NHL & NHLPA Launch Core Development Program

NHL and NHLPA Launch Program to Help Drive Positive Player Outcomes On and Off the Ice

It has been a lot of hard work and fun to get to this point.  Looking forward to continuing to have it move forward.

To see the joint NHL and NHLPA announcement click here.


Athletes are People First | What Are You Doing About The Missing Hours™

Many people are inclined to think that somehow professional athletes are kind of like robots.  They go out onto the court, the field or the ice surface and they just play.  They are not human beings but professional athletes!

The idea that athletes are like robots has been exacerbated by several trends in the sport world including; the ‘Moneyball-ization’ of athletic performance, the expanding world of fantasy sports, the ever increasing amounts of money paid to professional athletes and of course the ubiquitous media chatter and hype.

Consequently, the idea that what takes place away from the playing surface could impact a professional athlete seems like a ridiculous notion to many fans.  ‘Well, statistically speaking he should produce X based on his past performance.’  ‘He can’t have an off night, he makes nearly Y millions of dollars a year!’

When I coached collegiately, as a statistically inclined coach, I remember a colleague who would say, ‘at the end of the day, stats are for losers’.  It was a statement that irked me tremendously.  In hindsight and in light of the arguable over-statisticifying (?)  of sport although I still don’t get what my colleague was saying, I understand that there is an over simplification of athletic performance taking place.

The advances in bio-metric data collection, the measurement of how athletes use time and space on the playing surface, and how each play or decision is measured and scored have allowed for an unprecedented peak under the hood of an elite athlete.  This leads many to assume if an athlete’s body is healthy and he is appropriately rested, trained and prepared to perform, why wouldn’t he perform to expectation?

Interestingly, what continues to be viewed as secondary are those issues that can truly derail elite level performance. for instance; stress and anxiety management.  Conflict and a lack of conflict resolution skills.  Interpersonal communication and relationship skills.  A fear of what the future holds beyond sport.

For example, if a player in the midst of a horrible divorce how likely is it they are going to be dialed in at the requisite level to have the performance they want and the team needs.  I can point to several players across different sports who had down years as a result of nasty divorces.

Another recent example, is Greg Hardy.  Whatever, you may think of him, he is acknowledged to be a very, very good football player.  However, when the photos of the abuse he inflicted upon his girlfriend at the time were released to the public, his performance suffered as noted by an opposing lineman, Lane Johnson:

“He wasn’t all that emotional in the game. I guess he is in other games. I don’t know if the stuff got to him on the news, but he kind of seemed out of it a little bit.”

The point being, regardless if a player is facing an issue that is a national news story or a private personal struggle, performance will be impacted.  Athletes who are only able to view their lives through the prism of their sport experience will struggle mightily to develop the coping skills to deal with off the playing surface issues.

Organizations, both professional and amateur (read NCAA institutions) that only view their athletes as stat producing automatons don’t get it.   The issue of performance starts outside of the training room.  Away from the arena or stadium.  Away from the practice facility.  It starts with the individual as a human being who wants to excel.

The solutions are simple.  First both professional and amateur teams can assess their athletes and staff to identify potential trouble areas or areas where athletes are seeking to improve or develop.  Professional athletes (in most sports) typically have a lot of free time.  Organizations should be taking an additional hour of a players time per day and providing them with training that serves to bolster their personal development and support that of the individual.

Colleges need to wake up to the reality sport provides a great educational foundation to build great people.  Colleges need to allow students to take courses and earn credit that bolster that foundation and the individuals development in the context of their sport.  Students can take theatre, music or art courses that allow them to fully immerse themselves in the topic (see for example the Yale music course list ‘Listening to Music 112a’ is a real course that is somehow less academic than say, video analysis and breakdown of football tape?), but this frowned upon for student athletes? Student athletes enrolled in Football or Basketball or Soccer or Hockey ‘majors’ could not be academic?  I can already envision a hockey major that includes courses on leadership, motivation, self management, dealing with media, conflict management, developing team culture, data analysis, data collection and management, communication, developing teams, marketing and you get the point.

