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My Story

To my wife Nicki, you are my rock, my best friend. Words can never express my love for you.


To Jordan and Jackson, you are my motivation and why I’m choosing this road. Your dad loves you with all of his heart.


To Mom and Dad, thank you!




I am a very blessed man, and my prayer is that you will be blessed by this story. What people see isn’t always what’s true. Many people appear to be successful and have it all, yet they are dying inside. Society says that we must portray a certain image, and unfortunately most of us try to portray whatever that image is “supposed” to be. You’ve heard the sayings over and over again: “Perception is Reality”, “Fake it until you make it”. Things of this nature have been pounded into our heads for so long that we don’t even question whether they are true or not. For those that choose to listen, I’m here to tell you they are lies. To those that choose not to listen, I pray that you figure it out before you wake up one day and you don’t even know who you are.


That was me, but by the grace of God I have found truth. We are told that if we have a certain education, get a certain job, buy a house in the “right” neighborhood, and drive the right car to be happy. I bought that! In 1993 I graduated with that education from a prestigious university, Vanderbilt University. Prior to going to Vandy, I specifically remember an English teacher, who will remain nameless, telling me how great my life would be because of this opportunity.   A few years later, I got even more education, I became a Certified Financial Planner because I was told that having initials, CFP®, after my name would show people how competent I was. At this point I had everything that so many had told me would make me happy. My income was great, I lived in a nice house, my cars were nice, I have a wife and two kids, I had a membership at the country club, and I had even lost weight. Everything sounds perfect and it looked perfect, except I was dying inside. The sad part is I didn’t even know it at the time. Very little about me was real, but it did match up with societal expectations. Despite all of the perception, the reality was that I was scared, I was in debt up to my eyeballs, but yet I had to maintain this perception in order to be “successful”.


In the summer of 2009, this all came to a head. The financial crisis of 2008 brought me to my knees. People were depending on me, and the perception was that they could, the reality was I had no control of what had happened but because of that perception people were scared of losing “everything”, and they were looking to me for guidance. The reality was I had no idea what to tell them yet I couldn’t tell them that. Had I ever lied to them? No! Did they have an unrealistic sense of security? Yes!


Katy Ursta, One Fit Fighter, puts it best, “turn your mess into your message.” In 2009, everything changed. Was it instantly? No! In fact that year was one of the toughest years of my entire life. While I was going through it, I had no idea that one day I would look back at that time and see it as a blessing. Frankly, it was hell, and the only person that really knew the hell that I was going through inside was Pastor David Welsh, whom I will be eternally grateful. Many a night I sat alone in my driveway, holding a baseball bat, praying and yelling at God, making excuses, and feeling sorry for myself until one day, and I don’t remember why, I finally looked at myself in the mirror, and realized where the blame belonged. Me! So, here is the story.


On June 11, 1992 I met the love of my life and to this day I’m married to best friend and despite my many faults, she has chosen to love me anyway. What began as innocent flirting at a club, The Home, in Hays, KS would change my life forever. We met the summer before my senior year at Vanderbilt. Just a summer fling. I was going back to Vanderbilt to finish out my senior year of baseball and graduate, then move on with my life. I graduated in May of 2003, and in September of that same year, Nicki moved to SC. Some summer fling, right? I forgot to mention that she agreed to marry me in November of 2002. She gave up everything for me and moved to a foreign place without knowing anyone outside of meeting some of my family.


After graduating, I did what every good college graduate was supposed to do. I found a job! I was making a little money, bought a car. No, I borrowed money so I could drive my dream car, a Toyota 4-Runner. After about a year at the job, I knew what I was doing was not for me. And, like many after graduating from college, I began to gain weight. One fateful night while visiting Nicki’s family in Kansas over Christmas 1994, I was introduced to “The Opportunity of a Lifetime”, and everything was about to change.


Nicki and I were to be married on June 10, 1995, and because that opportunity was so “great”, I thought it was a perfect idea to quit my job in May and go full force into this opportunity. We needed an office to share this opportunity with others and we needed product to sell. Of course we had no money for either, so we followed the “great” advice of those who had gone before us, “use other people’s money”. In other words borrow money. We enlisted the help of my parents who were willing to let us borrow money against their paid for house, and we looked to our good friends at Mastercard and Visa to for the rest. For the next year we “faked it until we made it”. There was one problem, we were good at faking it, but we never made it. Over the next year, we only made a profit one month, but looking back that one month could only have been HIS doing. We were well over $100k in debt, and the rent for the office was coming due. That rent was $2200 a month, supposedly share by others in the office, except I was the only one on the lease, and the rest weren’t paying. Heck, they couldn’t pay either, but man they were good at faking it in hopes of making it. Nicki and I had about $250 in our checking account and were out of borrowed funds. That’s the month we made a profit. We paid the rent, and we were fortunate enough to find someone else that was willing to take the lease off of our hands.


