John O'Sullivan on Quality Coaching and Exceptional Developmental Environments - Soccer Parenting

John O’Sullivan on Quality Coaching and Exceptional Developmental Environments

John O'Sullivan and I sat down to discuss his new book: Every Moment Matters - How the Worlds' Best Coaches Inspire Their Athletes and Build Championship Teams and talk youth sports!  The conversation (transcript and video below) spans a variety of important topics for youth sports parents and coaches.  

John's new book is a fantastic read, complete with thoughts and experiences from experts all around the globe he's interviewed for his Way of Champions Podcast.  


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TRANSCRIPT:

Skye:
John O'Sullivan, welcome to our Soccer Parenting webinar. Can't tell you how much I appreciate you being here.

John:
Oh, thank you. I appreciate you having me on Skye. Obviously I love the work that you do and it's great to be able to share the work that I do on your show.

Skye:
Awesome. Well, we have lots of questions already coming in. John Kessel. That's awesome. I love that he is here.

John:
Hi, John Kessel.

Skye:
So we'll chime in with lots of questions. So keep the questions coming and I'll be sure to either interlay them in the conversation as we're having it, if they pertain to what we're talking about. I've had a few questions emailed in so just pop them into that question box, but I definitely want us to get the most out of this hour, so I'll be sure to get to those questions and then all of mine as well. John, you've been such a great friend of mine over the years. I can't tell you how much I appreciate just your mentorship and our collaboration and our friendship as I've gone down the soccer parenting path.

Skye:
I remember when I started and actually the first conversation that you and I had, I can just remember where I was in my car on the phone and there was so much. I felt like, that I hung up the phone thinking I have so much to learn. Like there are just so many terminology terms you were using, whether it be LTAD or all these different things. And so I know how much you've grown and all these conversations that you've had with so many people. When you go back and you look at all of the experiences you have had and you look at the work that you're trying to do in youth sports, what you know to be true about youth sports and what's going right and where we need to improve? I know that's a big question, but I want to start there.

John:
Yeah. It's funny that you share that story because, and that John Kessel is on here because at the very beginning of my journey, I remember sitting in John's office at USA Volleyball having a two hour conversation with him, thinking the same thing. Man, I thought I knew a lot, but I got a lot to learn. And people like John have been great mentors along the way here. And I'm a voracious reader and consumer of good stuff. And I think in this day and age, one of the toughest things as a parent, as a coach is to know what's trusted and what's vetted information and what's not. And so for me it's been the ability to talk to people like John talked to people like you talk to John Coty and Joe Baker and other researchers and be like, all right, I want to go down this wormhole, where do I go?

John:
And so it's been a fun journey. I mean, I think, I had a coffee this morning with a friend and we were talking about this idea of sort of I think a really big myth that is sport fundamentally good, right? And I think we do so many things in sport based upon that myth, which I really don't think is true. I think sport is fundamentally neutral. And in the right hands it can be an incredible force for good and in the wrong hands it can be an incredibly negative force, right? But because we go ... we come into it with this idea that well sport is fundamentally good so therefore we will just sign up for sport and then turn away from it and assume all is good. It's a really dangerous thing because sport wielded by the wrong people in the wrong way can be really damaging.

And so what I think is going well with sport these days is that there is, from people like yourself and the Positive Coaching Alliance and other people in specific sports getting good information out there. I think coaches and parents have access to a lot more good information than they had five, 10 years ago. And so because of that, I think we're starting to see the pendulum swing and parents are feeling more empowered to stand up for what's right for their children. I think we're starting to see the pendulum swing in schools. The beginning of school sports, the sport and the academic thing were connected wholeheartedly. Sport was just an extension of what you learned in the classroom. And in too many schools, that contract, that bond has been broken. And what happens in sport is the antithesis of everything they value during the school day. And I think a lot of organizations and schools are now saying, "We can't continue down this path."

So, I think those are two real big positives in the way we really continue to force those changes is educating coaches who influence so many athletes and educating parents who are the ones making the decisions and driving through their dollars and their time and their effort, driving what sports delivers. And if we can get more parents and more coaches delivering what is about the athlete, then sports is going to become more fundamentally good.

Skye:
That's great. I love that. That kind of resonates a lot with how I've been feeling lately. One of our biggest challenges is going into some parent education and not having enough parents in the room. And so I think, I love what you said because it's sort of related to this idea that parents don't realize the need that they have, how essential it is that they are involved and that they are understanding the environment their child is a part of. They just automatically assume that it will be fine. So I really appreciate your saying that.

John:
Yeah.

Skye:
I think that most people listening know who you are and Changing The Game Project and all of that. But could you maybe just give us a snapshot of kind of like how you spend your time, what's the mission for Changing The Game Project and then ... why are you laughing? Because it's like skiing and-

John:
Fly fishing, skiing, mountain biking.

Skye:
Yeah. I know, you always drive me crazy, all the amazing things you're doing. And then also sort of how Way of Champions fits into the work that you're doing. So can you just kind of give everybody a broad picture of that?

John:
Yeah, sure. So, I started Changing The Game Project six, seven years ago now as kind of like you a way to get good information out there for parents and coaches. And I had wrote my first book around then and now we're involved, I mean, traveling all over the world. I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Beijing and Sydney and next week I fly to Italy. So it's a worldwide movement now, which is really awesome to provide good information for coaches and parents and things like that. And then about two and a half years ago, myself and Jerry Lynch, this started The Way of Champions podcast and we kind of built that under his brand, which is Way of Champions and it's really a coach focused podcast on how do we create great cultures, how do we create better practice environments? And also, interviews with athletes about their journey and what's the journey to the top look like.