That is a sidetrack rant and blog unto itself.  Ultimately, to drive performance that the stat jockey’s can get excited

Where are your athletes missing hours and what are you doing about them?

about, teams, clubs, organizations and institutions need to wake up to what we call The Missing Hours™.  The Missing Hours™ are those hours where coaches, trainers and other athletic or team staff aren’t directly engaged with an athlete in either practice or games.  The true key to driving elite performance is to help athletes better manage those missing hours.  The average professional athlete (this obviously varies by sport) is likely engaged anywhere from 2-6 hours a day.  What are organizations doing to better optimize those missing 22 to 18 hours?  Address those questions and acknowledge that players aren’t robots and move forward to optimize the person as well as the athlete.


Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.



Former NHL Player Discusses Life Beyond the Game

Game Change founder and Executive Director Duncan Fletcher and partner John Hierlihy were mentioned recently in a Players Tribune article.  To view the article about former NHL player BJ Crombeen and his experiences about leaving professional sport and his advice to his fellow players, please click here.



No one is ever going to hold a telethon or launch a kickstarter campaign to support a retired [or active] multi-millionaire athlete who isn’t quite sure what his [or her] next step is after their sport career concludes.

The common refrain is that Jane Public can’t be blamed for being incredulous that a retired athlete with millions in the bank is struggling to find something to do, to find that new passion outside of sport.  Perhaps it is true.  If it is, the fault lies in the public’s misconception about professional athletics. Not all athletes become multi-millionaires.  Being a professional athlete isn’t something that happens to you.  It is a job.  A hard job.  A job that started, for some athletes, in early adolescence and took years and years of sacrifice and training, just to get a shot.


 Martina Navratilova on retirement and transition.

The average career of a professional athlete, depending on the sport, is 3 to 5 years.  Assume an athlete’s career starts at age 8 and the skill development phase extends until the age of 22 (that’s 14 long years) when a first contract gets signed.  And let’s say an athlete has an average career. That player will be out of the game between the ages of 25 to 27. In the major sports, a players first contract is typically capped so you really don’t get paid the ‘real money’ until the second contract.  That second contract for most never happens.

Athletes put 20 years (and a childhood) into a career that once complete, has no clear analog to another career.  They may have made some money, but not enough to coast for 55 years.

The solution for athletes is simple:

  • Explore now.  Get excited about something while you have the leverage of the jersey on your back.  This applies not only to pro athletes but those athletes at the collegiate level. Identify the opportunities that interest you and investigate them aggressively now.  Today.

The solution for organizations is simple:

  • Help your athletes explore.  The idea that this kind of exploration is a performance inhibitor is garbage.  In fact, evidence is mounting that pursuing activities outside of sport actually promotes sport performance.


One of Game Change’s services is to help athletes explore and leverage their interests now.  We also help organizations build resources and services to help their athletes.  Our goal is to condense the time frame required to identify opportunities that athletes find exciting and interesting.  Through this process we facilitate an easier migration from the conclusion of a sports career to the launch of something exciting and new beyond the game.  BUT, this helps athletes today.  This helps teams now.  To think this is only about the future is so old school Will Ferrell is calling.

This stuff matters. If athletes aren’t able to imagine themselves beyond the game their personalities can calcify around their athletic identities making them insular and fearful of what exists beyond the sport world.  This is tragic because on the whole athletes want to give back to their communities.  Anecdotal evidence suggest that 78% of athletes in some way shape or form want to give back to their respective communities.  They know they were lucky and want to pay it forward.

Providing opportunity identification and condensing the timeframe around when those opportunities are pursued in our opinion benefits not only the athlete, but his or her family and the community they live in.  As I said earlier, no one is going to hold a telethon for a professional athlete, but understand the sooner they are engaged in life beyond athletics the sooner everyone benefits.

Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.



When you hear something over and over and over again it becomes fact. Research backs it up.  If something is repeated again and again and again, its deemed to be true.  Or at least plausible. Dictators know this.  Fox News knows this.  The maxim of three sides to every story is so true.  Your story.  My story.  And the facts.