When it was all said and done, we were $100k+ in debt, no jobs, and my parent’s house was the collateral on a large portion of that debt. Needless to say, I became a little depressed. There would be days when I could barely make myself get out of bed because I knew if I did, there was that perception thing again. I began to gain even more weight, and somehow, the grace of God, we never once missed a payment on the debt. Unfortunately, Nicki was carrying the load financially.


After a short stint of living in Wichita, KS in 1996, we moved back to SC. Nicki was able to get rehired at Carolina First and I found a job loading food machines for Cromer Food Services in Anderson, SC. The job was miserable, but between the two of us, we could at least pay the minimum payments on the debt, but because we could only pay the minimums, our debt load continued to grow. And, again I was still believing perception is reality, so no one except my parents knew what we were dealing with.


Then in June of 1997, we finally got a break when Gates/Arrow Distributing hired me for a sales position. Our income began to go up a little. A friend of my dad’s let us rent his pool house for only $200 a month. The debt wasn’t declining but for the first time, it wasn’t growing. Sadly, we hid the fact that we were living in a shack from everyone at Gates/Arrow except for my good friend Will Tripp. I love that dude! Perception versus reality right! Gates/Arrow will always have a special place in my heart because we could at least breathe.


After working at Gates for about a year and a half, a new opportunity emerged. While visiting Wichita again over Christmas of 1998, that opportunity was presented. My wife’s step-father wanted to expand his financial planning firm and he needed someone to take care of his clients if something ever happened to him. At the time, we were still $100k in debt, and looking back I now realize God has a sense of humor too. I’m about to accept a job where I tell others what to do with money. Today, I just believe it was a part of His plan all along, and we will get to that later.


In August of 1999, Nicki and I made the move to Wichita, KS and by October I was licensed to sell investment products. The cycle of “faking it until you make it” was about to start all over again. My timing was also “great” for getting into financial planning as well. After an 18 year run where the stock market had pretty much done nothing but go up, a bubble was about to burst, the tech bubble. From 2000-02 people investing in 401(k)s and IRAs and anything else to do with stocks would be pummeled. Fortunately for me, I had just gotten started and had very few clients. As an aside, my weight continued to grow through 2001. That was also the year Jordan was born.


The year of 2003 was when I really began to see an increase in income. I was getting really good at pretending I was successful. We bought a house, no, we borrowed money to get a house in 2000, then upgraded in 2004, and now our debt load was at $200k. Never fear though because from 2003-2008 my income would increase dramatically. With the increase in success, there also the ability to really “fake it until I made it”. We appeared to be extremely successful. Despite the great increase in income, our debt load continued to grow. Some at the advice of people who have really bought into perception. They were successful, so I listened. We had the perception of being extremely successful. In 2006, Jackson was born, and I had initials that I could put on my business card, CFP®.


I had told myself the lie for so long about perception verses reality, I began to believe my perception was my reality. Don’t get me wrong, there were times in my heart, I knew the truth, but it was too much fun to let that stop me.


Here we were, making a good living, had two wonderful boys, made the top producers list multiple times, had gone to Mexico, and Puerto Rico. According to society, we had it all or at least the appearance of having it all.   I had even lost most of the weight that you saw earlier.


Then came 2008. I can remember the fall of 2008 clearly. If you turned on your television or radio you saw or heard President Bush, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, big bank guys, and news pundits telling us how our financial system just might collapse. The stock markets were going wild, and people in general were scared to death. By the time we had gotten to March of 2009 almost no one was left untouched. People who were about to retire had seen their retirement accounts cut in half in less than a year. My clients were no different, and they were looking to me for answers. I tried to console them, but there was nothing that I could do about it, and that’s when I found myself sitting in my driveway, with a baseball bat, praying and screaming at God. My world had suddenly been turned upside down. But, I began to pray for truth and I wanted to know what God wanted with me.


At this same time my hips were starting to break down. I had lost the weight, known high of 260 pounds, but I began to fear that at some point I would no longer be able to do what had allowed me to lose weight. Through running, I was able to get my weight down to about 185, give or take a few pounds, and I was able to maintain it. But what if I couldn’t run? Will I be fat again? So I ran anyway, but the pain kept getting worse. So in desperation, I gave into an infomercial and bought P90X.


For brevity’s sake, let’s fast-forward to 2014. Over those years, 2009-14 many changes have taken place. Drastic changes have been made to my business because of hours of research and the blessing of my friend Lloyd Hermes. Was 2008 a curse? No, it was a blessing. For more details on that, feel free to ask.


