83 : Changing The Game Project, John O'Sullivan

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John O’Sulivan is the Founder and CEO of the Changing the Game Project and Author of the #1 best selling youth sports book on Amazon, Changing The Game.  His book is a parents guide to raising happy, high performing athletes and giving youth sports back to our kids.  John played college soccer at Fordham University and then played professionally before becoming a division-one soccer coach at the University of Vermont.  John has also broken a total of 24 bones in his body so he obviously had some great advice for the injured athletes in this episode!

(Taken from Changing the Game Project's website) The mission of the Changing the Game Project is to ensure that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’  They want to provide the most influential adults in our children’s lives – their parents and coaches – with the information and resources they need to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children, and their whole family.  Parenting and coaching young athletes is an art, not a science, and the information you find on their website can help you navigate the maze of youth sports, and put a smile on your young athlete’s face, whether he or she is 6 or 16 years old.

Their website is your one stop shopping for the latest and greatest information, research, and best practices regarding high performance, motivation, long term athletic development, fitness, nutrition, college recruiting, and more.  There you will find resources, training, videos, and books that can help you become the best parent or coach a kid could ever ask for.  It will help ensure that you do your part to make youth sports a wonderfully positive part of your child’s physical, social, and cognitive education.

Below you will find John's TEDx talk on Changing the game in youth sports.  John is an expert on the environment in youth sports and offers great insight into how we can fix it in this episode.  This is a must-listen for parents, coaches and adminstrators of young athletes.

Notes on Episode 83:

  • Trigger moments that made John want to change the game:

    • As an organizational director, while looking for resources to educate and help parents and coaches, information was lacking on how to communicate, motivate and inspire kids.

    • Watching his six-year-old daughter play soccer, on the next field over there was a ten-year-old game and it was chaos with the parents yelling at the 13 year old referee.

    • Saw the need for and intervention from someone with athletic, coaching and educational experiences.

  • When does playing sports stop being about enjoyment?

    • We lose 70% of kids to organized sports by the age of 13, often before they ever have a trained coach.

      • No place for kids to just play for fun (pick up games/free play).

        • Lacking environments where kids have no fear of making mistakes.

      • Why do people think that if its not organized, it's not productive?

  • Usually pro athletes retire when the joy of playing no longer outweighs the injuries or the work needed to play at that level.

  • We live in a world now where we compare how we feel inside to how everyone else looks on the outside.

    • Parents fear their kid is getting left behind.

    • Very hard to think of the long-run.

  • Finding value in failure:

    • Adversity and setbacks leads you to where you are today.

    • Seek out adversity and protect against danger.

  • The difference between a bad coach vs. dangerous coach.

  • Great coaches coach the person, not the sport.

    • Customized coaching.

  • The importance of coaches embracing a growth mindset when they expect their kids to be openminded learners.

    • Making personal time for kids.

    • Being a better listener and communicator.

    • Making eye contact.

    • Being more consistent.

      • All can be learned.

  • John's Tib-Fib fracture when he was 17:

    • Coaches response to him sitting out in his first practice because of leg pain was,"What's wrong with you? You don't have the guts to make it"

  • John's approach to injured athletes when he was a coach:

    • Hurt vs. injured

    • Role of coach is to take an athlete to a place they never could on his or her own.

    • Is this the time to push it?

  • John Wooden taking notes at National Basketball Coaches Association's Convention at 91 years old.

    • Embracing the growth mindset.

  • Moments of misalignment from John's current train of thought throughout his coaching career:

    • Didn’t realize the impact of his words.

    • Rule of 1, one athlete, one comment, one time can change everything.

    • You don’t get to pick and choose what the athlete remembers and forgets, so you better be intentional about what you say.

    • Shared personal story.

    • What did I want as a player? Am I acting that way now?

  • Sports Specialization.

    • For some kids it can be the right thing

      • If that’s what they want and they are not forced into it.

      • Still need well rounded strength and conditioning training and take time off.

    • Prior to the age of 12 research shows that's not a good idea.

      • Transferability to other sports.

    • More likely to burnout.

    • Overuse injuries.

    • An Athlete's whole identity being wrapped up in the one sport.

  • John’s injuries:

    • 24 broken bones.

      • soccer, skiing and mountain biking.

