By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL-On Feb. 12, nationally-known author and speaker John O’ Sullivan comes to Montrose, to present “Changing the Game in Western Colorado.” The day-long event is open to everyone, and takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Montrose Pavilion.

Though participation in youth sports is beneficial to physical health and fitness and offers valuable opportunities to grow, learn and take part in team activities, an astonishing 70 percent of kids drop out of organized athletics by age 13, according to O’Sullivan’s web site, Changing the Game. Among the five tenets of Sullivan’s approach to changing the game are simple words of advice such as “Be Present,”   “Catch them doing something right,” “Make it safe to fail,” “Connect with them about something not related to sports,” and most important of all, “Give them ownership of the outcome.”

Because youth sports is about the kids who play the game, not about the parents, fans and community members who stand on the sidelines, keeping the focus on what is best for the young athletes is the essence of John O’Sullivan’s approach.

Erica Weeks, who coordinates communications, social media and youth sports for the City of Montrose, has a personal interest as a mother in creating a safe, supportive and loving environment for kids who play organized sports. “I believe strongly that we as adults need to treat each other with respect and empathy,” Weeks said. “We need to be super positive, and teach life lessons. So we are reaching out to all youth sports elements and inviting them to take part. This is not just about Montrose, but about the whole Western Slope region.”

According to Sullivan, part of the problem is that youth sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry, with many corporations, hotels, small businesses and even communities dependent upon revenues. “The entities competing for players and their dollars have driven up the price, and the stakes, of youth sports,” notes the Changing the Game web site.

“Adults are usurping the experience and making it their own,” Weeks said. “John’s keynote will focus on the youth aspect, but also on what parents can do to build better relationships—because it starts with us.”

Sullivan will speak twice on Feb. 12, emphasizing the importance of mutual respect, she said. Weeks hopes that the event is a spark that will help ignite systemic change. “We are working with Montrose High School, so that if local families and kids are trained up and come up through our rec district programs, they will know the expectations,” she said. “They will know that it is not about winning and losing, or about making mom and dad look good.”

O’Sullivan’s presentation is geared to parents and coaches as well as kids, she noted.

“Our overall intentions shape our community,” Weeks said. “We can improve the look and feel of our community through basic reminders of civility both on and off the field.”

To learn more, call Erica Weeks at the City of Montrose, 970-240-1400, or visit Montrose Youth Baseball on Facebook.