix it for that family but sometimes if there's only once choice then your only choice is to go in and try to fix it yourself.

Anthony: Well and I'll take, there's also and this is not obviously an opportunity for everyone but there's also for a certain individuals, the privilege of an alternative path. That's what we experience with SoccerPlus. My father in 2003 had the opportunity to partner with other organizations or found his own club. My brother at the time, my youngest brother Nick, was 12 years old at the time. So what he saw was an opportunity to use Nick's development and his desire to coach Nick and control the environment to basically till the ground and cultivate a culture for all of central Connecticut.

Anthony: One of the things that happened, that club has been folded into another club and wasn't a perfect experience, but what it was, was a catalyst that forced absolutely every other club in Connecticut and in New England to be better. I know we're not alone in that story because I listen to Grant Wall of podcast with Bill Simmons a couple weeks ago. There's also an example of a good friend of Skye and mine in North Carolina. And North Carolina I was looking as an example because North Carolina is such a hotbed for soccer, but it's also kind of like the only place you could get food for a long time was Walmart. So they embraced the idea that they were going to lose a lot of games and be a tiny club but that they could control more of the variables of their parents and players experiences.

Anthony: And right from the outset they were gonna change the expectations particularly as it related to parents and not force them away but create the structure where aside from team managers and aside from Board members who have all this power, they would create team captains which would allow for parents to have a conduit to the club and would allow the club director to have a direct conduit to each team aside from their coaches and managers. But it also was designed to curb negative sideline behavior, to improve communication. Because most people are pretty good about checking their email but not everybody is. So how do we make sure that all these messages are being communicated?

Anthony: So I always like to put that out there that it's not obviously something that everyone can do but for those who can, go do it yourself. Go create the environment that you want for your child.

John: Yeah. I mean I think that's one thing I've always appreciated about Skye before Skye was Soccer Parenting, was when she didn't like the environment that she saw and she remembered. She became a Board member first and helped to fix it. So I think this is some ... if that's a possibility that's something that you do. But it's not always perfect. I grew up on Long Island and I'm hoping because I think Long Island soccer has been pretty messy for a while but now Barcelona's building an academy there.

John: Well is the rising tide gonna raise all boats there if Barcelona comes in with people from La Masia and a methodology and a way of coaching and not just slapping a new label on the same old thing? That all of a sudden the other people go, like wow. That's what a club looks like. We have to be better because we can't just sell them the same old stuff anymore.

Anthony: So to that point we got another question that just came through. The parents on this given team are not happy with their current coach. They've tried to discuss the coaching change the with director who is reluctant to make a change. The question is, how should they regroup and approach this content? Should it be individually? Should it be as a group to request a new coach or should they look to make a change? Maybe move to a different club.

John: I would say try to change from within first. All right this is a lot of parts to this question. So as a club director have been told, and I'm not saying this is this situation, that there's a group of parents and really it's three. So it comes down to okay what's wrong here? What's the problem?

John: Now if the problem is that we think the coach is playing the wrong formation or our kids, the skill development isn't good enough, well whatever. See the season out and then figure it out. If it's demeaning behavior, if it's bullying, if it's dangerous, if the way that that coach treats kids would never be allowed in your school, then maybe as a group you come together and you video it or something. You say look this is not acceptable. Whats the plan here moving forward because this can't be?

John: So I think we're always looking at is the situation difficult? I've had plenty of jerks as a coach growing up and I've seen plenty but they were difficult, they weren't dangerous. I've seen dangerous and dangerous is when you step in and intervene as a parent or as a group of parents. Not because your kid's playing a different position, not because the team's playing a different formation and not winning all their games. All these sort've things. Not enough information there for me to perfectly answer that question.

Anthony: Yeah but I wanna add to that just, one other thought that I always have is, and you were alluding to this before, is the potential to be constructive versus destructive. I always wanna encourage people to be constructive, to get involved. To maybe the club director isn't aware of a situation so you don't put them on defensive. You simply alert them to what your experience or what you were seeing. But there is a point at which I do think that you have to take whatever means necessary, certainly for the safety and protection of your athletes but also for their overall experience.

Anthony: We're less than a month removed here from the CBC in Canada putting out a report where we have over 200 instances of coaches having been perpetrators or predatory or inappropriate behavior with students. That to me, the fact that those practices are allowed to go on that long is the result of a culture of fear in which retaliation and other consequences, potentially to their son or daughter, are held over the parent's head in order to keep them in line.