    • Yoga has helped him a lot to keep his movement and strength.

    • Tib-fib was the leg fracture.

      • Initially feeling sorry for himself.

      • Killed him to see healthy people who didn’t care.

      • John saw people in PT with catastrophic injuries at 17, realized he didn’t have it that bad, he is going to get over this.

  • Season ending injury advice:

    • For those losing interest or discouraged in returning, get back to where you were and then decide if you want to quit.

  • Career ending injury advice:

    • Is their life full with out the sport?

    • If empty, bring in professional help, like sports psychologists for example.

  • Transition to life after soccer:

    • Assistant coach at The University of Vermont.

    • Harder when he left coaching to work on Changing the Game.

  • Advice for parents coaching their own kids:

    • When practice is over you have to take your coach hat off, or else practice never ends.

    • Touching base with your kid to ensure they still want you to coach year after year.

    • Conscious of their friend dynamics.

  • Culture of safety pillars:

    • Every decision is made based on the welfare of the athlete, not the outcome of the game.

    • Those of us in charge of sports, educate yourself and err on the side of caution.

    • At the professional level they need to do better, because they are the model.

  • Toughness is having the courage to chase after what you believe in, even when its hard.



Where can you get a copy of Changing the game?



Download Episode 83 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

76 : USA Football Modified Tackle Round Table w/ JR Nisivoccia, Brian Bond & Justin Papa

From left to right, Kevin Saum, JR Nisivoccia, Justin Papa, Brian Bond

From left to right, Kevin Saum, JR Nisivoccia, Justin Papa, Brian Bond

A few months back, my friends at Mind Of The Athlete posted an article on their Facebook page about a new proposal for modified tackle football by the sport's governing body, USA Football.  This is an an attempt to mimic similar sports leagues like little league baseball which has a gradual progression to the traditional sport.  I decided to organize a discussion on this new variation of American football with some of my friends and former guests of the podcast.  JR Nisivoccia (episode 3) is a Physical Therapist and serves as the USA Football Safety Coordinator for his town's recreation football program. Justin Papa is a post-rehab personal trainer and a former high school football mad-man who was never afraid to throw his body around on the field.  Brian Bond (episode 31) is a former professional football player who overcame 3 ACL injuries.  The proposed rule changes listed in the NPR article are as follows:

Big Rule Changes Could Make Youth Football Games A Whole Lot Smaller

  • A smaller playing field, which dramatically shrinks the 100-yard field to a length of 40 yards. The smaller size allows a typical field to be split in half, so that two separate games can be played on the same surface at once.

  • Fewer players on each side. In a typical game, 11 players for each team would be on the field at once; in the modified version USA Football plans to audition, that number will be reduced to seven — though it hasn't ruled out the possibility of anywhere from six to nine.

  • There will be no special teams. In other words, that means no special teams in a bid to cut down on the punishing open-field hits those plays often involve.

  • Players at the line of scrimmage cannot use a "three-point stance" — a body position that allows for great leverage and more power off the line.

  • Players must rotate positions, rather than specialize in just one.

  • Coaches must ensure players of equal size are matched up against each other.

Below is an outline of our conversation:

  • What will a smaller playing field do for the game?

    • Potentially more collisions

    • Less room to pick up speed

    • From JR's coaching experience, most of the big hits in youth football occur at the line of scrimmage.

    • Less incentive to run?

  • Does decreasing the number of players on the field (6-9) improve safety ?

    • Rugby Seven, Sprint football comparison

    • Does more running = better fitness?

  • How important are special teams to the essence of the game?

  • Who is affected most by not allowing "three-point stance" on the line of scrimmage?"

    • We came to the conclusion that the interior defensive lineman will most affected.

    • Will this avoid helmet contact?

  • How feasible are mandated position rotations?

    • Pros and cons

    • Avoiding sport specialization

    • Will this deter bigger athletes?

  • Can coaches be trusted to ensure players of equal size will be lined up against each other?

    • How realistic is this?

    • What happens when the big kids rotate to a ball-carrying position?

  • JR's experience with the USA Football Heads Up Tackling program

    • Sees a lack of translation on to the field

    • Feels that coaches are the problem

  • Toughness Definitions

Overall, our opinion as a group was that this modified version of tackle football will most likely not improve safety, but we all respect the efforts of USA Football to create a more sustainable game.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.  By discussing the issues at hand, we will make the sport and culture safer for the athletes who love to play the game as much as we did.