A key ‘fact’ that drives the industry in which I work (Athlete Development or Player Development) is that the vast majority of professional athletes upon leaving sport will be broke and/or divorced within two years.  In 2009, an article released in Sport Illustrated written by Pablo S. Torre titled How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke cited two key statistics:

  • By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
  • Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

It is one of the most popular articles ever written for SI.  You would think these statistics would keep Athlete Development Specialists, leagues and player association leadership up at night.

They are mind boggling numbers.  They paint a desperate picture of professional athletes who once lived the high-life, but are now clipping coupons and seeking fresh cardboard for their makeshift home underneath the highway overpass.  Moreover, the sheer economic  loss would be staggering. Amongst the 4 major professional sports (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) these athletes are paid, before tax, roughly $12 billion dollars annually. The idea that more than $8 billion of those dollars just disappears is not only tragic, but nothing short of scandalous.

Fortunately, these statistics are complete and utter bullshit fabrication.

There has been no published study, white paper, article or research paper which in anyway shape or form suggests that these numbers  are even remotely accurate.  Despite searches by Ivy League interns, professors at institutions of higher learning no work has been unturned which supports these claims.  The article written by Torre does not cite any specific research but instead claims that these statistics are derived from, “… a host of sources (athletes, players’ associations, agents and financial advisers)…”.  To call that an egregious miss by SI fact checkers would be generous (Torre never returned phone calls to discuss where he sourced this data). These figures are simply made up.


The National Football League conducted a study with the University of Michigan, where they found that on the whole retired players aren’t in financial shambles or all living life post divorce.  The study noted, “retired players are in good financial shape overall, although there are small percentages of retired players who report financial difficulty.”  Even, if the data presented by UM skewed in the NFL’s favour, it would be difficult to infer a rate of bankruptcy approaching 78%. [As a side note, any one that can provide peer reviewed published research that supports the claims made in Torre’s article.   Call me.  Seriously.

|Update! A recent paper was released that found that only 16% of NFL players went bankrupt.  1.9% in the first 2 years.  The 16% rate is similar to the bankruptcy rate of American males aged 25-34|]

So why does the mythology of the bankrupt and divorced athlete exist?

It exists for one simple reason, in my opinion.  Money. As I noted earlier, athletes as a cohort make a lot of money.  It is money that is obvious.  The terms of player contracts are announced for public consumption.  If the public announcement of large contracts to young athletes were akin to blood in the water, than the sharks that showed up would be wearing suits and ties and offering, ‘world class financial advice’.  The colleagues that I work with, depending on the sport, mention how in a given month they will hear from between 5 to 25 financial advisers seeking to break into the athlete market.  They offer free education.  Free advice.  Free insurance seminars. Portfolio assessments (wait for it), for free.  I personally have been offered kickback ‘commissions’ for directing athletes to individual financial advisers.

So what?  The what is, what better way to develop your athlete based book of investment business than by being the guy who brands himself as the guru who knows about how horrible athletes are at investing their money.  What if you were to actively scare the living shit out of every professional athlete by say…producing a movie like ‘Broke‘, that tells them that they only have a 1 in 4 chance of not losing everything they have worked their entire lives to earn.  Perhaps, enacting that kind of strategy would give you the appearance of being some kind of an honest broker, a truth teller, someone who could in fact be trusted.  Perhaps the kind of person that an athlete might want to have manage their investments…

Let there be no doubt that the more that is done to assist athletes in avoiding the negative outcomes discussed in forums like ‘Broke’, the greater the opportunity for the athlete, her family and her community.  There is also no doubt that athletes have and will continue to make bad financial decisions.  Athletes will get divorced.  Some will go bankrupt.  More will be swindled by shady financial advisers.  In that context,  perhaps a ‘scare them straight approach’ by cherry picking the worst outcomes and then telling outright lies to athletes about their future financial reality is the right approach.   However, I would contend that people like Torre and Ed Butowsky  are directly responsible for further muddying the waters.  