I believe once we wake up to trust God, we can see His hand was working despite our inability to know it while in the middle of the chaos. Things that prepare us for a greater plan when we seek it. One such thing was for 10 years my father-in-law and I hosted a radio show in Wichita. The show was recorded, not live. Several years after stopping that show, I wind up on a local political show with Joseph Ashby, host of the Joseph Ashby Show on 1480 KQAM in Wichita and on a sports show with my good friend Chris Allison on 1410 KGSO. Chris has moved on to Charlotte, NC where he is now a host on ESPN Radio. These shows were live.


In February of 2014, The Mickey Ellison Show was born on Voice America Variety. Again, I never sought to have a radio show, but I agreed to do it because it sounded like fun. Problem was I had no idea what I wanted to talk about until my brother Todd posted and article written by John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project. A few weeks later John came on the show. The direction had changed and I didn’t even recognize it until I saw a picture of my friend Michael Gowan on Facebook. Because of reconnecting with Michael and later Tiffany Sweeley, guests on the show, The Mickey Ellison Show now had a mission, but there had to be more. Why had God brought these two people back into my life at this point? I hadn’t talked to Tiffany in over 20 years nor Michael in at least 15.


The show has allowed me to meet people like Katy and Mike Ursta, Deidra Penrose, Kaileigh Hennessy, John O’Sullivan, Bruce Brown, Rob Miller, and even Tommy John. Yes, that Tommy John. As exciting as that has been, Michael, Tiffany, and I have continued to seek His Will in bringing us back together at this time.


By the way, Michael has been a blessing in the fitness area for me too. My fears of gaining the weight back are gone because of P90X, Insanity, T25, PiYO, Shakeology, and Michael! Today at 43, I’m in better shape than when I played baseball in college.


So why do I tell you all of this? Because as Katy Ursta said, “turn your mess into your message”, and she has done that by calling cancer a blessing.


My being overweight, was that a curse? No it was a blessing. If I can do it, so can you!


Drowning in debt, was that a curse? No it was a blessing. Do we still have some? Yes, but it’s disappearing.


Failing at a business a curse? No, it was a blessing.


Depressed, blessing or curse? Blessing


Financial Crisis of 2008, blessing or curse? Blessing


Hips hurting = Blessing


All of these failures while going through them felt like curses, but today I count them as blessings. Having gone through these, I can now help others, and we; Michael Gowan, Tiffany Sweeley, and I together want you to join us on this journey called Complete Fitness. Finance, Fitness, and Faith! Two are important but temporary and one is permanent!


We all have a story to tell, and the story is continually be written. What is your story going to be? You and you alone have the power to make that choice. Will you choose to wallow in self-pity or will you choose to be Completely Fit?




