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Youth sports culture topic of presentation

Anyone who's been to a youth sporting event has most likely witnessed — or been a part of — an unseemly aspect of that culture.

Coaches with a little too much Bobby Knight in them. Parents a tad overzealous when pushing their kids to succeed or disputing a referee's call.

Dave Preszler, chairman of the Southern Oregon Sports Commission, recently helped walk an angry parent away from a youth soccer match after the parent was ejected for his behavior.

No wonder Preszler and the SOSC have enlisted John O’Sullivan, an internationally-respected speaker, to present his program. O'Sullivan, a Bend resident, is founder of the "Changing the Game Project." His presentation is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Central Medford High School auditorium, 815 S. Oakdale St. Ave.

The program is free and aimed at "the most influential adults in our children's lives — their parents and coaches," according to organizers.

O'Sullivan began his project in 2012 with the goal of developing high performance in a player-first environment. His website, changingthegameproject.com, outlines resources to make sports a healthy, positive experience for kids and their families.

The SOSC is part of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County geared toward enhancing sports tourism in the region. It's made up of local sports and business leaders, and raises funds through an annual awards banquet. The second banquet was in February.

Bringing in O'Sullivan and his message, which could have an impact across a wide range of sports in the community, is a great way, said Preszler, to utilize the SOSC's funds.

"Parents and coaches," said Preszler, who qualifies as both, "occasionally find themselves to be more intense than they intended, yelling at referees and getting on kids and players in a way they probably wouldn't if they had time to think about it.

"Across every sport, you're seeing more instances of parents and coaches, and occasionally players, not necessarily acting in a way they would like themselves to and in a way that's not conducive to a good environment. Every person I've talked to sees this as an issue. As parents and coaches, we need to see that, occasionally, we're part of the problem."

Sports tourism is big business, and Medford is a significant player with its jewel of a facility, U.S. Cellular Community Park.

If the environment around youth sports is unappealing, it undermines the viability of sports tourism, said Preszler.

Some would argue sports have become too important. O'Sullivan disagrees, saying on his site that sports are needed more than ever to instill traditional core values like sportsmanship, teamwork, humility, determination and courage.

He also says it's hard to go to a youth sports event and not think, "There is something wrong with this picture."

Twenty or 30 years ago, he says, there were no cameras streaming 10-year-old baseball games online, no coaches lining up to recruit the best middle-school talent, no commercials for $300 shoes and $400 bats.

He cites a sedentary lifestyle of our youth and says one reason for it is the staggering rate at which kids drop out of organized athletics. Statistics by the National Alliance for Sports show 70 percent of children leave structured sports by age 13.

There are variety of factors, including expense and time constraints, but most stop playing, O'Sullivan says on his site, "because it just is not fun anymore. The people responsible for this, and the only ones who can change it, are the adults, and that means you and us."

Among the groups O'Sullivan has spoken for are TEDx, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and IMG Academy.

To attend the presentation, sign up at bit.ly/changing-the-game or call 541-608-8517.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com