Presenting ‘facts’ that 3/4’s of athletes are infantile, impulsive and irresponsible to the point of being bankrupt distorts what is really taking place in the athlete community (in fact at the end of the movie Broke only 60 athletes are shown having gone bankrupt – shouldn’t this at least be in the hundreds or thousands).  It makes professional athletes who are already incredibly insular, even more so.  They become even more distrustful.  And even less likely to seek help and good counsel.

In fact, the vast majority of athletes retire from sport to little acclaim.  They struggle with the transition from athletics.  But it doesn’t destroy them.  They raise their families.  They have jobs.  The vast majority know they have been extraordinarily lucky and seek to give back to their communities in any way they can. However, the narrative of the professional athlete as a regular ‘civilian’ is unprofitable.  That narrative goes against type.  It doesn’t get athletes to invest their money with your ‘honest broker’ firm. It doesn’t get movies made.  It doesn’t sell ad space on ESPN.com.  It doesn’t become the most popular article on SI.

If you are an athlete reading this 75% of your colleagues aren’t going broke and getting divorced. It just isn’t happening.  Can you become a cautionary tale by making bad decisions and getting involved with the wrong people? Absolutely.  But it is not the norm.

Repeat after me.  Most professional athletes retire to raise their kids the best they can.  Most professional athletes retire to raise their kids the best they can.  Most professional athletes retire….

Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.





Athlete development versus player development can be a source of confusion within the sport community.  Player development is typically described as the process of making athletes more skilled within their specific sport domain. In a hockey context this could include skating faster, shooting harder and/or stickhandling better.

Athlete development on the other hand, seeks to address the development of the entire athlete as a person. The objective with athlete development is to not only better prepare the individual athlete to compete but also assist the athlete in addressing the other areas of his life which can impact athletic performance and personal self-efficacy.

The best programs athlete development strive to assist athletes in reaching their full potential as a human beings but understand the absolutely critical nature of achieving optimal athletic performance.  Ignoring the importance of performance in designing an athlete development initiative is akin to dropping a tercel engine into a Ferrari Spyder, the car may look great but it won’t go anywhere.  What elite or professional athlete won’t care if the time they are investing into a particular activity is potentially going to positively impact their performance or sport career?

This is critical for several reasons.  Players may perceive that coaches, GM’s and advisors want athletes to focus on their sport to the exclusion of everything else.  Whether this perception is accurate or not is irrelevant.  This perception forces athletes to double down on their identity as an athlete. The more closely an athlete identifies exclusively with their ‘athletic identity’ the more difficult it is to engage the athlete in exploring other interests and the greater the likelihood that transitioning from sport will be a challenge.   This phenomenon is not uncommon and has been well researched in athletes.  It has also been identified in entrepreneurs who sell their firms or individuals who leave the military.  

Sports organizations, through the creation of athlete development programs, are seeking opportunities to help athletes diversify their athletic identity while they are still in the competing.  The process of doing this while active can help prevent athletes from having their identities completely fracture upon their departure from sport.  The more diversified that individuals identity the more likely the athlete will be open to exploring other opportunities beyond sport. Research shows that athletes with more fragmented athletic identities are less likely to report major challenges in transitioning from sport.  There is also evidence that active athletes with a high athletic identity scores are prone to performance swings, inconsistency and are more likely to be negatively impacted by stress.

But that is only a small portion of the story.  The process of fragmenting an athlete’s identity while they are actively playing in sport (professional or otherwise) is actually a tool to enhance performance today.  Players who possess an identity that is not completely based on who they are as athletes have a greater ability to adapt to challenges outside of the sport domain are going to be more consistent, less stressed, more resourceful and ultimately more successful athletes.

Organizations should understand that athlete development initiatives are not exclusively about preparing athletes for some unknown time in the future.  Make no mistake, these programs are about wins and losses and optimizing for long-term athletic success and performance.  We believe the number one priority of an athlete is their professional athletic career. Any development initiative should be designed to enhance the players career and the success of organization that is offering it.

Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.