Anthony: In those situations, I'll let you jump in here in a second but, nothing else matters. The safety of the player has to be put first and foremost. So if that means being destructive to a coach or a team or a club, we have to keep things in perspective here and the safety of these players has to come first.

John: Yeah what's your end game is apparent. It's not to develop a soccer player. It's to develop a human being. So when that human development is being effected, that's when you have to turn in and walk away. As a parent, just like everyone listening here, I get frustrated when I see poor coaching. But as I mean I had this discussion with my wife last night, it was like given the decision between less than ideal technical development and someone being a demeaning bully, terrible to my kids, ruining their self esteem, I'll take less than ideal technical development over that.

John: Now I love both. We'd all love both but-

Anthony: But you can supplement technical development with Techne or Beast Mode or whatever.

John: I can supplement that kinda stuff for sure. So give me a good person who is maybe not as great a technical coach and we'll figure that out. Versus the unbelievable technical coach who's a terrible person who's probably gonna make most of the kids under their charge quit. Now I think here's a thing and I think as bill payers in an organization, I think any good organization is surveying their members and getting some feedback. How we doing as a club? What are we doing in this situation? All that sorta stuff.

John: One of the things, I don't think that most people are qualified to be asked is your coach a good coach. Because you don't ... yeah maybe okay you've got your A license, yeah you can probably comment on that. But it's not a good survey question. But what I do think we can ask, just like in businesses they have a net promoter score, is would you recommend your coach to a friend?

John: If 12 of the 18 families on your soccer team say no, as an organization you've got a problem. If you're gonna ignore that, then shame on you and those people probably should leave. So that's a very easy thing that I think any club director could turn around and say could you all please answer this one question? Then you find out is there two parents who are upset and saying hey we represent everyone, or is there 12 and now we have a problem?

Anthony: I really like that advice, John. Let's pivot here to a couple questions. Here's one. The trend today is the clubs are requiring players to give ... the players that they accept through a trial process that they have to commit to that team within 48 hours and give a nonrefundable deposit upon acceptance. Are clubs losing players because they feel forced to make a decision? How does a club combat that practice or how does ... I mean this is me editorializing here, how does soccer, how does youth soccer as a whole combat that practice? Is that something that we need to engage the state associations? Does that have to be a bigger conversation or is that something that could be handled locally?

John: I certainly think that state associations or local governing bodies, whatever organization you're under, having a tryout window is important. That hey we're gonna do these tryouts and we have ... so everyone's at the same time. Because I think as a parent, you shouldn't necessarily be ... I mean you can club shop to an extent but I've run clubs where we're gonna go to five tryouts and then we're gonna let you know. So as an organization, I say no we have to pick our team because if you don't take your spot then there's someone else who does and they deserve to make a decision just as much as you do.

John: So is 48 hours the right amount of time? I don't know what area they live in but I don't think you should have an endless open window to decide when you're going to commit by. Because we have to build a team and we have to get people registered and we have to decide who's on the A team and the B team. A lot of people's decisions are waiting on your decision. So let's go. Pick something.

John: If you went to two tryouts and you said to that organization, listen we have our ... I mean again we have a DA tryout, we'll know on Thursday. Sorry it's Monday. Can you give us 24 extra hours to make a decision based on this? I think that's a fair thing. But I don't think it should be open ended until we've decided that we've run every option out there. I mean do your homework. You don't go to every car dealership in town to test drive a car. You kinda know, hey I'm gonna go to Toyota and I'm gonna go to Chevy and then I'm gonna decide between the two.

Anthony: To add to that point, what you just suggested is a very reasonable compromise. Can we have an extra 24 hours? If a club said no to that, to me that would be a big red flag that maybe this isn't the right fit for you. Again, geography and other consideration, social considerations. One of the things that I used to say, we would always have a pre tryout information session. We were running an ECNL club so we were looking for top players.

Anthony: What I would say is, understand what the ECNL is first. Understand the travel commitment, understand the personal individual commitment to the player 'cause we're talking about more training sessions, we're talking about a higher level of away from the team, individual technical work and watching games. So is this what you want? If you can understand that before you try out it may prevent some of those concerns.

