After captaining the Bowling Green Falcons to the NCAA Division I championship in 1984, I decided to forego a professional hockey career so I could begin coaching. And that’s what I’ve done ever since – serving as an assistant at my alma mater for nine years while earning my master’s degree, before becoming head coach at Rochester Institute of Technology a dozen years ago.
                Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of coaching and teaching a lot of hard-working student athletes, not only about hockey, but about life. We attempt to recruit high-character kids who are good teammates and dedicated students. That’s contributed greatly to the success RIT has had while making the transition from Division III to Division I. Two years ago, we wound up stunning the college hockey world by reaching the Frozen Four. That was sweet, but I was just as proud – if not more so – of our team’s 3.2 grade point average, pretty impressive when you consider that RIT is a very demanding academic school.
                About five years ago, I had the privilege of meeting V.J. Stanley, when he began broadcasting our hockey games. The thing I liked right away about him was that he took a different approach to the coverage of our team. It wasn’t just about hockey with him. It also was about academics and life-skill development. He was very thorough in doing his homework about our program and I and my staff enjoyed being interviewed by him as a result. It got to the point where we even invited V.J. to one of our video review sessions.
                V.J. wound up developing, writing and narrating a documentary about our program that included interviews with everyone, including the Zamboni driver. (I wasn’t kidding when I said he was thorough.)
                I believe one of the reasons I hit it off with him was that V.J. had been a successful hockey coach in his own right at the University of Rochester for 21 years. He not only knew the game, but also emphasized academics and balanced excellence. When asked about his coaching record, he didn’t recite how many victories or league championships he had won, but rather how many doctors, lawyers and engineers his team had graduated. I liked that.
                So, when he asked to interview me for this book and other projects involving youth sports, I was more than happy to contribute whatever I could. We both realize that youth sports is broken and needs to be fixed.
                Like me, V.J. believes that the primary goal of youth sports should be kids having fun. The fact that nearly 70 percent of kids quit organized sports by age 13 is alarming to me, a true crisis. Or, as V.J. has eloquently and accurately put it, a tsunami that needs to be stopped.
                We have to get back to the play-for-fun approach. Children, twelve and under, should receive equal playing time so they can develop and enjoy the best that sport has to offer. They can’t develop if they are in constant fear of being benched.
                Somewhere along the way, specialization took over youth sports, and now we have too many kids at a young age being forced to play one sport, year-round. This, too, needs to stop. Growing up in Canada, my parents encouraged me to play several different sports. I believe that this balanced-excellence approach, in which you take breaks from your primary sport, is absolutely necessary and actually aids in a young athlete’s physical, mental and emotional development on and off the rink, field and court. I didn’t focus solely on hockey until I was 16, and even then, there were months at a time, where you took a break and weren’t on the ice.
                During my two decades of coaching and recruiting, I’ve noticed a proliferation in so-called “elite” programs, travel teams and show-case tournaments, while the number of Division I scholarships has pretty much remained stagnant. As V.J. has noted, the carrot of DI scholarships and, even worst, this long-shot dream of playing professionally has created unrealistic expectations and is sucking the joy out of youth sports.
                V.J.’s book and video tapes take a look at this youth sports tsunami from many different angles and shows how this new paradigm simply isn’t working. He has talked to scores of experts in the field – doctors, coaches, athletes and administrators – and offers common-sense solutions to how we can fix these problems, which have reached epidemic proportions.
                He reminds us that we need to get back to the simple mantra that youth sports should be fun, not seen as a path to a Division I scholarship or a pro career. And he reminds us that young people, in particular, need to seek balanced excellence in their lives in order to become well-rounded, fully developed people.
                I think this book is a great starting point and a great how-to-guide. It can help us stop the tsunami in youth sports and make children the focal point of youth sports once more.
                I hope you enjoy the book and learn from it. It definitely will be worth your while.
                Sincerely,
                Wayne Wilson
                2010 N.C.A.A. Division I Hockey Coach of the Year
                2001 N.C.A.A. Division III Hockey Coach of the Year