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Friday, January 27, 2023

Creating a village for student athletes to achieve inside and outside of sports

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After navigating the world of youth sports, both as a father of two and a coach, Omar Dillard decided to use the information he learned to ensure other parents and their student-athletes had the knowledge to they needed to avoid some of the pitfalls he encountered. To that end, Dillard established Youth Sports Navigator and Youth Sports Navigator Village (YSN Village).

Indianapolis Recorder: What is Youth Sports Navigator and what led you to create it?

Omar Dillard: I created the Youth Sports Navigator to become a roadmap for parents of student-athletes and offer real and transparent education and decision-making tools to learn how to navigate the youth sports journey. The journey I traveled with my own kids, now a senior and junior in college, saw them play basketball, football, soccer, baseball and lacrosse. With over 15-plus years of navigating the youth sports journey, I’ve learned so much due to my experience of it as a dad, and also as a coach helping several kids develop and move on to play sports in college.

I have to say, the journey was good, bad and downright ugly at times. I realized while reflecting back, that many of the bad and ugly situations, came from a lack of information as a parent. There didn’t seem to be any real resources, or best practices to follow while guiding your child through youth sports. My wife used to always say, “I wish there was a handbook that educated you on what to do when all of these situations and opportunities arise while navigating the sports journey with your kid.”

The NCAA is the governing body creating and administering the rules for college athletes and the NFHS is the governing body administering the rules for high school athletes. Who or what is coming alongside the parent and family to help make the best decisions for the student athlete?

I decided that I wanted to share my experience and couple it with additional research that I’ve completed to provide education to parents for the journey so they don’t make the same mistakes that I, as well as many other families, have made while navigating this journey. There are so many options available to take whether it’s how to choose a travel team that’s right for your child, or how do I help my child select the right high school or how do I place my child in the right environment to earn academic and athletic scholarships? I’ve developed decision making guidance for a parent to follow or use as a reference to help them make better, more informed decisions as they are guiding their child through youth sports.

The critical point to understand is, that you don’t realize you’ve made some significant mistakes along the way normally until it’s too late. At that point, what is the impact on the child? Or how does it impact your ability to pay for college? What if I can provide a resource to follow to avoid many of those bad situations and position your child for success?

IR: From Youth Sports Navigator came Youth Sports Navigator Village (YSN Village). Can you explain what YSN Village is and why you felt adding this component was important?

OD: Because I’ve been in a position as a dad of two student athletes and a coach of hundreds of student athletes, I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to understand the time investment that student athletes and their parents make in hopes that the child is in a position to have their college education paid for.

Understanding that athletes many times don’t get the time to study as much as their classmates, or participate in other academic or career building opportunities, because of their commitment to sports. I wanted YSN Village to be able to provide a tool that gives the student-athlete and parent an opportunity to have learning on demand where they can access it and utilize it, when it fits best into their challenging schedule.

Over time I realized that I’m already helping kids that I’ve directly coached uncover opportunities and broaden their horizons to help them obtain free and low-cost college educations, without the money coming from sports. I continue to discover that there are so many more student-athletes in this same situation. My passion is around helping kids and parents excel. I work hard to use my diverse professional background and my consistent pursuit of learning to help parents put their student-athletes in position for success.

Additionally, I’ve seen and coached kids that are great at multi-tasking with their schoolwork and sports, and have tremendous work ethic, but still not earn an athletic scholarship. Many of those kids, I’ve watched lose their self-confidence because so much of who their identity has been and is tied to sports. The misconception about athletes is those who make it on to get athletic scholarships, or to the professional level, always worked the hardest. That’s not always true. There are several other factors that also play into who receives an athletic scholarship.

So, I decided to organize my thoughts and beliefs and tap into my relationships to create and deliver relevant education to parents and athletes that will teach them foundational principles of: technology literacy, financial literacy and open the doors for them to learn about multiple career paths and the individuals who are doing work in those careers.

One thing I know for certain, student-athletes have a work ethic, time management and the capacity to do more than most. So, if we deposit relevant, life changing information into their minds and spirits early in life, these young people will have a stronger opportunity to become highly productive and compensated in relevant jobs or businesses, whether they play sports at a collegiate or professional level. They will be prepared to pivot whenever they feel like it because they have the knowledge to earn, and the knowledge to put their money to work for them as well.