So we have psychologists and skill acquisition experts and tons of coaches from Tony to Chico and Anson Dorrance and to Steve Kerr and coaches from numerous sports across the globe and that's been a great adventure and sort of my new book, Every Moment Matters is really based on 150 plus interviews of some of the top people in every sport around the globe. And trying to synthesize that into something of what does great coaching look like.

Skye:
So let's dive into your book and congratulations on it coming out this week.

John:
I look like I haven't slept.

Skye:
Yeah. I just say are you absolutely exhausted?

John:
A little tired.

Skye:
Yeah. I mean because there's just a lot of promotion that gets involved with that. Right?

John: Well, a lot of podcasts and things and interviews to do and print and stuff like that. But also just the way that I went about this one, over the years we've built such an amazing sort of movement and followers. And so I've gotten so many emails from people who are part of Changing The Game Project saying, "Can I get 10 books by Christmas for my coaching staff? Can I get 20 books?" And so, I think I've sprained my fingers trying to sort of process all this stuff and get this out. And then of course again I have to go to Italy right before that. And so I'm like, "I got to get this done before I go. And so please get your orders in."

Skye:
I'm really sorry you have to go to Italy.

John:
Yeah, don't cry for me.

Skye:
We'll put out some promotion about the book at the end and I'll be sure everybody has your email address, which is pretty simple, John@changingthegameproject. But just make sure everybody has your email address. And I know that they can buy it on Amazon as well if they're looking at one for themselves. But let's dive into the book because I found, John sent me a copy. I've had a chance to peruse some of it. I haven't been able to sit down and read all of it yet. I'm looking forward to that. If coaches take your book and kind of implement this, what issues are we going to solve? How are we going to be improving youth sports? Like what are you trying to accomplish through this book?

John:
I think what I wanted to accomplish through this book is to get coaches to sort of ask themselves four questions, right? And these four questions were first sort of posed by Joe Ehrmann a decade ago or whenever he wrote Insideout Coaching. And they've really resonated with me. And so I broke the book up into four sections. Why do I coach, right? How do I coach? How does it feel to be coached by me? And then how do I define success? And I think a lot of times when we go on our coaching journey, we look at the Xs and Os and the practice designs and drills. And that stuff is all 100% critical and important, but coaching is a relationship business. And if you're not, and developing relationships, communication, inspiration, motivation, all these sorts of things, these are skills. And as coaches, oftentimes we don't teach them, right?

John:
And so I think, one thing that I always do and you've seen me do this Skye is I hand out sticky notes to coaches in these talks and give them five sticky notes and say, write down the five qualities of the best coach you ever had. Right? So, these are the five things that make this coach someone who impacted your life positively for the rest of your life. And then we put them up on the wall and on one side we put all those sticky notes that have to do with knowledge. And on the other side we put all the ones that have to do with connection and emotional intelligence, which I know is super, right up your alley.

And 90% of the sticky notes are under connection and emotional intelligence, right? And so if these are the things that are most important for what makes a great coach, well, let's open up our coaching education book and say, well where is that? And it's not in there. Right? And so I really wrote a book of sort like what are all the things that we should learn in coaching education that we don't, but also with the, how do I coach? So science on research and skill acquisition and motor learning. How do people learn and how do we create the best environment for them to learn and compete and do all these things?

Skye:
That's great. Let's talk about quality coaching. So for the parents that are listening, what does quality coaching look like? What should they be seeking for their children's environment as they're developing as an athlete?

John:
Well, I think first of all, we can go to the book definition, right? And 2017 the US Olympic committee laid out what they call their Quality Coaching Framework. This is what we define as quality coaching for all of our governing bodies and everyone who coaches under them. And it really had sort of three big parts because it can't just be, did you win? Because Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr go to the world cup this summer and they don't have the right amount of talent on the squad and they finished seventh, are they all of a sudden bad coaches? Of course not, right? So there's got to be something more to quality coaching. So they talk about essential knowledge. They talk about ages and stages, and then they talk about athlete outcomes, right? And those are the three parts.

So, what's the age that I coach in? What's the context? Right? As a soccer coach, to watch what Pep Guardiola does with Man city and then think that that's going to happen in my eight year old practice is a little bit silly, right? What's the athlete outcomes? It's not just competence, right? It's not just skill, it's confidence, it's connection and it's character development. That's an essential part. And then essential coaching knowledge has three parts as well, which is knowledge of your sport, knowledge of interpersonal connections. And intrapersonal knowledge, so know yourself. Right? So the whole first part of my book is know your why, know yourself, because until you have self-awareness, it's really hard to be an effective coach I think.

Skye:
Yeah, it's so hard as a parent, your child is participating in youth sports and they're maybe running into a challenge. Maybe the challenge is not getting any playing time or very little playing time in an environment where the parent's instincts are saying, "My child's 11 they should be getting playing time. They're not developing. This isn't like high school varsity or we're not talking about pro or collegiate sports here." And so the parent has these instincts, but then the messages that we get from society are often like, this will help your child be stronger? This is one of those lessons where they learn resilience, teach them to go talk to the coach and ask how they can improve. But it's just not quite aligning. What do you say to parents when we're talking about what good quality coaching looks like? And we're talking about unfortunately what we sometimes, not always but sometimes run into.

John:
Yeah, I mean I think every scenario you just outlined there, sometimes the answer is, it depends. Right? And so it's like I really think my philosophy has always been when coaches worked for me and my coach or if you pick them, you play them, right? So especially in club sports, like the idea that you're going to make people pay some crazy fees and then claim that you're developing them while giving them no game time, that's insane, right? Now, by the same token, that player in that family has a responsibility of making the commitment to be part of that team. So don't sign your kid up for club soccer and then skip all the practices because you're also doing swimming and basketball and then show up on Saturday and be like, we're here to play. Like that's not fair either. Right?