Mickey Ellison

FUN is NOT a 4-letter Word! by John O’Sullivan

When I was a kid, my parents taught me to avoid those bad four letter words we all have heard. You know the ones I mean, the ones that you would first hear in school and then think it was OK to use them at home, until you saw that look on dad’s face! My siblings and I learned pretty quickly that some four letter words were bad, and to be avoided at all times. In youth sports these days, there is a new four letter word in the mind’s of some competitive sports folks. It is F-U-N. The mere thought that sports can be competitive AND fun makes some people shudder, but it should not. One of our readers recently shared a story with me about attending a 10 year old AYSO youth soccer game in New York City. After watching the players struggle for a while, he asked a parent of one of the participants “how often do you practice?” The response: “We don’t practice. Here we don’t play for competition; we just want the kids to have fun.” I find this very sad. Not the fun part, because of course we want our kids to have fun. What is sad is the idea that competition, learning and fun cannot coexist. Somehow the negative aspects of hyper-competitive sports – the over the top parents and coaches, excessive costs and commitments, and the often stressful environment – have created a counter culture in sports that has gone so far in the opposite direction that it is not serving the kids either. This is the trophies for everyone crowd, the people who give everyone awards for simply showing up and doing the bare minimum, or do not think kids should keep score (even though they do, but then forget about it as soon as they find out what the post game snack is). Grrr. As our reader asked me when sharing this story: “Why do we think that it has to be one or the other? Why do we only associate excellence or competence with the negative aspects of competition? How do we communicate to parents who correctly identify the negative aspects of early competitive play: yelling coaches and parents, short term goals over long-term development, anxiety and pressure of tournaments, etc, that an environment that does not promote competence ultimately undermines the joy of learning and playing well?” In other words, why is “fun” a four letter word in competitive sports? Why is the concept of competition an anathema in recreational sports. Can’t competitive sports also be fun, and recreational sports provide a great learning environment? The answer is a resounding yes. Unfortunately, this answer is in direct contradiction to what some people might call “conventional youth sports wisdom.”  Such conventional wisdom states that a “competitive” youth sports experience is supposed to happen at the expense of an “enjoyable” one. The problem is that such wisdom, especially when combined with the push to specialize early, the emphasis on winning over development, the mythology surrounding 10,000 Hours of deliberate practice, and the unrealistic pursuit of scholarships, is very hard to combat. It has become the status quo, not to be argued nor questioned, regardless of any science showing otherwise. To illustrate how difficult it is to combat conventional wisdom thinking, may I present the case of RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation for a sprain or muscle strain. Most people have heard this acronym. Everyone has been told RICE is the way to deal with sprains and strains since we were kids; its easy to remember, and easy to do on your own and at home. Yet there is increasing evidence that it is completely wrong, and that it actually inhibits healing. (CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THIS EVIDENCE)   Even Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who coined the term RICE in 1978, has recently come out against it, and said he may have been wrong. New studies show that while ice helps with pain control, it prevents inflammation, and thus delays healing. Yet look up nearly any major sporting website, Wikipedia, you name it, and there it is, RICE as the recommended remedy for sprains and strains. It is hard to change conventional wisdom! We face the same problem trying to convince parents and coaches that competition, learning and enjoyment actually belong together! As I have written before, top sports scientists tell us that children need three things to become high-performers: autonomy, intrinsic motivation and enjoyment. The enjoyment part is so often lost in the shuffle of private coaching, year round commitments, and early specialization. Yet enjoyment is absolutely crucial. In fact, I would go so far as to say that unless your child’s desire to play and enjoyment of play matches the effort needed to succeed, he or she will never make the commitment necessary to get to the next level. The problem is that we now equate enjoyment with not trying our best, and this is wrong. Athletes who are enjoying themselves naturally try harder. Elite athletes love to play. This enjoyment and passion did not start when they went to college or the pros; it has been there since day one.  As Lionel Messi states in this video, “I didn’t compare myself to anyone. I just enjoyed playing.” The problem is conventional wisdom tells us that having fun in training will not develop competence. Yet science tells us that when children have fun doing something, they will do it longer. They will do it more often, outside of practice as well as during practice. By default, they will develop more competence and confidence! strategy The best coaches know this. Unfortunately, many of them feel pressured to make the “best” use of valuable ice time or field rental time. They say “sorry, no scrimmages, no friendly games, we need more drills and repetitive exercises to get ready for our next competition” This makes the parents happy. This makes coaches the center of attention of training. Yet it does not fully serve the needs of the most important participants, the kids! You see, game like conditions recreated in training are actually far better in preparing players for actual games, as are small sided games and scrimmages. They replicate the situations, decisions, patterns and speed of actual matches, which rarely happens in unopposed, repetitive drilling activities. Sure, a kid can pass to this line and run to that one, but can he play the right pass to the right side of his teammate at the right speed to tell his teammates where to turn, where the pressure is, and where the next pass should go? Can he do that with pressure coming from behind him, from in front, against multiple defenders? Can he show up in the right space at the right time, or just run to a cone because that is what his coach taught him to do? Only the game teaches the subtleties of the actual game. We have far too many training environments that are too coach centric. Convention wisdom tells parents to look for these environments, with the domineering coach, constantly shouting instructions and solving problems, laying out dozens of cones, and clearly in charge. These coaches make all the decisions, and tell players where to go, when to go, and why to go. The game no longer belongs to kids. Kids do not get to make game like decisions in practice, and play fearful of making mistakes and incurring the coach’s wrath. Then game time comes along, and we wonder why the kids cannot figure it out for themselves! Couple this with the pressure to get a result, or advance in a tournament, and pretty soon kids are not improving during competition, they are getting worse, They are getting scared. And they are no longer enjoying themselves. Learning can definitely happen without fun. Enjoyment can definitely take place in the absence of learning. And competition can both promote or stifle both enjoyment and education. To truly take an athlete’s game to the next level, though, you need the coexistence of learning, enjoyment and competition, not an absence of them. First and foremost you need fun, to keep the athlete motivated and coming back. You need learning – the development of competence – to promote improvement, confidence, and control of the experience. And you need competition to test these skills from time to time in an environment that makes mistakes likely, and thus promotes the opportunity to learn. FUN is NOT a 4-Letter word. It can and should become the foundation of every athletic experience for kids. And when combined with learning and the right type of competitive environment, you have the ideal place to develop athletes who perform up to their potential. Pass this along and help us change the conventional wisdom. Leave your thoughts and comments below so we can figure out together how we can accomplish this. Lets put the “PLAY” back in playing youth sports!

More John O’Sullivan and Changing the Game Project

Starting Your Athletes the Right Way

(A child’s first contact and first impression of a sport goes a long way to determining whether or not he will fall in love with the game. As basketball great Steve Nash says, upon receiving his first ball and playing in his first organized league at age 13, “I felt like I had a new best friend.”