Anthony: Let's go to another question here. This next question is about a goalkeeper who's playing up on a U-15 team. Initially they were playing about half of every game but as that playing time has dwindled, the goalkeeper's still getting experience in practice but at what point do the parents and the player make a decision to move back to playing age appropriate or switching to a team where you may have to drive a little bit further or make some other sacrifices?

John: Yeah. If you're seeing out the spring for another two months, see out the season. Don't leave in the middle. But then yeah. Especially if you're playing ... you're not playing up. You're registered up but you're not playing. So you have to play. Goalkeeping's a unique spot and I think it's ... goalkeepers can develop a lot on their own with, as you know very well obviously, much more so than a field player can. So they can still maybe not play as much and get better if they're getting incredible goalkeeping training. I would think if you're at a club your goalkeeper coach is probably the same goalkeeper coach whether you're playing U-14 or 15. So you're probably getting the same training.

John: Then I think that's when you start making the decision of hey we need to ... he needs playing time, or she needs playing time. So it's pointless to register up if you're not gonna get playing time and I don't understand usually why organizations would have a kid play up if they're not. I always used to say, hey look if you are one of the top third player, top third of the players a year ahead, you should play up on that team. But we're not gonna take you as the 14th player.

Anthony: The person who's asking the question is giving me a little more information as we've been talking here. So what I'll say to them is we can address some more of your specifics offline. But generally our rule of thumb was if you're good enough, you're old enough. But what I mean by if you're good enough is, you should be in the starting 11 for that next age group up. If that's not the case, then you may have to go find a different environment. And especially with goalkeepers, it may be competing for a starting spot and you may have to beat somebody out. But it is not an easy situation and certainly one that is case by case.

Anthony: This question is about your views on multi sport participation and then also multi sport participation without coaching or organizational reprisal. How do you navigate the wants and desires of the club and the coach versus what's best for your son or daughter?

John: Yeah. So obviously this is a huge issue across many sports, certainly soccer, where we're asking kids to make ... you talk about the 48 hour tryout commitment. I'm more worried about the seven year old making the 11 month commitment to only play soccer. So I think I have yet to meet an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist or anyone who says that this is a good thing. The word that I am trying to use more now than multi sport is multi movement. So every child needs a multi movement experience.

John: Now Tony Strudwick who used to be Alex Ferguson's first team's strength and conditioning coach and now he works for Wales, I saw him speak at the convention a couple years ago and he said every kid under the age of 12 should play more than one sport. This is the guy of Manchester United. Doesn't mean you can't play a lot of soccer but you need to do other things. Now I think becoming multi sport sometimes makes kids a multi sport specialist. So now you're overlapping two sports year round which is not good either because kids get burnt out. They get tired. There's no passion. There's no focus on one. You're doing each halfway.

John: So I always say that the younger your kid is, the easier it is to do multiple sports. So do that. Even if they really love soccer or that's your thing, give them that basketball season. I mean your dad said to me, he said, "I think every soccer kid should play basketball when they're younger because there's similar movement patterns and awareness of groups of people and getting your head up and anticipating where's the space and where's this gonna happen."

John: So these opportunities I think are really, really important and then as they get older, they need multi movement. That can be martial arts which isn't a travel sport. That can be rock climbing, biking, doing stuff with your family, free play. All these sorta things are ... yoga. I also think we have to start thinking that strength and conditioning is, that's a second sport. Not just hey I'm a soccer player, make me better strength and conditioning at soccer, no. Balance me out. Build my glute strength, build my hip strength, build my core. You go over to Europe and you watch high level players play, they are so well put together athletes. I mean they are just boom, solid through.

John: This is what we don't do here. We just sign them up for soccer and we don't give them that multi movement experience through soccer. That's why they get hurt.

Anthony: I'm amazed at how many players get to the collegiate level having never been exposed to strength and conditioning, to weight lifting, to core work. This also has injury implications as well. One of the things that I think every club in the country should be looking at is the implementation of the FIFA 11 which is the HGL prevention program that has shown tremendous efficacy and one that even before FIFA had tackled it we had the benefit of having a certified strength and conditioning coach and athletic trainer in Paul Cacolice at our organization.