John: So I think it's finding that balance. But I think as a parent, when you're looking for quality coaching, I think you're looking for, does the coach coach the sport or coach the child, right? If they're coaching the child, they're doing their best to deal with the individual needs of every athlete within the team context instead of just coaching the sport, right? And there signs of this, right? Because lots of places have great websites that look fantastic of like, "Oh yeah, we're all athletes centered and this and that." And then all of a sudden it's grandma's 90th birthday and she's about to pass away and it's the last time the family's getting together and the coach says, "Oh, if you skip the tournament, you're off the team."

That's not athlete centered coaching. That coach just told you what he or she stands for, right? And so I think as a parent, one of the thing that has really been resonating with me recently is, in a way, think of yourself as the general contractor, right? You are overseeing all these different things that are happening in your child's life. Now as the soccer coach, I don't know that your kid is doing weightlifting and gym and PE and is swimming before school every day and then running cross country, right? So I'm trying to manage the load for what I do, but you have to be the one managing all these different things, plus piano, plus homework, plus school, plus this, plus that.

And so I think sometimes as a parent, one of the most important things we can do in looking at the human being is look at all the things that's happening around them and say, "You know what? We got to say no to some things." And that's a great thing. You've had, Kelley Pulisic on this. And I mean I think Mark and her were fantastic at saying no, right? Lots of great opportunities, great coaches, great things. But we have to say no because our son needs a break. And sometimes that's our job as a parent. So be careful what you commit to. Don't over commit and then learn when too many good things fall in your lap to say, "That sounds great, but we're going to the beach."

Skye:
Yeah. I want to talk about solving some of our issues in youth sports. So what I want to do is just like throw out a term or concept, what are the issues that we know is a bit problematic in youth sports and can you just sort of speak about it briefly just so that we can get our head around like what our issues are in youth sports. So you ready?

John:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Skye:
I feel like this is like the quick answer kind of thing.

John:
Okay.

Skye:
Coach education.

John:
Coach education in soccer has improved a ton. The new coaching courses are so much better than when I went through and got my A license. So kudos to US soccer for that. But I think like I said before in coach education, we can't just teach knowledge of sport. We've got to teach self-awareness. We've got to teach knowledge of self and understanding interpersonal communication and connection as well. And that I think is still missing the cognitive side and the social emotional side is treated as like, hey, let's just squeeze this in instead of saying this is an essential pillar.

Skye:
Good. I love it. Sideline behavior of parents.

John:
Silent behavior of parents, huge. I mean, again, as a parent, right, ask yourself why am I here? And I think first of all, in a sport like soccer where it's this highly dynamic sport and things are happening fast and kids are having to look at the field and come up with a solution and execute it and deceive people and assess their choice and do it again and again and again. They can't take any input, right? So A, don't ever coach, cheer, be present, don't coach because you are not helping, right? It's actually scientifically proven that you're just distracting and making them play worse. And then I think from the same token, sideline parent behavior towards officials, I mean, I had a girl that I just coached, her dad just emailed me saying we need to meet my 14 year old daughter was just absolutely abused and harassed and left the field in tears as the referee the other day at a nine year old soccer game by the opposing coach, not my club. And my own club's coach was like, he's like, "God, what are you doing man? These kids are nine. The referee's crying, she's brand new. That's really sad." So-

Skye:
Yeah, totally agree. So I have to also say sideline behavior of coaches.

John:
Oh yeah. I mean the same thing, right? You are the model for your parents and you are the model for your players. And so, I think oftentimes our bad moments as coaches are when we are reacting to a bad call, a bad bounce, a bad mistake, and we're not responding, which is taking that deep breath, looking beyond the moment looking ... understanding that referees will make mistakes, players will make mistakes. And so I think it's really important that we understand right? We are not, and I talk about this in the book, don't react, respond, right? Reaction might be your personality, your response is how you train yourself and your morals and your ethics and your values learn to respond.

Skye:
Love it. Esse Baharmast said, when I interviewed him, the referee, if people listening got a chance to hear that - he was legendary referee and his response was "treat the referee like the weather", like it's just out of your control. There's only so much you can control in that moment. So I really liked that idea.

John:
I would say treat the referee like it was your own child refereeing.

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
How about that?

Skye:
Well usually it would work. I would hope that would work.

John:
Maybe. In most cases it would be okay.

Skye:
Yeah. Okay. Few more, Cost of Playing.

John:
Yeah. I mean, I think that given the massive geography of our country and the way that sport is funded, which is not by the government like it is in many countries or not by professional clubs that then own your child, sport here is expensive. I think where we make a mistake in soccer is we make it too expensive and far too young, right? So we don't need seven year old travel teams. I remember my friend David Epstein, the author, he was telling me on the podcast, he was like, "I lived in Brooklyn and there was a seven year old soccer travel team that practiced four days a week in the park by my house." He goes, "And I just found it really unbelievable to think that a team of seven year olds could not find a game in a city of 10 million people." Right?

And so this sort of thing that we need to get a $200 uniform on you and we need to get you traveling and driving all over the place to get games is silly. And it's really, we need to delay that. So when we talk about cost of playing, I think first we need in-town leagues, academies, keep it in-house, keep kids playing. Don't worry about mixed-ability groups. Find a little extra, train on your own but keep playing with your friends and things like that and push that off as long as possible because there will come a time when if you're really good, you do have to train and it's going to get our travel and it's going to get expensive but no, it shouldn't be for seven year olds. You need a kind of flat space and a kind of round ball.