From Nash to Diego Costa to Wayne Rooney, many of today’s sports stars trace their roots in the game back to games in the street or local park with friends. Years ago, nearly every instance of first contact was in a pickup game, such as street soccer, pond hockey, stick ball, or pickup basketball. The environment allowed players the room to express themselves, to fail without repercussions, and come to terms with the game on their own time, in their own way. Sadly, as we all know, this rarely happens anymore. Everything is organized. Play has been replaced by practice. Adults make the rules and run the show. 

Our first contact environment is often failing our kids.

In this guest blog from UEFA A Licensed Coach Mark O’Sullivan (no relation), author of the FootBlogBall, he discusses ways coaches and parents can ensure our child’s first contact with sport is a great one. Enjoy!)


Once upon a time street soccer and free play was the norm. Then we became adults, we want to control it and make it organized. We forgot the child in all of us.

When it comes to designing and determining a child’s environment, the child’s own voice is the smallest. This is one of fundamental drawbacks of today’s organized grassroots training. All authority and decision-making now resides with the adult coach.

Research has shown that giving children a certain amount of autonomy can be a catalyst for developing essential characteristics and well-being. Even at this early stage team work and  positive self- image bloom as the coach involves the child  in the decision making process. A coach that possesses real understanding and skill will collaborate with the child in making the game appropriate, relevant and enjoyable. Once confident in her environment, the child will start to take the initiative, inventing games within games to come up with solutions to tasks that are both challenging and fun.

Mark OSullivan sketchA child’s first contact with a sport is the key to why children begin with sport and why they will continue. At this stage of development there is a need for a “there and then” experience. Children are there to play not practice. The first contact is a great window of opportunity. The focus should be on creating activities that are designed for fun, are intrinsically motivating and give immediate pleasure. Just like when children play. Essentially the sport/play must belong to them.

Parental support is mainly emotional and practical. You need to get them where they need to be, when they need to be there. And all the child needs to hear from you at this age is: “I love watching you play.”

For the coach first contact players, a deep knowledge of tactical situations and different playing systems is not very important. The ability to “see” each child, meet them as individuals and create fun opportunities to play and learn should be a priority (Click here to check out Mark’s fantastic interview with Dr. Martin Toms.)

Quite simply it has to be fun or it will not make sense


There was once a time when players developed through many hours of free play. Neighborhood street games were the order of the day. Skills were learned, tricks and turns performed. Games included different age groups, no referee and the only adult involvement was when you were called in for dinner. On the streets, to paraphrase Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett, we learned to fail, and fail better. As Beckett said:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Yet playing an actual sport was not the starting point. Our first steps on to the street were part of our mission to play. The environment made it inevitable that the sport, be it soccer, or hockey, or basketball, would eventually happen. The street satisfied the child’s natural holistic learning desire. A variety of skills and knowledge were developed in the company of others. Qualities such as social integration and respect helped develop confidence and well-being as the child felt more secure in his environment, thus becoming more actively interested and engaged in his surroundings. This gave him independence and some form of control over his own learning.

Dutch soccer coach Rinus Michels the founding father of total football, refers to street soccer as a “natural education system.” It is a system offering a holistic learning experience where the child is “unaware of the technical, tactical, physical and cognitive skills that are developing.”

Now that the days of pickup sports are gone, replaced by organized training and teams, it is up to coaches and parents to create their own natural education system. We can do this by:

  • Encouraging children to shape and develop the play as they go. This is after all what they do naturally.
  • Asking kids what games do they like to play? Ask them how can you add a ball in to their games?
  • Look to provide a natural competitive environment that enhances rather than overwhelms, which in turn inspires intrinsic motivation.
  • See sport as a chance to develop social skills
  • See mistakes as part of the learning process. They need to be allowed to make mistakes in an environment where there is no fear of failure. The wrong environment damages confidence which in turn hinders learning. The right environment builds confidence and leads to better learning.
  • Ensure minimal adult interference, but maximum adult encouragement!

In his autobiography, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney references the importance of the spontaneous street football games he took part in, as they instilled skill, passion, and a love of the game. “There was always someone to play football with,” he says.

That statement, “There was always someone to play football with.” says so much.

This is where Wayne Rooney spent thousands of hours playing football. This was his learning environment.  This is where he learned to fail, to try again and to fail better. This is where his desire to succeed was born.

Children who are allowed to self-organize and learn through our own discoveries become motivated children. They will take risks, push the boundaries of their knowledge and will be eager to learn more. We should never underestimate a child’s ability to learn complex movements and patterns quickly, when provided with the correct environment.

Most importantly, we should never underestimate the importance of the first contact environment being one of the child’s own making, and not creating one that only suits the needs, values and priorities of the adults.

