Youth sports expert to speak in Steamboat |

Youth sports expert to speak in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When John O'Sullivan set out to change the world of youth sports with his Changing the Game Project in 2012, he drew from many of his own personal experience as a father, an athlete and a coach.

When he takes the stage at the Steamboat Springs High School Monday evening to bring his message to this sports-driven town, it will once again be a personal connection that has inspired his visit. He is longtime friends of Julie and Carl Warnke, whose six-month-old son Wilhelm Otto Warnke died in 2013.

"I know Julie (Warnke), and I've always wanted to look for way to do a fundraiser for her son's scholarship fund," said O'Sullivan, a nationally and internationally known expert on youth sports.

His opportunity came after he bumped into Jon Nolting, director of athletics with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, during a presentation in Vail last year, and then got an email from the Steamboat Soccer Club's technical director Hobey Early a few months ago.

"The stars totally aligned on this one," Early said. "I knew that John O'Sullivan was gaining in popularity even outside the soccer world — his background is in soccer in general. I guess I figured he was known throughout the rest of youth sports, but I just didn't know how much."

Nolting was also thinking about ways to get O’Sullivan to Steamboat.

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"I went down to Vail last year to hear him speak," Nolting said. "He just has a great message. I would say he is one of the premiere sports experts in the U.S. in terms of understanding the larger perspective and understanding it from the parents’ perspectives and the coaches’ perspectives.”

O'Sullivan is a parent of two young girls, has coached soccer at the highest levels and,  a few years ago, started studying and writing about his findings on youth sports. He has written several bestselling books including "Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids and Is it Wise to Specialize?”

O'Sullivan will address coaches from 5 to 6:15 p.m. Monday evening at the high school. Then from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m., he will talk to parents. Everyone in the community is invited, and the message will bridge across all sports.

Those who come are asked to make a donation that will go to the W.O.W. Scholarship Fund, which was established in 2013 in memory of the Warnke's infant son. Those who give $20 or more will receive copy of O'Sullivan's book.

Organizers were able to use a grant from the Yampa Valley Electric Association's Round Up Program to help cover O'Sullivan's travel expenses and allow all of the donations to support the scholarship.

"We have stayed in close touch over the years since he moved to Oregon," Warnke said. "He was incredibly supportive when my son died because his family has experienced a similar loss. We also share a passion for working with children and contributing to the community and the world in a positive way."

For O'Sullivan, the night is a chance to make good on an offer he made shortly after Wilhelm’s passing when he promised to give a talk as a way of raising money for the scholarship the family had started.

When she learned that the Winter Sports Club and Steamboat Soccer Club had reached out to O'Sullivan earlier this year, Warnke, a longtime teacher, decided the time had come. 

"I wasn’t quite ready at the time as I was in so much pain, and didn’t think I could handle it," Warnke said. "He told Jon and Hobey that he would love to come to Steamboat but wanted all proceeds to go to my family’s scholarship fund. They were both very supportive of having him come and do a fundraiser, so truly, it was all very organic and serendipitous how this happened. I am really excited to be connected with all these amazing people that have come into my life (past and present) and do good things for others.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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