Skye:
Yep. For sure. Fear of missing out.

John:
Yeah. I mean you and I talk about this one a lot, right? And we're both parents and my kids are 12 and 14 and as much as I know, it's really hard to sit there and go, when I see kids signing up for X, Y or Z and I don't sign up my kids and go, "Oh my God, they're going to fall behind." But I think when we recognize that every child is different and everyone's on their own journey and you know this with your two kids, and I see this with my two kids, right? I can be patient and you are not at the end of the journey, but you've seen your daughter's journey to get to a place now, which has been really good for her. Right? That like need to keep up and do X, Y, and Z. If that becomes our need and that fear drives every decision and it's not the goals or the values of the prior use of our child, eventually they're just going to quit.

Skye:
Yeah. Lack of trust.

John:
Yeah. I mean I think coaches don't trust parents, parents don't trust coaches, no one trust referees and a lot of organizations aren't trusted and no one trusts US soccer. So like, we have this huge, I think problem. And I think first of all, we have to go back to understanding what trust is. And it's not just about ability, it's about connection. It's about believable, it's about being dependable. And so, it's time for us to stop in this country saying, "Trust me, I'm the coach. I played pro." Who cares? Right. That's nice, but how are you going to treat my kid? Do you admit when you're wrong, you'll walk the walk or you just tell a nice story.

John:
And so we have to start and I think coaches can be great leaders in building trust by helping kids and helping parents realize, I see your kid, I see what's happening with him. I see what's happening with her. Sending little notes, sending an email, connecting, talking, inviting parents into the post-game huddle, letting them know what's going on. The more information we give, the more trust there is, the less fear there is and the more likely the parent who doesn't understand what's going to happen is going to call you as the coach and say, "My kid got in the car in tears today. Do you know what happened?" Because probably I didn't see that kid in tears, right? And this happens to me too, right? I mean I get these calls all the time and I have to create a relationship with a parent where if a kid is upset that the parent will tell me, teammates being mean to him, he thinks you think he's terrible, whatever it is, so I can deal with that. That's trust.

Skye:
I know there are parents that are listening to this and to listening to you say that and are like craving that for their child. I ask parents when they join my newsletter, like what is the one problem you're trying to solve or what do you want to learn more about? It's kind of an open ended question, like it's not all about the problems, but when parents are talking about a problem, I would say 80% of them talk about the lack of quality coaches, like the coach isn't ... and it's not to do with the field. It's not to do with technical, tactical. It is to do with relationships. And so I know there's parents that are hearing you say this, I know your book is a solution to this. What role do clubs have in creating an environment where the quality of the coaches is risen so that we are starting to solve some of these issues with relationships and connection.

John:
I mean, as a club, I think you're central to this, right? You are the one with the direct connection. It's great if your state association says this but they don't have that reach to every kid. Right? But you as a club control your coaches and we have to do better. From eight till three we require everyone who watches our kids to be highly qualified. They have master's degrees, they have PhDs, they have tons of certification. And then at three o'clock they go to sports. And the only qualification is, are you available? Right? And then we just say, well, we can't, they're volunteers. We can't force them to train. We can't force them to get better. And I think this is such a huge issue.

And so as a club, making that commitment that if you sign up to coach for us, we're going to ask a lot of you in terms of becoming a better coach. But if you do these things, we have your back, right? We have your back and we will back you to the end, we will provide you with education. If you have a parent that's ... if you're living under what we're asking you to do and you have a parent that's giving you a hard time, we got you. We'll step in. But what a lot of organizations do is they get the coach signed up and they're like, boom, done dusted, hands-off. We'll see you in 10 weeks when the season's over. We hope those kids come back. And so as a club you have to train your coaches and you never stop. And actually the more you train them, the more they'll come back.

Skye:
That's what I was just going to say is that what I hear oftentimes from recreational coordinators when I'm talking about like requiring coaches education for all coaches, but especially the recreational level coaches they're like we'll have such a hard time getting them to volunteer that if we now require coach education, there's no way that we're going to have enough coaches. I don't buy that. Do you?

John:
I mean I've never come across an organization that once they start training their coaches, and again, it's a environmental holistic thing, right?

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
So by acquiring coach education, you're also educating your parents. You're also holding them to a standard of behavior on the sideline. You're developing your officials. But you're letting everyone know, look, we have your back, but we need you to be better. And in a lot of sports, certainly soccer, right, if I have a recreational coach I could give you [inaudible 00:29:54], horse weans [inaudible 00:29:55], just run this. There is your entire season right there. These are fantastic practices. Play first practice play. It's going to be awesome. Great done. And I'm going to teach you communication. I'm going to teach you how to engage with their parents. We're going to make our coach education about that. Now, we do have, right now in this country, we have safe sport and safe sport means that every coach now is a mandatory reporter.

And every one of these coaches is also now required to do 90 minutes of safe sport training. And then maybe your state requires concussion training. So I think REC directors are correct. It's like, man, I got ... these coaches are required to do two hours of training before we even get to talk about coaching. But you can't ... so are firefighters, so are volunteer firefighters and yet, we would never say, "Oh, don't train them. Just let the house burn down." Right? So like this is such an important job as a coach. And if you come in and you say, look how much you're going to influence, like raise your hand if you can remember something a coach said to you sometime in your life and everyone's going to raise their hand, right? And then, that's why we're training you because something you might say might stick with the kid for the rest of his or her life. And so we want to teach you how to do that. Right?