Mark O’Sullivan is a UEFA A Licensed Coach and the Sports Director of Espanyol Nordic, a branch of Spanish La Liga Club RCD Espanyol. He is also the author of the FootBlogBall , writing and teaching about modern developments in coaching and teaching sport. As Mark says, “It’s not about how I coach. It’s about how they learn.” Read more of Mark’s groundbreaking work at

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Purpose Driven Sports


Last night I sat down to watch a movie on ABC Family with my wife and two boys; Jordan is 13 and Jackson is 8. We decided to let our boys stay up a little later than normal as my wife and I thought it would be fun to watch “Goonies” with our boys. While there is some bad language in the movie, we thought since it’s on ABC Family the movie wouldn’t be too bad since it had been edited for television, and that turned out to be true. What we weren’t prepared for was the constant barrage of commercials that the boys would be exposed to. You ever have to explain to an 8 year old why the women are having to throw away their panties unless they use a certain pad to save the panties? Or, explain to your 13 year old why former “Hannah Montana” co-star Emily Osment is in the bed with some guy on her new ABC Family television series called “Young and Hungry”. If that’s not enough, you wonder when you might have to explain to your child what erectile dysfunction is.


If you haven’t noticed, there are very few places to go or things to do where our kids are not barraged with sexual content on television or graphic violence in video games. It isn’t even safe to watch a college or professional sporting event without seeing an advertisement by our over-sexualized and corrupt society. At one time, the worst you might see is a beer commercial with guys fighting over “tastes great” or “less filling”.


Think about the perversion that is taught to our kids, but it isn’t television and video games alone. We send our children to school where at one time children were taught things like math, English, science and history. Today they can get free condoms, and be taught evolution as if it is fact. Remember when it was called the theory of evolution? They are taught human sexuality at earlier and earlier ages, and there are very few schools that will simply tell our children that no sex before marriage is the one way to prevent all forms of STDs and has a 100% prevention of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.


There was a time when traditional teaching would focus on things such as honor, perseverance, honesty, hard work, humility, and love. Today, all you need to do is watch Nickelodeon or Disney to see the values taught by these shows. I-Carly seems like a harmless show, but I ask, where is mom or dad? Big Time Rush’s most important value is being famous, and the list could go on and on. Gone are the days of Opie and Andy Griffith where a lesson could be learned from every episode regarding thinks like honesty and love. What is my point with all of this? It’s not as if any of this is new news and our kids are the targets.


Where in society today can perseverance, honor, honesty, hard work, humility, or love be taught? Youth sports, but only if we are diligent enough to take youth sports back for our children. This isn’t going to be an easy task because there are now multi-million dollar corporations competing for our kids, and academies that will tell parents that their kids “must” specialize in a sport if they are ever want to be good enough to receive a scholarship. So many times these pressures cause well-intentioned parents to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, the “right” team, and travel that in the end doesn’t get the result the parents were expecting. Kids decide at 13 that they don’t like the sport any more, or worse they wind up injured because of overuse. Learn the truth about specialization from Changing the Game Project, and Proactive Coaching, . If your son or daughter is ever to play in college or beyond, they must first learn to love the sport, and decide on their own that playing in college is a goal of theirs. Without that love for the game, there is nothing that you as a parent can do to “make” them successful. It must come from within.


Most of the kids are not going to play sports in college or professionally, but they can learn honor, perseverance, honesty, hard work, humility, and other life lessons that will help them live successful lives. That is the power of youth sports and all of the lessons from the Bible verses below can be taught to our children through sport.


2 Peter 1:5-9

New International Version (NIV)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins

Mickey Ellison

The Ride Home by John O’Sullivan

The Ride Home

One of the saddest things I had to do as a Director of Coaching for numerous soccer clubs was conduct exit interviews, meetings with players whom had decided to leave the club. Children quit sports for a litany of reasons, and my job was always to see what we could learn, so we could improve the experience for other children.

When I got these players alone, and asked them “what was your least favorite moment in sports?” I often got a very similar and sad answer: the ride home after the game.

Sad kid on soccer ballIt has always amazed me how a moment off the field can have such a detrimental effect on it, yet when we think about it, the toxicity of the ride home makes perfect sense.  Emotions are high, disappointment, frustration, and exhaustion are heightened for both player and parent, yet many parents choose this moment to confront their child about a play, criticize them for having a poor game, and chastise their child, their teammates, their coach, and their opponents.  There could not be a less teachable moment in your child’s sporting life then the ride home, yet it is often the moment that well intentioned parents decide to do all of their teaching.