Anthony: It dramatically shifted the outcomes of our players. I will say this about multi sport athletes. People are always shocked at the number of multi sport athletes who make it to the top levels. I think it's both because they're not experiencing that burnout and also because they are developing those cross training opportunities to extract the lessons of multiple sports. But beyond that, it's fun. Sports are fun and what you touched on in that last answer John, is a lot of what Tom Ferry and the Aspen Institute have exposed in the project Play report. Those are several plays and sports sampling is one of them.

Anthony: I heard a story actually just this week about a young male player who just happened that USA field hockey had put on a clinic in their hometown and he went out and tried field hockey. That's not a sport that is historically engaged in by males in this country but around the world it has tremendous traction with young male athletes. Whether it's basketball or baseball or I've got my own concerns about football but there are these benefits to be extrapolated. Someone just asked about swimming. Swimming, I gotta tell you. As a freshman in high school I took up diving actually and part of being on the JV swimming and diving team was we actually had a diving relay.

Anthony: My cardiovascular fitness improved more in that one winter through being in the pool every day than I've ever experienced in terms of growth previously. Let's pivot to another question here. This from a club director who understands a lot of what we're talking about and says how to communicate the message and educate parents about any of this is the biggest challenge we face. So many emails, multiple kids, multiple sports, practice. All these things getting in the way of parents not seeing the value of off the field development of these conversations. The fact that we're talking to the entire country but we have relatively small audience that has engaged with soccer parenting at the level that really is required for massive cultural shift.

Anthony: So how do you, when you're working with a club or when you're talking to an executive director, how do you turn that corner and get more people just to show up?

John: Yeah. For that club director, I mean I feel your pain. I've been there. You're about to be attacked by a lion behind you by the way.

Anthony: Nice.

John: I hear you. So the only way you can communicate it is relentlessly. They've done research in business where they ask corporate C-level people, what percentage of the people who work for you could communicate the three biggest priorities of our business? The C-level people usually say, oh about 70% and the answer is closer to like 5%.

John: So this idea that we think everybody knows what is happening or what we're trying to do, you cannot over communicate that. so I think organizations that take their Mission and Values and they're on their practice shirts. If you have a facility, they're on the fence of the facility. Let's say respect is something that you're trying to teach. You should be rewarding a kid every month on each team, then club wide for here's our respect moment of the month 'cause this was our value.

John: So you relentlessly put that stuff in front of people so that they can't possibly not know that this matters. Then you create loyalty. The thing is this. I create a very transactional loyalty if all we do is win. Yeah okay we just went 10 and one so everyone will come back except the three kids who never got to play, but we don't create transformational loyalty where people say, being part of XYZ club, that changed my kids life. That we get from other organizations that really look at that.

John: That takes time. That takes great coaches who are bought in, who are trained, who are held accountable for teaching this stuff and it takes time to do it. It's not gonna happen this month but when we talk about it over a year or two, then it becomes real.

Anthony: Well and the other thing that I'll add to that is going back to what I was talking about before with whether it's a team parent captain or individual meetings with the club director on the team or just walking the fields during a given Saturday or Sunday, we're talking about layers of leadership. The way I look at this is, all of you who are listening to us today have the opportunity to lead from where you are, have the opportunity to share these messages even if you just impact one person. You create that catalyst and that ripple and we never know exactly when that tipping point is going to come.

Anthony: So the fact that you've even chosen to give up an hour of your time today to engage with us is the message that I think needs to then continue to be spread out. I wanna also shift back. I got a follow up question on our last question about multi sport activities, actually two follow up questions. One is, as a parent of four how do we keep up with practices if kids are playing more than one sport? How do we navigate other activities, soccer, skiing, piano, school activities?

Anthony: So I'm the oldest of four boys and the answer to this is not necessarily the one that people want. Because my father was on the road a tremendous amount and I know John knows exactly what that feels like. The answer was we engaged in sports sampling in really informal, disorganized at times manner. Where my friends and I would meet at the park or we would ... I lived on a cul-de-sac, we would meet in someone's front yard and we would play capture the flag. We would play flag football or whatever it may be.

Anthony: There's also a reliance on the community that you're in to be able to say, okay this Saturday this family's going skiing. I would love to go skiing but even though I can't go, if my son or daughter wants to go here's an opportunity for them to experience this or to try it out. But I'm a big believer in gym time, in the informal environment. I know that I've had this conversation with a lot of parents and I'm not a parent so that's my disclaimer. Is there is a level of fear of parenting that inhibits some of these activities from taking place. I get that there's a fear around sending your kids to a local park to play pickup soccer but also I know the value of it.