Skye:
Yeah. I love your comments about that. I think it was towards the end of the book I did read like the end where you were talking about and you used this term a lot, , our influence is never neutral. Talk about that a little bit and explain that thought to parents and coaches that are listening.

John:
Well, that's a definitely a Jerry Lynch"ism" for sure that I've stolen.

Skye:
Have people heard who Jerry is? Because he is amazing.

John:
Yeah, sorry. He's been on your webinar though all right, or he's been on one of your things. Yeah.

Skye:
He was a guest for those of that are members, you can catch an interview with him at the SoccerParentResourceCenter.com. He was a guest on the summit and it was an awesome conversation. He totally called me out on a few things with my parenting, which was great, but tell people who Jerry is and then talk about this influence.

John:
Yeah. Jerry is a sports psychologist, great friend, a fellow New Yorker of me, but he's about 77 I think he's written 13 books now, coach consultant for 39 NCAA champions. I mean worked very closely with Anson Dorrance at UNC for many years. All the big colleges across sports. He worked with the San Jose Earthquakes this past year, with Steve Kerr, with the warriors and just a great friend. Right? And then his thing is blending sort of Eastern thought and a PhD in psychology. And so, he talks about like your influence is never neutral, which means that we always have either a positive or a negative impact on someone when we walk into a room. And the more aware of our influence we are, the more powerful it is. And because we always have an impact, we really have to be intentional about it.

And, and I think this is something we don't really realize as coaches. And it's funny because I love that concept and that idea and if anyone listens to The Way of Champions podcast, I always kind of sign off with, remember your influence is never neutral. Go out there and make a difference. And I didn't want to steal it for the title of my book and I was talking to my brother Dez about this and this is what I was trying to say this like we have to be intentional. We have to be aware. We never know if it's going to stick. And my brother said, "Well, what you mean is every moment matters." Thanks guys, appreciate that. My brother Dez O'Sullivan, kudos-

Skye:
Awesome.

John:
-for the book title.

Skye:
Hey Karston. Nice to see Karsten Roy's here.

John:
Hi Karsten.

Skye:
And he was asking when are the books arriving. They have arrived, Karsten!

John:
Well they're in Amazon and Karsten was one of the first ones to order some for his coaches. So of course-

Skye:
That why maybe he's literally asking you, when are my books arriving?

John:
When are my books arrive? Karston, they shipped today, my friend they shipped today.

Skye:
Awesome. That's great. I have a few other questions that have popped in, but I'm just thinking of my Jerry story and you're so right about this concept of like when you walk into a room, and this is something that I think our coaches, and us as parents to also feel like, I'm remembering seeing Jerry when I was with you all out in Colorado and he literally walked into the room and he was just so present with absolutely everyone he saw. He was giving so much energy and taking like, it was just a wonderful interaction that he was having with people. And this is what I always want to be as a coach too. And I'm not always this way because I get insecure, I get nervous, I get sidetracked, I get upset, whatever these distractions that come in. But I think about that and I just was sitting back watching him interact with people I'm like, "That's the type of coach that I want to be."

But also we need to be like that as parents. And basically it's like not letting the insecurities, the nervousness that we have when we're interacting with each other, get in the way and instead just really be there and be present for each other because that's really what's best for our children. That's going to help our kids have the best experience possible.

John:
Yeah, I totally agree. I was just going to say, if I think of one of my great coaching mentors and friends is Jerry Egly from Indiana university. And when you talk to people who played for Jerry, who coached with him, who know him and you say, what is it? Like, what's the thing about Jerry that sets him apart? And I think, Tony Chico was like this as well. Is, he makes you feel like the most important person in the room. Right? And if you feel like the most important person in the room when he's talking to you, you'll do anything for the guy, right?

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
And I've known him and you think of how long Jerry's been around and how long he's coached, how many people he knows. But every time I see him, he's like, how's your wife? How's your kids? He knows what my wife does for a living. He's incredible. And so that's, to me, like Jerry has, both Jerrys have that kind of presence and when you're with them you're like, "Oh, that feels different than most."

Skye:
Yeah. But I do believe that even a rec coach or youth coach, like we have the capacity as human beings to be more this way. Obviously that's what your book is talking all about. Let's jump to a couple of these questions here. Carson, hoping he gets to the autographed copy by the way. He said, William, thanks William for popping in. It's William Puplampu. I hope I said that right. Sorry. A lot has been said about the ideal coach coaching environment, but how do you find the good coach? He's saying here, it just does not exist at the local club level. I do believe that in some capacities it's existing more. But I hear you. There's just a lot of lip service. No action.

John:
Yeah, I agree. And again, sometimes when you're working with volunteer coaches, you hope you win the coaching lottery, right? Like when my son was five, and I won't say that I'm the greatest coach in the world, but my friend Brett Jacobs and I right, he won an MLS cup as a coach. He is the assistant at Nashville coming into MLS next year right now. And our kids were on the same team. And so the five-year-old team was coached by Brett and I. Like every once in a while you might win the lottery. Right? So here's the thing, I think number one, in some communities we have a choice and some communities we don't, right? So some places there might be one soccer club and so you have to sign up for that one. And on other replaces you have a choice. But I think when you're going and looking for a program or looking for a team, it's not always about what's the highest level team my kid can make, it's, where's the best environment.