One of the biggest problems on the ride home is that a simple question from you, often meant to encourage your own child, can be construed as an attack on a teammate or coach by your child. As Bruce Brown states in his book Teaching Character Through Sport, “athletes do not need adults to question their actions, the actions of other players, or the coach’s decisions concerning strategy or playing time.”   A simple comment such as “Why does Jenny get all the shots?” may be meant to construe to your child that you think she is a good shooter who should also take shots, but is interpreted by your daughter that “Jenny is a ball hog!”  Questions such as “Why does Billy always play goalie” or “Why does your team always play zone?” can just as easily undermine the coach’s authority, and again cause confusion and uncertainty for your child.

Many children indicated to me that parental actions and conversations after games made them feel as though their value and worth in their parents’ eyes was tied to their athletic performance, and the wins and losses of their team.  Ask yourself whether you are quieter after a hard loss, or happier and more buoyant after a big win.  Do you tend to criticize and dissect your child’s performance after a loss, but overlook many of the same mistakes because he or she won?  If you see that you are doing this, even though your intentions may be well meaning, your child’s perceptions of your words and actions can be quite detrimental to their performance, and to your relationship.

One of the things that Coach Brown urges parents to be a source of confidence and comfort in situations such as when your child has played well in a loss, when your child has played poorly, and especially when your child has played very little or not at all.  Even then, it is critically important that you do not bring the game up for them, as uninvited conversations may cause resentment in children.  Give them the time and space to digest the game and recover physically and emotionally from a match. When your child is ready to bring the game up and talk about it, be a quiet and reflective listener, and make sure she can see the big picture and not just the outcome of a single event.  Help her work through the game, and facilitate her growth and education by guiding her toward her own answers. Kids learn a lot when they realize things such as “we had a bad week of practice and coach told us this was coming”  Most importantly says Brown, remember that your child always loves hearing you sincerely tell them “I love watching you play.”

The only exception to the above ‘Ride Home’ rule is when your child engages in behavior that you would not accept at home, such as spitting, cursing, assaulting an opponent, or disrespecting a coach or authority figure.  In these cases you should initiate the conversation, not as a parent to an athlete, but as a parent to a child.  Even then you must be careful and considerate of the emotions of the match, and choose your words wisely.  Deal with the issue, and then put it to bed; do not use it as a segue to a discussion of the entire game.

Not every child is the same, and some children may want to discuss the game on the way home. My advice is let them bring it up, and let them end the conversation. if you are unsure, ask your kids whether they want to talk about the game, and honor their feelings and their position on this issue. There is nothing, aside from the unacceptable behavior mentioned above, that cannot be discussed at a later time. The best part is, you will likely have a far better conversation about it hours after a game, instead of minutes.

As many youth sports are entering the season of playoffs and state championships, emotions are higher than ever, stress and pressure are more prevalent, and it is crucial that you let the Ride Home belong to your son or daughter. They will thank you for it one day, that I promise.


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The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports by John O’Sullivan

“My 4th grader tried to play basketball and soccer last year,” a mom recently told me as we sat around the dinner table after one of my speaking engagements. “It was a nightmare. My son kept getting yelled at by both coaches as we left one game early to race to a game in the other sport. He hated it.”

“I know,” said another. “My 10 year old daughter’s soccer coach told her she had to pick one sport, and start doing additional private training on the side, or he would give away her spot on the team.”

So goes the all too common narrative for American youth these days, an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top in both academics and athletics that serves the needs of the adults, but rarely the kids. As movies such as “The Race to Nowhere” and recent articles such as this one from the Washington Post point out, while the race has a few winners, the course is littered with the scarred psyches of its participants. We have a generation of children that have been pushed to achieve parental dreams instead of their own, and prodded to do more, more, more and better, better, better. The pressure and anxiety is stealing one thing our kids will never get back; their childhood.

The movie and article mentioned above, as well as the book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, highlight the dangerous path we have led our children down in academics. We are leading them down a similar path in sports as well.

Empty-benchThe path is a race to nowhere, and it does not produce better athletes. It produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burnout, and quit sports altogether.

As I said to my wife recently, the hardest thing about raising two kids these days, when it comes to sports, is that the vast majority of the parents are leading their kids down the wrong path, but not intentionally or because they want to harm their kids. They love their kids, but the social pressure to follow that path is incredible. Even though my wife and I were collegiate athletes, and I spend everyday reading the research, and studying the latest science on the subject, the pressure is immense. The social pressure is like having a conversation with a pathological liar; he is so good at lying that even when you know the truth, you start to doubt it.  Yet that is the sport path many parents are following.

The reason? FEAR!

We are so scared that if we do not have our child specialize, if we do not get the extra coaching, or give up our entire family life for youth sports, our child will get left behind. Even though nearly every single parent I speak to tells me that in their gut they have this feeling that running their child ragged is not helpful, they do not see an alternative. Another kid will take his place.  He won’t get to play for the best coach. “I know he wants to go on the family camping trip,” they say, “but he will just have to miss it again, or the other kids will get ahead of him.”