Anthony: So I just, I'm not telling you how to raise your child or your son or daughter. But I can just tell you from my experience the value of those experiences and that informality.

John: Yeah. For that parent who asked has four kids, again we all have our own reality of how many children do we have, what is the age spread on those children, what is our working situation, is there one parent or two, do we have carpool situations that we can do this? I think first of all, balance is an important thing. So it's okay as a parent to say no. We just told my daughter that this spring, sorry you can't do track in middle school because you've been balancing a bunch of stuff. We try to do one sport per season and just that's it.

John: So this winter she played volleyball all winter and as we started soccer she missed that. But now we're like, it's soccer because it's really hard for us as a parent with my travel schedule and I coach as well, of hey well you gotta stay after there and then we have to go get you and drag you here and all that sorta stuff. We know you want to do it but hey, no. Not in this situation, no. So this is where it becomes, do we want multiple travel sports, no. We might just have to do something.

John: Again I think you can always supplement with things like tumbling or again, parkour is an amazing one that might be one day a week that will give your kid this incredible multi movement experience that's not going to make you drive three hours for a match this weekend. It's just, hey it's something that we do that's fun and we get a friend or two to do it.

John: Now I would say and I think this is really important, understand your situation, understand your family's time commitments and what you value most as a parent. If having dinner together a couple times a week, that's a whole other thing that goes into it.

Anthony: My mom wasn't from the athletic background that my father was but she was the one who consistently reinforced the importance of that time together, of that decompression from sports, from the external pressures to just be together and be where we are. So we have, I love how all of you guys waited 'til the second half hour to ask your questions.

John: That's great though. Thank you for asking questions.

Anthony: No thank you guys. You guys, these have been great questions too. Let's do a little bit of a lightning round. So just give us some quick answers on a few of these. Here's one. At what age should we go onto focus or prepare for college? When do you determine whether a player is ready to take that trajectory or how do you approach that?

John: Well I think the player has to make a decision. So really what you're looking for is intrinsic motivation. So it's not you saying okay now we're gonna prepare for college. If your child never picked something outside of soccer practice, they're probably not on that pathway no matter how good they are. So you're looking for this intrinsic motivation of man I'd love to do this. For me it was high school. Like that I'd get up in the morning and take a ball down into my basement and hit it against the wall for 40 minutes just getting touches in by myself or making a commitment to do extra training or things like that.

John: That's has to be child driven. Thankfully the NCAA technically moved the contact point back to September 1 of your junior year. I know realistically plenty of people are finding a way around that but I don't think a kid who has yet to step foot on a high school campus should be thinking about college at all. They should be thinking about man I love my sport and I wanna get better at this but don't talk about college. That doesn't make sense.

Anthony: So I think that's a great point. The other thing that I would just add to that is a lifelong love of soccer and being able to extract the lessons of soccer does not necessitate playing in college even. I mean there are different avenues and I go back to the individual player pathway, but for me that was how I addressed it when we were looking at player development.

Anthony: In the role that I play now in our soccer community, I talk about the individual person pathway because every parent, every coach, every director, every player, every administrator, they all have their entry point and exit point in the game. For a lot of us, the exit point may be the end of life but that pathway is the environment that I continually talk about nurturing and ensuring that people are having positive experiences that make them wanna come back and make them wanna love the game.

Anthony: Here's a question about parent coaching. So at what age or what factors do you consider when recommending parents coach their own child?

John: A lot of parents end up coaching their own kids and I think it's a great thing. And clearly I don't think it has ... I mean Bob Bradley coached Michael Bradley in the National team, it's like it doesn't have to stop. Alex Ferguson coached Darren, Johan Cruyff coached Jordie - so it's like there's no sort've age, okay at 12 don't coach your kid anymore. If you're really good at coaching and you can contribute to that, that's great.

John: I think the most important thing that if you are coaching your own kids, you have to make sure that when practice ends you take off your coaching hat and put on your mom or dad hat. I just think that's the most important thing because a lot of kids who get coached by their parents and then dislike the sport, it's because practice never ends. So the ability to just now I'm dad again, that's probably the most important thing.

