‘I love watching you play’ | VailDaily.com

‘I love watching you play’

John O'Sullivan will be in town Wednesday for a Changing The Game Project presentation, Wednesday at Battle Mountain High School.
Changing The Game Project|Special to the Daily |

If You Go

What: Changing the Game, with coach and author John O’Sullivan

Where: Battle Mountain High School

When: Wednesday. Parent presentation 5:45-7:15 p.m., coaches presentation 7:45-9 p.m.

Cost: Free

Information: John O’Sullivan is a former professional soccer player, and coached NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer, as well as high schools and youth. The presentation is sponsored by WECMRD, the Vail Rec District, Vail Mountaineer Hockey, Vail Valley Soccer Club and Vail Lacrosse.

See that headline, parents and coaches?

Read it.

Learn it.

Live it.

“I love watching you play.”

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Repeat it like the magic incantation it is, especially when you’re talking to your kids.

Most especially when they’ve had a bad game, said John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project.

“It changes everything for your kids. It tells them your love for them doesn’t depend on how they perform,” he said.

O’Sullivan be in town Wednesday to explain why barking at young players, or colleagues, employees or about anyone else, is a monumentally bad idea.

Scholarships are unlikely

O’Sullivan is a former professional soccer player and former high school Division I men’s college soccer coach.

He saw sideline culture, and not for the better.

He decided to share what he had learned. He started a blog and wrote a book, and now he’s traveling the country explaining to parents and coaches that, really, that’s all they have to say. Really, that’s plenty.

There are three core ingredients for a successful human being:

1. Enjoyment: They have to like it.

2. Ownership: They have to take charge of it.

3. Intrinsic motivation: It has to come from inside them.

Parents, however, still say the darndest things, such as:

“It doesn’t have to be fun. This is serious!”

Or, “Maybe you’ll get a scholarship to help pay for all this.”

Chances are, they won’t.


In the U.S., 40 million kids play youth sports every year. Of those, 75 percent will drop out before they hit high school.

O’Sullivan blames coaches and parents who put unnecessary pressure on kids to win.

Sports are no longer fun, and as soon as kids are old enough to quit, they do.

O’Sullivan calls it “The Great Race to Nowhere.”

“We tend to focus on the few who get college scholarships or turn pro,” O’Sullivan said.

He watched a 10-year-old playing in a competitive soccer game make a bad pass. The other team scored, and the kid was berated by his coach, and then by his parents.

“We wouldn’t tolerate that in the workplace, and we would not tolerate it if our children treated us this way.” O’Sullivan said. “This is exactly why children drop out of sports. Sports is supposed to be about having fun.”

The drive home is another of those special times when parents want to deconstruct the game, play by play.

“The kids were there. They know what happened,” O’Sullivan said.

Stick with those five words, and help ensure some domestic tranquility.

He’s also not a fan of year-round specialization for kid athletes.

“Coaches tell kids, ‘You need to play year-round. If you don’t, then I’ll give your spot away, or someone will take your spot.’”

Which leads us back to the only five words you need to tell your kids after a game.

Why kids play, why kids quit

Michigan State did a massive study and found why kids play and why they quit.

Why they play: Kids play because it’s fun.

“They like to win and they enjoy winning, but of all the reasons kids play, winning doesn’t even make the top 10,” O’Sullivan said.

Why they quit: “They quit because they’re tired of being criticized and yelled at, because they’re afraid to make mistakes,” O’Sullivan said.

Mindset is everything

We can change the game by education, O’Sullivan said.

“The greatest factor in performance is state of mind, a positive, high-performing mindset,” O’Sullivan said.

People say things like:

“I lost my starting spot on the soccer team. I’m just not good at soccer.”

“I failed my math test. I’m just not good at math.”

It’s likely that the single greatest factor limiting their performance is not coaching, or teammates, or fitness.

“It is a bad state of mind. It is a lousy mindset!” O’Sullivan said.

Changing the Game Project

O’Sullivan set about teaching people how to instill that positive mindset and launched the Changing the Game Project.

“We teach people to accept their kids’ goals, and take ownership of the experience. We teach them to praise their kids so it’s helpful, not harmful, to let their kids fail and learn from failure,” O’Sullivan said.

Success teaches us all; so does failure, and that may be one of the most important things you can teach a kid.

“In the real world, the most successful people are the people who are willing to fail the most,” O’Sullivan said.

He wrote the book

Sometimes we forget, even O’Sullivan.

He was coaching his son’s soccer team, and one day his son told him he didn’t want to play.

When they were in the car headed home, O’Sullivan turned around and started to ask his son about it.

His wife gave him a karate chop across the chest.

“Really?!?” she asked. “Didn’t you just write a book about this?!?”

“Not only is it an idea worth spreading, it’s an idea whose time has come,” O’Sullivan said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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