This system sucks.

It sucks for parents, many of whom do not have the time and resources to keep one child in such a system, never mind multiple athletes. There are no more family trips or dinners, no time or money to take a vacation. It causes parents untold stress and anxiety, as they are made to feel guilty by coaches and their peers if they don’t step in line with everyone else. “You are cheating your kid out of a scholarship” they are told, “They may never get this chance again.”

It sucks for coaches who want to develop athletes for long term excellence, instead of short term success. The best coaches used to be able to develop not only better athletes, but better people, yet it is getting hard to be that type of coach. There are so many coaches who have walked away from sports because while they encourage kids to play multiple sports, other unscrupulous coaches scoop those kids up, and tell them “if you really want to be a player, you need to play one sport year round. That other club is short changing your kid, they are not competitive.” The coach who does it right gives his kids a season off, and next thing you know he no longer has a team.

And yes, most importantly, it sucks for the kids. Any sports scientist or psychologist will tell you that in order to pursue any achievement activity for the long term, children need ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation.  Without these three things, an athlete is very likely to quit.

Children need first and foremost to enjoy their sport. This is the essence of being a child. Kids are focused in the present, and do not think of long term goals and ambitions. But adults do. They see “the opportunities I never had” or “the coaching I wish I had” as they push their kids to their goals and not those of the kids.

They forget to give their kids the one thing they did have: A CHILDHOOD! They forget to give them the ability to find things they are passionate about, instead of choosing for them. They forget that a far different path worked pretty darn well for them.

So why this massive movement, one that defies all science and psychology, to change it?

We need to wise up and find a better path.

Parents, start demanding sports clubs and coaches that allow your kids to participate in many sports. You are the customers, you are paying the bills, so you might as well start buying a product worth paying for. You have science on your side, and you have Long Term Athletic Development best practices on your side. Your kids do not deserve or need participation medals and trophies, as some of you are so fond of saying, but they do deserve a better, more diverse youth sports experience.

Coaches, you need to wise up as well. You are the gatekeepers of youth sports, the people whom play God, and decide who gets in, and who is kicked to the curb. You know the incredible influence of sport in your life, so stop denying it to so many others. Are you so worried about your coaching ability, or about the quality of the sport you love, to think that if you do not force kids to commit early they will leave? Please realize that if you are an amazing coach with your priorities in order, and you teach a beautiful game well, that kids will flock to you in droves, not because they have to, but because they want to!

Every time you ask a 9 year old to choose one sport over another you are diminishing participation in the sport you love by 50%. WHY?

To change this we must overcome the fear, the guilt and the shame.

We are not bad parents if our kids don’t get into Harvard, and we are not bad parents if they do not get a scholarship to play sports in college. We should not feel shame or guilt every time our kid does not keep up with the Jones’s, because, when it comes to sports, the Jones’s are wrong.

As this recent article from USA Lacrosse stated, college coaches are actually looking to multi sport athletes in recruiting. Why? Because they have an upside, they are better all around athletes, they are not done developing, and they are less likely to burnout.

You cannot make a kid into something she is not by forcing them into a sport at a very young age, and pursuing your goals and not your child’s goals. Things like motivation, grit, genetics and enjoyment have too much say in the matter.

What you can do, though, is rob a child of the opportunity to be a child, to play freely, to explore sports of interest, to learn to love sports and become active for life.

Chances are great that your children will be done with sports by high school, as only a select few play in college and beyond. Even the elite players are done at an age when they have over half their life ahead of them. It is not athletic ability, but the lessons learned from sport that need to last a lifetime.

Why not expose them to as many of those lifelong lessons as possible?

Why not take a stand?

Why don’t we stop being sheep, following the other sheep down a road to nowhere that both science and common sense tells us often ends badly?

It is time to stop being scared, and stand up for your kids. Read a book on the subject, pass on this article to likeminded people, bring in a speaker to your club and school, but do something to galvanize people to act.

There are more of us who want to do right by the kids than there are those whose egos and wallets have created our current path. We have just been too quite for too long. We have been afraid to speak up, and afraid to take a stand. We are far too willing to throw away our child’s present for some ill fated quest for a better future that rarely materializes, and is often filled with so much baggage that we would never wish for such a future for our kids.

If you think your child will thank you for that, then you probably stopped reading while ago.

But if you want to get off the road to nowhere in youth sports, and to stop feeling guilty about it, then please know you are not alone. Our voice is growing stronger everyday. We can create a new reality, with new expectations that put the athletes first.

We can put our children on a road to somewhere, one paved with balanced childhoods, exploration, enjoyment, and yes, multiple sports.

Someday our kids will thank us.

Originally published on Change The Game Project.