John: Then I think also checking in with your kids every season to be like, "hey would you like me to coach again?" If they say no ... I've been able to coach my daughter through middle school here and I think a big part of it is 'cause she doesn't go to school with anyone on our team. So there's nothing that happens at practice that carries over to a school environment that might be uncomfortable.

Anthony: The other thing I always say to that as well is that in order to coach, 'cause I was coached by my father, my brothers were at various times as well, in order to be effective in that role, you have to be prepared to put your ego aside. You may be telling your son or daughter the exact right thing but they may have difficulty in various moments, and it's not a whole game or a whole training session or a whole season, but in moments they may have a hard time seeing you as coach.

Anthony: So your assistant coach or someone else may make the exact same point to them and they absorb it and you can't take that personally because for them that's not the way they're interpreting the relationship on an ongoing basis.

John: I think Anthony just, the two second follow up is you have an assistant coach and your own child is resistant to your coaching, you say to your assistant, hey I got your son, you got my son.

Anthony: Good point.

John: And just then that takes care of that right there.

Anthony: Where does a coach who plays favorites by yelling or criticizing select players but never says anything to a favorite player for doing the same thing or sitting players regardless of work rate or regardless of skill, how do you approach that as a parent effectively? Because obviously you're being put in a situation where you are seeing an outcome that you're not happy with regarding your son or daughter's development but you really don't have a lot of control over that situation. Is that one where you just have to stand back and allow things to play out a little bit or how do you approach that?

John: I mean I think again it's a tough question in that I always say to my teams, because you'll have players as well who feel like oh man he never says anything to Anthony when Anthony screws up. But how do you know? Because maybe I talk to Anthony after practice. Maybe I send Anthony and his parents an email and said, hey what you did out there is not appropriate, 'cause Anthony doesn't respond to me saying something on the field. So I think it's a great question and I would say first of all as a parent you always have to realize that your child gets 1/16th of your coach's attention and 16/16ths of yours.

John: So you may see things or feel things that the coach does not see or feel because they're trying to manage 16 different people in that environment. So I think that's number one. Then number two, I think if your child, if you feel like there's favorites and certainly that happens and there's tons of politics and we're not naïve here, you get your child, if they're old enough, middle school and up, that they go to that coach and say, "I would like to play more. Please give me some concrete things that we can measure that if I can do these things I will get more playing time."

John: Again, I always go back to and this is kinda how we started the conversation, if the coach can't do that for you then that is ... or if a coach says sorry you can't go to grandma's 90th birthday party because we have a game, that is right there the coach is just basically telling you how much they value your child - which is none. The coaches who work for me and my teams, if you pick them you play them and that's meaningful playing time. If you can't give them meaningful playing time and they're the commitment, then don't pick them.

Anthony: We have the same policy. If you select a player for your team, every player plays every half of every game unless we were in a competition like the ECNL, the older age groups as they were preparing to move them on, the rules dictate that that's not possible.

John: Right it substitutes.

Anthony: But certainly as developmental, yeah. We're at the hour mark. I know some people are gonna jump off here but do you wanna nave any final thoughts? Then I'll probably go into a little bit of extra time if you got maybe five of 10 more minutes if you wanna answer a few more questions.

John: Yeah I can stay on a little bit longer. I just hope again, I wanna thank you Anthony for jumping in for Skye and the MTV takeover here and thank Skye for all that she does 'cause she's very inspiring to me as a parent. My kids know her. She's been to my house. Her passion for this is awesome. For someone who doesn't know our work, just come to changingthegameproject.com. That's where you'll find our blog, our podcast, a lot of free resources, book recommendations, things like that.

Anthony: If you haven't read the Changing the Game book or if you haven't listened to the podcast, I can't recommend it highly enough. I wanna also echo what John's saying is, for years and years and years we all recognized that there was a problem in the soccer parenting space and one of things dad used to say all the time is, if it was easy everyone would do it. It's not easy. What we're talking about here is not easy but it is dramatically, or it is incredibly impactful and effective when utilized as a component of your wholistic environment.

Anthony: So the ability to implement some of these things, it will change the culture of your club. It will change the experience that you as a coach, parent, club director, it will change that dynamic in remarkable and incredibility positive ways. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna stop the recording here and then John and I will hang out and we'll finish up. We've got about five more questions that have been asked that we'll run through here. So give me one second here.

About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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