It is pretty easy from the cheap seats to ask the question, ‘how does Jimbo Fisher still have a job’?  Florida State University has dealt with and continues to deal with multiple high profile incidents of poor student-athlete behaviour. This led to the FSU president’s much publicized visit to the football team’ locker room.

However, when a university president is forced to set foot in a locker room and to give a rather unique pep talk about conduct, one must take a moment to reflect on what appears to be a significant culture problem not only on the football team but within the athletic department.  It isn’t just football.  FSU’s Men’s basketball, baseball and women’s softball student athletes have also been arrested.  The tail, it appears, is wagging the dog.  No matter how you cut it,  there is an athletic department culture problem at Florida State University. Bad things continue to happen and athletes are enabled by department staff, as noted in this ESPN article by Paula Lavigne.

In a Florida State University Police Department case from August 2012, officers asked a football player whether they could examine his car in connection with a possible hit-and-run, but he told them he was busy and would call back later. He did so but never reached an officer. Officers ultimately heard from FSU associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte, who asked whether he could bring the vehicle to the police station “due to [the player] being in a mandatory football meeting.”

To be fair, most athletic departments and their student athletes, aren’t under the media glare of an FSU.  However, the broader picture being painted by FSU should resonate with other schools and athletic directors around the country. Namely, a high profile team (who is that on your campus?) led by a strong high profile coach and personality (who fits that bill in your community?), that wins.  When issues start coming to the surface, athletic directors can find it very easy to sweep initial incidental player issues under the rug to be dealt with ‘internally’, based on the record, pedigree and personality of the coach in charge.  Until, that is, you get hammered by a larger issue that no longer fits under the rug.  At that point not only are you dealing with a major ‘incident’, you likely have a team culture that is out of control that could infect your entire department.

Athletic Directors around the country believe in many ways they are immune to the kind of scrutiny and scandal that has overtaken FSU.  The reality is there has been a massive shift in the elite and professional sport landscape.  Call it  a ‘step change’, call it ‘discontinuous change’ (my preferred label) or call it a paradigm shift, either way, the sport zeitgeist has moved dramatically in the past five years.  Sadly, athletic departments and universities aren’t known for being fast moving or forward thinking entities.  They are, in my experience, personality driven entities with a few strong individuals defining what does and doesn’t happen based on whim (or whimsy), irrespective of the title on the business card.  You could turn an iceberg around faster.

That, in short, is a shame.  The cost of pursuing a proactive approach to assess, manage and develop appropriate interventions for student athletes cost around five figures (typically  $20K to $85K depending on the size of the department).  However, responding to a crisis costs seven figures. A reasonably priced solutions for athletic directors to overlay on their athletic departments to proactively identify culture, player and coach issues in order to put interventions in place so your school doesn’t become a dumpster fire, a punchline or a place where 16 athletes can generate 23 arrests  in 5 years seems like a good idea.

Universities who take sport seriously need to understand that investing in collegiate athletics isn’t just about putting resources into facilities.  University athletics is about the student athletes and the University’s brand.  The value of proactively investing in assessing teams, coaches and departmental staff in order to ensure they are meeting institutional objectives is critical.  Universities need to invest heavily in their athletes broader development away from the playing surface instead of hoping against hope these kinds of issues  can’t or won’t happen on their campuses.

At the end of the day, schools are in a tough position based on where they invest their resources, but the time has come to focus more intently on the development of the athletes in the fieldhouse, instead of the fieldhouse itself.


If you think athlete development isn't about performance you're an idiot.


Regularly I hear stories about ‘old school’ sports executives who can’t fathom their athletes participating or being involved in anything that isn’t directly related to or tied to their respective sport.   These old school sport executives espouse the viewpoint that an athlete who isn’t 100% focused on their sport, 100% of the time simply isn’t fully committed to being an elite athlete.

That could be described as ‘old school’, but it is in fact old and dumb.

It is the sport equivalent of modern day individuals actively advocating that the world is in fact flat and that there is around earth ‘conspiracy’.  Round earth conspiracy theorists are advocating a world view that is roughly 500 years old.  These old school sport executives aren’t reaching back that deep into the stupid pile, but they’ve got their arm in pretty deep. 