For a lot of kids sometimes it's on the second team. I mean, I have a kid I coach right now. He said, "It's too much pressure to be on A team. I'd like to move down." But that's because I asked him, I'm like, "Where do you want to be?" He said, "I'd like to be on this team." And I said, "It's done right. Like you shouldn't show up feeling stressed. Like that's not, this is supposed to be fun." So, to William, I just say, when you're looking, don't look at just wins and losses, look at how that ... go watch a game, look at how that coach treats not just the players on the field, but the players on the bench. Are people getting playing time? How is he or she acting towards coaches, towards referees, towards players, all that sort of stuff. I mean, look for those things. And if you know someone on that team, just say "Do you like your coach? Would you recommend that coach to someone like me who's your friend?" And if the answer is no, then run away.

Skye:
Yeah. And also William, if you're talking about a recreational level environment, then coach yourself, like the soccer background isn't what's essential here. There's plenty of information about the soccer that you can find. It's the relationship building that you can make a difference with. So I always do encourage parents who are feeling that way. If we're talking about a recreational environment, dive in yourself.

John:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Skye:
Okay. You talk in your book about a quality inclusive environment. We've talked about this a little bit. I want to dive into this concept of inclusivity. What are some thoughts that you have on what an ideal environment looks like in the youth game if it is inclusive?

John:
Well, I mean we talked a little bit about inclusivity means, right, everyone has a role. And I like this idea of a great coach can make everyone, and this is one of my, I think quotes at the beginning of a chapter, a great coach to make everybody feel invaluable without being the most valuable, right? So you don't have to be the MVP to feel valued and empowered and respected and relevant and all this sort of stuff. And so that's inclusivity number two, playing time, right? A kid will never feel included if they never start, if they never get to play, if they never get meaningful time, never in when the game's tied or at the end of a game and they need a goal, they'll never feel included, right?

Number three for a coach has to see the player, right. And I see you means I make that moment. "Tony, did she go and say catching them being good?" Right? "Skye, I saw you make that run. That opened up the space for so-and-so to run into. Thank you. That's exactly what we're looking for here." That comment can sustain a kid for the next month. A little note afterwards, an email, I work with 12 year old, so I send it to their parents and it says, for Joe, right? And so the parents read it because I want them to know that I see their kid. And then just a note, you've been working super hard at practices, you've been attended extra practices. It's really starting to show in your game and I appreciate the efforts you're making. I think you're going to see a real difference. That sustains a kid for a month.

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
Right there.

Skye:
Yeah. It's just giving-

John:
At least for a week.

Skye:
-coaches that insight. I guess also you parents that are listening out there saying, "I want my coach to be like this." Buy them a book. That will be a really good Christmas present. I'm being totally serious. If you read this, you'll see. Or if you see it, you'll understand like these lessons are really transferable for coaches and a lot of times it's just that they haven't had a mentor understanding, deeper understanding about what it really does mean to be a coach or they haven't thought about.

John:
And let me piggyback on that Skye because I think that's super important, right? You talked about what can clubs do, pair experienced coaches with new ones, with young ones. I mean that's is such a huge thing. I have a great coaching director I worked for here in Oregon, right? I'm a coach still and not a coaching director anymore, but I coached two teams. I have a whole age group. But one of the things that my own club does is they invest the money in to one or two young coaches per season to be my assistant, which is great because I travel a lot. So they get a lot of responsibility but they show up every day, they get paid to be there and they learn, right? And I walk them through a season, what does a good training session look like? How do we design our training plan and our cycles and move forward? How do we adapt? How do we communicate with parents, like copy them in on all of that.

John:
And so, a 24 year old coach just done playing, wants to get into coaching, gets a crash course in coaching. And there's so many good coaches out there and just, if they invested a little bit in, hey be Skye's assistant for a season, jump in, you'll learn something. And that'll speed up more than any book or any coaching course or in terms of everything we don't learn in coaching education. I'm not saying don't send them to their, getting their grassroots license, super important. But I'm saying, pairing up with a master coach is, and I'm not a master coach, but pairing up with an experienced coaches who does a good job, who lives the values that your club wants, massively important.

Skye:
Yeah, I love it. That's reminding me of a question that came in, really more of a statement I guess from a parent, from Todd Summers. He was talking about the role of mentors in youth sports specifically. He was talking about it for his two daughters who are 18 and 16. I won't read all of it because it's a couple of paragraphs here. But at the end I guess he's just asking about, kind of the role of a mentor for a young child. And I responded, I emailed him back saying like, "What are you talking about a mentor? Is this a coach? Is it a form of player? But somebody that's not a parent and can have some real influence." What are your thoughts on that?

John:
Well, Dan Coyle, the author in Talent Code he writes, which I think is really interesting, the analogy he uses, he's like, "Talent hotbeds have what the people see in their windshield." Right? And so I think he says like, if you grow up in the Rift Valley in Ethiopia, what do you see? You see distance runners, right? You don't see ice hockey players, right? So the importance of that mentor is if I'm a 12 year old and I see, who is the most influential athlete in my life is probably the kid who had my coach, who's now a varsity athlete, right? "Look at her. She's the star of the varsity team. That's where I want to go next." Right? And so if through my windshield I can see all the steps, that's really a high performance path. And that's why there's research that elite level athletes are overrepresented on cities and towns of 50,000 people or less because they went to the same elementary school, they had the same teacher. It's very achievable because someone else has done it.

Skye:
Yeah. I love that idea. I want parents to make sure that the parents and coaches listening just got that. So a small town, a smaller city, 50,000 people or less is more likely to create-

John:
Produce a professional athlete.

Skye:
Produce a professional athlete. I do find that fascinating.

John:
Yeah, they're over-represented. So I'll get the numbers slightly off here, but like I think the numbers are about 25% of people in the United States live in a community of 50,000 people or less. Yet 49% of the NFL comes from there. 39% of the NBA. Right? There's a book called Norwich, a town of 5,000 people in Vermont that sent at least one Olympian to every Olympics since 1964. That's windshield right there.