Download Episode 76 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

38 : Dr. Douglas Casa + Gavin Class, Exertional Heat Stroke, Korey Stringer Institute Series Part 1/4

Dr. Douglas Casa, CEO Korey Stringer Institute, Survivor of Exertional Heat Stroke

Dr. Douglas Casa, CEO Korey Stringer Institute, Survivor of Exertional Heat Stroke

As hot summer training camps open for fall sports, I felt that it was the perfect time to roll out our 4-part educational interview series in collaboration with the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut on exertional heat stroke and preventing sudden death in sports. In August 2001, Korey Stringer, a Pro-Bowl offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, passed away from exertional heat stroke. Since the time of Korey’s death, his wife, Kelci, worked tirelessly to develop an exertional heat stroke prevention institute to honor her husband’s legacy. To that end, she joined forces with exertional heat stroke expert Dr. Douglas Casa at the University of Connecticut to make this dream a reality and the institute came to fruition in April 2010.

KSI's mission is to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for the athlete, soldier and laborer, which is directly aligned with the mission of this podcast.  KSI serves the needs of active individuals and athletes at all levels – youth, high school, college, professional, people who are physically active, recreational athletes – and those who supervise and care for these individuals. Components of these services include: consultations, advocacy, education, research, athlete testing, and mass-market outreach.

In episode 38 (part 1/4) of the Heads ‘ N Tales podcast we start off by talking with KSI’s CEO, Dr. Douglas Casa, whose passion for the study of exertional heat stroke started in 1985 when he suffered an exertional heat stroke while running a 10K race.  Since 1999, Dr. Casa has worked toward his goal of preventing sudden death in sport at the University of Connecticut, Department of Kinesiology. During this time he has published more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and presented more than 350 times on subjects related to exertional heat stroke, heat-related illnesses, preventing sudden death in sport, and hydration. Dr. Casa has successfully treated more than 167 (and counting) cases of exertional heat stroke.

Dr. Casa is the 2008 recipient of the medal for distinguished athletic training research from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. He was named a fellow of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2008. He received the Sayers “Bud” Miller Distinguished Educator Award from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2007 and has been a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine since 2001. He has been a lead or co-author on numerous sports medicine (ACSM, NATA) position statements related to heat illness and hydration. 

Dr. Casa has worked with numerous media outlets across the country in discussing his research including the NBC Today Show, ESPN, CNN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.  Dr. Casa earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Allegheny College, in 1990; his master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Florida in 1993; and his doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Connecticut in 1997.

In this episode, Dr. Casa provides us with some background on the Korey Stringer Institute, shares his tale of exertional heat stroke, teaches about the signs, symptoms and appropriate treatment of exertional heat stroke.  Lastly he shares the story of former Towson Football Player, Gavin Class who nearly lost his life to exertional heat stroke and worked with the KSI Staff to get back on the field.  We also hear from Gavin in a separate interview to learn about the obstacles he faced in his recovery and what his transition to life after sports was like. This part of episode 38 can be found at 00:54:11. 

Gavin was a 6'4'', 305 lb offensive lineman at Towson University who was benching 440 lbs and squatting 525 lbs before suffering heat stroke during training camp in August of 2013.  This goes to show that even when you are in the best shape of your life, you are not invincible.  Gavin had to have 12 subsequent surgeries, including a liver transplant, to save his life and at one point he even flatlined.  After getting out of the hospital, Gavin worked with Dr. Casa and the staff at the Korey Stringer institute in an attempt to get back on the field.  However, he was never able to get clearance to play by the Townson University Doctor, despite passing all of the rigorous heat acclimatization testing performed by KSI.  His story was featured on ESPN's Outside the Lines (Below) and Dr. Casa is also featured in this segment.  Gavin also discusses his transition to life after sports and how he found comfort in understanding God's plan for him.  Lastly, Gavin gives me one of my favorite definitions of perseverance to date, so give it a listen!

Where can you find Dr. Casa and the Korey Stinger Institute?


Where Can you find Gavin Class?


Download Episode 38 : iTunes | Stitcher