Research from a variety of venues continues to demonstrate that elite athletes who are engaged in activities outside of their primary sport domain report decreased stress and increased performance.  In a 2010 research article by authors Price, Morrison and Arnold they noted;

Many athletes stated that outside pursuits provided them with a sense of balance. Previous research (Cresswell & Eklund, 2006; McKenzie et al., 2003) suggests balance in life is integral for athletes to remain fresh, motivated and prevent burnout.

They concluded that;

This research and previous studies suggest that athletes gain maximum benefits from their physical training when all other areas of their life are healthy. Therefore, it is important that both sporting organisations and coaches support the development of athletes as a whole person and encourage engagement in non-sporting pursuits in order to enhance an athlete’s sense of life balance and wellbeing.

It’s simple.  Allowing (if not outright encouraging) athletes to engage in activities beyond sport is critical for their well being, now and in the future.  It is also arguably, the right thing to do.  It is idiotic, on a level beyond comprehension, to fail to grasp the performance implications facing athletes who focus solely on sport and exclude everything else. Consistency of play is compromised.  The chances of burnout are increased. Burnout increases the chance of injury.  Stress and anxiety related to performance increase.  And the list goes on.

Don’t be dumber.

The culture of sport has made it difficult to get elite and professional athletes to understand that participating in activities outside of sport is actually going to help their sports careers, not hurt them.   However, it is completely unacceptable that coaches, general mangers and other sport organization leaders are ignorant to the individual benefits that can accrue to the athlete who proactively manages their life beyond athletics.  Beyond unacceptable and bordering on incompetence, if not malpractice, are sport leaders who remain oblivious to the performance dividends they consistently leave on the table by not engaging and supporting their athletes interests beyond the game.  If you want to win more and optimize your athletes for performance, engage them on and off the playing surface.

Are you a coach, athletic director or sports organization leader? I’d urge you to take a step back and wonder, ‘what am I doing to help my athletes when they aren’t in my building the other 20 odd hours or so in a day?  If you don’t know or the answer is ‘nothing’…, take a minute to absorb the subtitle of this blog.

Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to a philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.



It would be easy to think that supermodels and athletes do not have a lot in common, from a career perspective at least.  Super models and pro athletes make their living in short and time compressed industries.  Although pro athletes are more likely to have faces made for radio than the catwalk, the career of a model is analogous to a professional sport career.

Think about it.  Modeling careers are short. Most models don’t become rich and famous (like most professional athletes).  The vast majority of the money is directed to those models who are perceived to be at the apex of the talent pyramid (the average modeling salary in the US is $18,750). Modelling, like athletics, is fickle.  Your career could end at any moment when you no longer have an ‘it’ look or fashion designers no longer want to work with you (sounds like getting cut or released doesn’t it).

It does have a familiar ring to it.  But as Scott Soshnick points out in a slightly tongue in cheek story, how many times have you read about a supermodel going broke or bankrupt? It caused me to take pause – it is an interesting question.

There are a variety of sociological and gender role issues that likely play into the phenomenon of the financially astute supermodel, that I am not going to explore here.  That is beyond my purview.  The view that athletes are going broke left and right is a complete fallacy, as outlined here.  However, there is a public record of athletes making egregious financial decisions and going bust. However, I have not heard of a super model going broke outside ofJanice Dickinson.  So what are models doing right that athletes aren’t?

On Jeopardy, I wouldn’t know who would win between a model or a professional athlete.  However, there may be value in exploring the mindset, environment and professional guidance afforded models in the management of their finances.



When I coached college hockey in my mid to late twenties I had the chance to meet and interact with several very accomplished and successful coaches.

Many of them were willing to provide strong insights into the game or into the psychology of working with athletes in order to get them to excel.   The best coaches I spoke to always talked about developing young men equipped to succeed not only on the ice but as successful citizens.

However, one of the quotes from those conversations that still stands out in my mind, was this one:

“Throw out wins and losses.  Throw out graduation rates. My career hinges on the decisions a hormonal 18 to 22 year old kid makes while he is away from home for the first time.”