Skye:
Yeah. That's mentorship. I love it. That's great. Thanks for sharing that. Another question that's coming in from Carson is what are some ways to influence coaches to go above and beyond the regular practice session or a game?

John:
Great question. I think again, one of the ways to influence them is reward what you value, right? So just like with your players, if you want effort and hard work and commitment, you shine a bright spot on those people who are doing that and you'll get more of it. And if you have coaches who are going above and beyond, A, create a culture of education where you're showing up every month. Like so many clubs, their monthly coaches meeting, if they even have one is like, the director yelling at people for breaking the rules, getting upset at this. Then talking about logistics for next year and you're like, great, that just wasted two hours of my life. At least they had beer, right? And then you like, but if you make every one of those meetings an educational session, and then as a director, you're shining the light on people who are having success and saying, "Skye, your team had a great year. Every kid played last year or signed up, what did you do that got all those kids to come back?"

And is everyone going to buy end? No, but more people than not are. I mean, here's the thing, right? This is I think the most important thing to think about. In groups, right, there's the 10-80-10 rule. 10% of people, 10% of your coaching staff is going to be unbelievable. They're going to do everything that you want and go above and beyond 10% is at the bottom. They're going to do nothing that you ask them. They're going to cut every corner. They're not going to listen because they think they know it all. And 80% are in the middle and instead of wasting all your time and energy and money and emotional, everything on the bottom 10 go for the 80s bring eighties into the top 10 they're close, they're there one day and they're not there the next, invest in them and soon what you start to create is this culture where it's not the top 10% it's the top 20 it's the top 30 and then it becomes less and less comfortable to be a bottom 10 when most people are overachieving.

Skye:
Yeah, no, I love it and I talk about that to coaches also, that same concept, that's probably from The Power of Moments. That is where I got that and I know that it was a book that you and I talked about, that concept but is with parents too, like we spend way too much time focusing on the 10% crazy parents. Let's just focus on that middle of the road stressed parents and that's where this movement is going to happen if we're really trying to get those levelheaded but sometimes stressed parents, giving them more information and helping them help their child like that is where, really the bulk of this culture change that we're all seeking is going to come from.

John:
Exactly. And you have to just learn, right? Sometimes those bottom 10 you reach out once you reach out twice, they're not buying in or buy. We'll see you later well, move them on.

Skye:
When we talk about empowering parents, this question is perfect for that. That's come in from Michael Dick. So Michael is saying, "I'm having great difficulty convincing my local club rec soccer to adopt the small sided games PDI from US soccer." The player development initiatives for those who are listening, "They claim that the problems are logistical but I don't see it. In fact, going to small sided games would make things easier in many cases. What is the real reason that clubs oppose these in your experience? I feel that it is an obsession with the adult version of the game and administrators who are never really, that technically adapted the game themselves so that they don't see a skill development as a priority."

John:
I think he's right, right? The objections to it are definitely self-centered of like, you know what, this is what soccer is going to be, so we're going to make it like that. And my analogy is always, we don't put kindergarteners in big chairs and big desks, right? So why are we putting kids on big fields? And I think, the English FAA has an amazing video where they take 11 adults and put them on a double size field with gigantic goals and you can look that up, search for it, and it's awesome. And they're like, is this fun? Like this isn't fun like you can't run, you can't catch up.


The adults hitting the corner kick and they can't reach the goal, right. People shoot and it just goes over the goalkeeper's head. Right? And it's awesome. And USA volleyball has done one of those, ice hockey's done one of those. So that's it. There's statistics and United is got statistics on how many extra touches, passes, goals, interactions tackles people make, in small sided games. It's a better use of your space as well. And I mean Spain and Belgium, right? Two countries we'd love to emulate. They play eight aside in Belgium, nine aside in or seven aside in Spain until you are 14, right?

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
Because they understand we want kids to have more interaction. So if the 13 year olds at Barcelona are playing seven aside, anyone who is saying that our eight year olds need to 11 aside they're insane.

Skye:
Yeah. And so Michael, like the specifics for you to solve this is you have to get on the board, you have to get involved, you have to go to board meetings and get your voice heard. And quite frankly, if it's not being heard then it's kind of that whole 10-80-10. Like you need to find a club that's doing that. I know that isn't always easy around the country in small areas where you don't have a lot of playing options. But I would just do everything you can because it's parents like you that are standing up and trying to make a difference. Whether it be a logistical structural thing like this or whether it's being ... feeling empowered to encourage coach education and get our coaches better equipped to support our children. I mean that's what it's going to take for us to really make youth sports better. So-

John:
And if you're a part of your state association right, then just call the state association because they don't have a choice. They're not allowed to. If it's your own local park department that's self-insuring kids. Yeah. No one can hold a finger to them, but then go to the board, bring the information, show people what this is all about and be a pest because again, you're doing it for the kids.

Skye:
Yeah. And for those that heard that that aren't quite sure if your, if your kids are getting registered through USU soccer or through US club or AYSO even they're required to follow the PDI. It's not a choice. If they're self registering and keeping it amongst themselves then they do have a choice. But there's some play that we have there. So John, I want to wrap up with a question about this sort of phenomenon that we have with winning in the United States. Obviously we want our kids to always strive to do their best, but how do we balance this obsession that we have with winning and how is this hurting our children?