IR: Black youth often look at sports as their ticket out of poverty. Why do you think that is?

OD: I honestly believe that when kids are looking with their own eyes at who is making large sums of money or who is moving the culture, they focus on what they see or can feel. The interesting thing about Indianapolis from a basketball standpoint is that many of the young players around have come up playing on AAU teams and/or possibly been in the gym with the likes of Eric Gordon, Jeff Teague, Gary Harris, Trey Liles and a host of others. So, athletes in this city actually can see that basketball is a way to earning a significant income, and they know what the path looks like to get to the professional level.

In contrast, if I were to ask young athletes, and possibly even adults as well, how many Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies there are currently, what would their response be? To take it even further, what does that path to becoming a CEO of a Fortune 500 company look like to get there? We like to throw numbers out there all the time to these young athletes of how hard it is to go pro in sports. Well frankly, if we just look at numbers, there are 450 jobs in the NBA that earn close to or exceed $1 million. Of those, approximately 300 or so jobs are held by Black players.

There are currently 1,696 jobs in the NFL and approximately 1,180 are held by Black players. They are also high-income earners. Currently, there are four Black CEOS of Fortune 500 companies. If they walked past us right now, we likely wouldn’t even know who they were, not to mention young athletes. Secondly, how would they know the path of how to navigate that career trajectory and advance to that level in a large corporation.

Many of us grew up in a generation where you wouldn’t dare ask your parents what income they make. You knew economic status based on the neighborhood you lived in and the clothes you were wearing. We’re going to open the book for athletes to know the opportunities and income levels that are available to all.

IR: How do we help Black youth realize there are other opportunities for wealth building?

OD: The YSN Village is providing a team of subject matter experts in a community format, to help introduce and teach these opportunities to young athletes in a manner that they can understand it, and through a method they receive information. The YSN Village will empower athletes and their parents with a transformative educational experience in critical areas that will prepare athletes to win in life.

During my professional career, I’ve worked as a stockbroker, an owner of an IT staffing company, a professional real estate investor and also served my passion for mentoring and coaching as a high school varsity basketball coach. I’ve developed a strong breadth of knowledge and relationships in each of these areas, and for a long time wondered how I can enact the change that I want to see in the world and our community, using my gifts and experience. The YSN Village brings life to this vision for our kids and parents.

IR: How can parents and their athletes access YSN Village?

OD: They can reach us at www.coachodriven.com.

Twitter: @CoachODriven

Instagram: youthsportsnavigator

Facebook: youthsportsnavigator

IR: What are YSN Village’s specific areas of focus and how do you address these areas?

OD: The YSN Village has engaged subject matter experts from around the country who will focus content on these topics for athletes and parents:

Financial Literacy:

Tech Literacy:

Emotional Intelligence

Communication & Building Relationships & Mentors

The teaching will come from an application perspective, meaning the teaching will come from those doing the actual work that the content will be centered around. Additionally, we have interviewed dozens of individuals who have ascended to the top of their professions and the YSN Village will be able to share those conversations with young athletes and actually provide access and communication between the athlete/parent and these professionals. This is a community focused on building and strengthening one another. They always say, “It takes a Village to raise a child,” and we want to be a significant part of your Village.

These athletes/parents will here from and interact with:




Vice Presidents

Global Marketing Directors

School Superintendents

Doctors, Dentists

Vice Presidents and so much more

The YSN Village will provide athletes and parents:



Life Application

The outcomes we expect to see:

When you join the YSN Village, you and your student athlete will become a part of a community that’s focused to building and preparing the entire student athlete for life during and after sports. This community is full of individuals that possess a growth mindset who genuinely want to see our community do better and thrive collectively.

Most importantly, when whichever ball is removed from our kids’ lives: basketball, football, soccer ball, etc., the YSN Village will have equipped these student-athletes with examples of success and relevant subject matter like financial literacy, tech literacy, self-awareness, leadership and confidence to help them create terrific career options that have a growing income and relevance.

Furthermore, they will have the financial education to use that income to build wealth and generational wealth for themselves and their families.

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