Beyond a coach lamenting that his job security was in the hands of young men who might find that university provides other pursuits beyond hockey that might prove more interesting, his statement resonates with me today on several levels.   The decisions a 18-22 year old kid makes affect not only the careers of the coaches who work with them on a day to day basis.  They can affect entire teams, athletic departments, universities and communities.  The impact of a bad decision or a stupid tweet can in fact be catastrophic.

Universities with high profile athletic programs that don’t proactively seek to engage their student athletes in a consistent and sustained athlete development process or seek to skate by with the bare minimum of investment are in fact playing a dangerous game of ‘I hope we’ll be ok’ or ‘I think we’re fine’.   Pejoratively speaking,  they are akin to an Ostrich, head deep in the sand with its toes crossed for good luck.

It demonstrates a lack of understanding of the negative consequences associated with a crisis. The cost of dealing with a crisis typically costs in excess of 10 times what the proactive solution would have cost to implement.  A lack of a student athlete development program in concert with ineffective student athlete engagement and experience reviews is analogous to not having home owners insurance.  Of course, you really don’t wish you had insurance until your house is engulfed in flames.


In defense of the Universities, they are typically beholden to the attitude of their high profile coaches.  Coaches are typically the worst offenders of not understanding the value of broad based department driven athlete development initiatives.  They push back hard against any outside voices which they can’t or don’t directly control.  Coaches view these initiatives as threats to their independence, influence, control or even more ridiculously as performance inhibitors.

Athletic directors need to rein in their coaches.  Properly managed initiatives can serve to provide coaches with additional data about their team and evidence suggests that athletes with access to broad based development resources are in fact more likely to perform better.

If you remove coaches red herring of performance for pushing back against the implementation of athlete development resources you are left with issues pertaining to control and influence.  Athletic departments should live in fear of coaches who attempt to micromanage access to their athletes or programs.  In fact, athletic departments should be seeking to acquire a deeper understanding of how their coaches do their jobs.  Are they operating in the best interests of the school or the student athletes (for some coaches there can be many millions of reasons why the schools interests might not be top of mind).  The only way to do this is to collect data in a manner that is fair, impartial and independent of both the coach,  athletic department and the university.

The last issue is cost.  For many institutions cost is a barrier.  However, this is also a red herring.  When a crisis strikes a university it is absolutely amazing how suddenly money appears on the table.  And typically, it is a lot of money.  The best crisis management and communication people typically charge between $10,000 to $20,000 a day.  A twenty day engagement could cost as much as $400,000 plus on-going retainers.  This doesn’t include hiring outside counsel, investigators, panels, or other outside experts.  It also doesn’t factor in productivity costs, due to the fact staff are now solely focused on managing the crisis to the exclusion of any and all other activities.  It doesn’t calculate reputation costs.  A bad decision made by 1 or 2 student athletes can easily result in costs that easily break into the low to mid seven figures.

Let’s not be ridiculous either.  Even the most advanced, proactive schools on the planet may not be able to avoid a crisis.  Through the implementation of real, well researched athlete development initiatives you are at least giving yourself a chance to put your institution on a proactive footing to appropriately respond to and address issues ideally before they break over your institution in the form of a crisis.

Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.



Talk to a current professional athlete about life after sport.  I dare you.  After you get past the niceties, you’ll enter the polite ‘yes’ zone, where the athlete acknowledges that, yes, it is important and it is something that she is looking at, and yes, she should probably do more.  The conversation will then end, quickly.  The athlete will then shake your hand, moving thankfully on to the next conversation, nabbing a cookie from the buffet bar, trying to shake off the feeling that someone just puked in her ear.

Can you blame the athlete?  You decided to engage in a light conversation about his eventual death as an athlete and the conclusion of the dream he’s been unbelievably lucky enough to live.  Makes politics and religion seem like light fare, does it not. Plus, athletes regularly hear from a steady stream of business experts, medical professionals or celebrated media ‘opinionists’ who point to a host of different solutions that athletes or their organizations should adopt. For instance:

  • Better financial planning!
  • Better education!
  • More help getting players jobs!
  • Better assessments! What color is their parachute?!
  • You need to fragment their athletic identity!