John:
I think the question we always have to ask ourselves is what are we willing to compromise to win? Right? Because what happens too often in youth sports is we compromise lots of things to win. Compromise playing time. We compromise teaching players different positions. We compromise learning to actually play the game. Right? I'll just put the fast kid in the back who kicks it a long way. And the fast kid upfront, we'll whack balls over the top and we'll beat almost any team at nine years old, right? But two years later, most of our kids will quit and none of these kids will be good enough to be in the game. So again, I like this thing that the athletic director at Middlebury, Aaron Smith said to me, he said, and he won three NCAA Lacrosse titles at Middlebury and he said, "Great teams, great coaches are outcome aware but purpose and process driven." Right? And that's [inaudible 00:54:15].

So we're aware of outcome. We're playing in game and the object of the game is to win and we should and can create demanding environments and competitive environments. Kids actually say that makes it fun. They like stress, they like learning. But we don't, in the pursuit of that, we can't throw out all the things that we are in developmental sport. We are trying to create an environment that makes sure that all these kids come back next year. That's what developmental sport is all about. And I think, and in my N equals one experiments with my own teams, right? I do this, I don't just talk about it on a podcast or with you or write books about it.

I mean, I took over an age group that the two teams lost every single game last spring. Right? And the top team, we won our division this fall and we didn't win by, oh my God, cut bad kids, whatever. Every single kid on that team, these are youth 13 boys started half the games. Every single kid played meaningful minutes, at least a half game every game, seven kids on the B team got minutes with A team throughout the season, right? And so it's like I won more games.

Skye:
So this is to me like solving so much. Like tell us, we can't end on that. Like, that kind of thing. So what were the things that you did? Because surely they're replicable and these are things that we can all learn from.

John:
Well, I mean, first of all, the first thing I said to the group was, "What we're going to learn in the beginning is we're going to get good at practice." We were terrible at practice. Don't show up on time, don't show up focused your ball is not pumped up, you didn't bring the right gear, you're not paying attention, right? So I had to teach them how to practice first, right? And then once I taught them how to practice, and then again, I talk about in the book, it's games based learning, right? So it is never one kid, one ball, two kids, one ball. It was always interactive things, decisions, directions and you don't see the payback to that in a week, right? Interleaved practice, you see the payback over time. So slowly but surely over time, all of a sudden kids understand space and they're getting lots of repetition of passing or shooting. But they're doing it with a defender on them. They're doing it where they have to be aware of their surrounding. They have to scan, they have to check their shoulder.

And so creating an environment where we just play a lot of different constrained games and just lots of games in general, right? And guess what? Kids love that. So all of a sudden practice goes from, do I have to go to, coach can I stay for extra? And so I let my B team kids stay for the A team practice. I let the A teams kids stay for the B team practice. So I always have big numbers, which is great. I love big numbers and every once in a while I'll be like, "Okay, some of you, you got to go like I can't have 30 every practice." But, like I had a kid on the B team who missed between both teams, three practices a week from June to November, missed one practice total. And guess where he was at the end of the year, he was on the A team.

Skye:
Wow.

John:
Right?

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
I didn't tell him I didn't make him. That was his thing. And guess what I said to the other kids who said, how do I make the A team? I said, "Well, look what this kid did. He practiced twice as much as you did." Right? And so I think this is ... so it's creating the right environment, designing great practices, making a game space. So the learning becomes sticky, but also giving kids a taste, right? If I want my B team kids to get better, then it starts by practicing with the A team, right?

Skye:
Yeah.

John:
And getting a chance, and then rewarding them or like, "Look, hey, we're playing back to back at home this weekend. You've been doing great. I'm going to put you on the A team roster I'll proudly only get you 15, 20 minutes, but then you can play the whole B team game afterwards." Right? No kid ever goes, "No, I don't want that." Right? So all of a sudden it's like instead of having like this thing where it's like, okay, here's our A team and then this is cliff and then here's the B team. It's just kind of like this. And then as kids get older and all of a sudden, because who's the most dominant 12 year olds in kids who grew first? Right?


So I'm developing them all and not just a select few.

Skye:
Good for you. Love it. Here's a little graphic for John's book, Every Moment Matters. I have John's email address on this. If you are a coach or a parent that wants to buy a book for a large number of people, then you can reach out to John, his email address is there, john@changingthegameproject.com otherwise you can purchase it on Amazon for delivery prior to Christmas. John, thank you so, so much for your time. I just saw John's question. John Kessel's question. It's probably a good one for you to answer here as you wrap it up.

John:
Yeah.

Skye:
But it is saying, what's been the biggest surprise in the process since you were sitting in my office at USA volleyball discussing [inaudible 00:59:37]? That is so random that his question was related to what to you had said earlier as well.

John:
Again, John, I say kudos to you, my friend and John Kessel is a great teacher and mentor. I encourage everyone to follow his blog because he will catch you. I'm glad he didn't write in Hey you said the word don't and try six times, because that's what he usually does to me.

Skye:
I'm sure he is counting it all this time.

John:
I think he is counting, I'll probably get that direct email. What has been the biggest surprise? I think the biggest surprise is that ... how I would define success and I think in the beginning I would have defined success as man, unless we can shift this whole entire paradigm no matter what as quickly as possible, it's a disaster. And now the way that I define success in creating a movement like Soccer Parenting, like Changing The Game Project, when I get an email from a dad or a mom that says, your book, your website saved my relationship with my son or says, you know what? Like I am a completely different coach. What you've done for sports in our community. By us being able to share your message has transformed it for our kids. That to me is success. Right? One family, one kid at a time, and slowly but surely, good things happen over time.

Skye:
Yep. Fantastic. Well, again, John, thank you so much for your time. Really, really appreciate it and I'm excited for your new book. Good luck with it and have a great holiday.

John:
Skye, you're the best. Thank you so much.

Skye:
Thanks. Take care everybody.

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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