And on and on and on.  Guess what?  To a point they are all right.  However, as much as they are right in any one discrete case, they are equally wrong in a dozen other cases because each of these conversations is irrevocably tied to the individual context. Any team, league, player association or individual athlete can feel comfortable knowing that there is no magic bullet, no specific 12 step program, no one guru that solves the issue.  It doesn’t exist.  Most organizations know and understand this is the reality, but still struggle mightily with engagement.

So what is the answer?  Once you acknowledge that there is no magic bullet and that engaging athletes is the crux of the athlete development challenge you have to ask yourself what conceptual blanket can you wrap around athlete development to change the direction of the conversation? How do you engender buy in from both individuals and organizations?  Through what prism can you view the field and all the respective players?

The notion I have been exploring is based on the concept of ‘discontinuous change’.  Discontinuous change  has several definitions but at its core it is a ‘non-incremental, sudden change that threatens existing frameworks or traditional structures, because it drastically alters the way things are currently done or have been done.’  For example, to use a trite and simplistic example,  if cheese disappeared tomorrow,  this would constitute a form of discontinuous change that would represent a potential disaster for the pizza industry. The upheaval in the world of pizza would be massive.  The analog being, the inability to compete physically in a major professional sport represents a very personal and damaging form of discontinuous change because it is occurring at individual level.  What can possibly replace playing major professional sport?  The answer is easy. Nothing.

My issue with athlete development is that athletes are typically being delivered information that is designed to either a) educate them about ‘nanny’ issues important to the leagues and teams (e.g. don’t say bad things on Twitter and don’t do this and don’t do that) or b) they are being preached ‘the develop a Plan B’ type of preparation for life after sport (I can literally hear athletes eyes roll when someone breaks out the term Plan B).  A different developmental framework allows organizations and athlete development specialists to re-envision their approach to impacting athletes and how they do it.

I believe that a discontinuous change model can help do that.  When you boil down what athlete development is seeking to accomplish, it is really about preparing athletes to be able to adapt to and prepare for ‘non contextual change’ which in essence is change outside or beyond sport.  The adoption of a broader framework leads to conversations that are, at least initially, not topic specific. We aren’t talking about financial planning.  We aren’t talking about athletic identity as an end.  We aren’t talking about networking. The reason this matters, is that dealing with athletes through a discontinuous change lens provides a framework around which what we are talking about extends beyond ‘athletic transition’ and the baggage that phrase carries.  Athletes are not idiots. They understand that wealth management is important.  However, how many times can you hear that and not get immune to it?  If you get too specific too soon, you lose a large percentage of the athletes you are attempting to connect with. The adoption of a broader pedagogical context that generates more interest, creates less anxiety and can lead to better outcomes.

Dealing with discontinuous change is not easy.  How have businesses and governments dealt with discontinuous change? In a word, poorly (see Kodak, see newspapers, see Blockbuster, see East Germany, etc.).  In cases where discontinuous change has been handled well, if you boil down what happened you find individual organizations that on some level were able to work two key factors into their models a) adaptability and b) continuous learning.

If your athletes look like this when you talk about development beyond the sport, you blew it.

Discontinuous change is a phenomenon that exists in business, in ecology, in economics and beyond.  Porting this idea to use in athletics, allows us to talk with players using a developmental framework that isn’t tied to the death of a dream, but is instead tied to the adoption of a broader, more proactive continuous learning model.
Will athlete’s get it and more important adopt it?  There is strong reason to believe they will. Athletes understand to get better in sport one must continuously adapt to her opponent or changing competitive circumstances and that the ability to adapt is predicated on continuous improvement and learning. Moreover, athletes can be presented a developmental framework model that isn’t dripping in hackneyed schlock that they have been spoon fed in some form for their entire lives by monotonous uninteresting experts they have become adept at tuning out.


Game Change was founded in 2012 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.