For as long as I can remember, my Sundays have been defined by three happenings. It was
the day my father’s barber shop was closed, so I could count on spending quality time with him. As a Catholic family, it was also our day to celebrate Mass. And as an athlete and avid sports fan, The Sports Edge with Rick Wolff often served as the backdrop to my Sunday mornings.
Though I may not have tuned-in every week (nor would I want my Church attendance made public), there was something comforting to know that Sunday after Sunday, Coach Wolff was on the air, tackling important issues in the ever-evolving world of youth sports. Always a gentleman, and always with his signature, easy-on-the-ears voice, Coach Wolff had a unique way of delivering difficult and at times controversial topics so as to make them enjoyable and educational for his listeners.
Sadly, Sundays have been redefined.
Rick Wolff passed away suddenly on April 10, 2023 after a brief battle with brain cancer. He was 71. The news shocked me and many of his listeners, having just heard him on the air two Sunday’s earlier.
Hearing Coach Wolff’s voice just made Sundays feel right. Not just for me, but for so many who eagerly listened to his show week after week. It was as if he invited us to sit at his breakfast table to enjoy a cup of coffee while passionately discussing sports. With topics regarding current issues of sports psychology, motivational coaching and sports parenting, he would bring us together to discuss solutions to the many problems facing youth and amateur athletics in this country.
Simply put; Rick Wolff epitomized Sunday mornings. But on a personal level, the man meant even more to me.
Dating back to my high school days, I can remember sitting in the passenger seat while my father was at the wheel as we left Mass or headed to one of my baseball games, both of us quietly listening to Coach Wolff’s calming voice on WFAN. I loved sports and just started studying psychology in school. I became fascinated with the mind, specifically the role it played in human performance. As an athlete, I knew how important it was to my own athletic success. At that time, if you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my first answer would have been first baseman for the New York Mets. My second answer would have been a sports psychologist. Rick Wolff was both a former professional baseball player and one of the biggest names in sports psychology. He was proof that both of my career dreams could become a reality. I truly admired him.
Through the years, I would tune in from time-to-time, always appreciating his perspective on youth and amateur sports. I loved listening to him cover timely issues in sports psychology, and found myself aligning with his takes on sports parenting, coaching, and the emerging travel sports wave that was sweeping the nation. As I listened, I would often catch myself nodding in agreement as he raised concerns about the state of youth sports in our country.
More than simply sharing his beliefs, Coach Wolff was a major influence in forming my viewpoint on coaching, sports parenting, and youth sports in general. So much so, that I tried to live by those very values when I became a coach myself years later.
Coach Wolff was ahead of his time. When he started his show in 1998, I can all but guarantee he could not have imagined the multi-billion dollar business organized youth sports would ultimately become. We have monetized and exploited our children, all under the cover that it’s “for them.” When in fact, it’s an illusion created to mask the reprehensible truth that youth sports mainly exist today to satisfy adult ambitions, not to mention provide a twisted conduit for parents to live vicariously through their own children. From expensive travel programs, to overbearing parents, to abusive coaches, Coach Wolff’s program exposed the disservice we are doing to our children today. And though his show thrived in part off these very topics, he would have gladly traded his content for a kinder, fairer, more purposeful youth sports community. One that put kids first, quelled parent ambitions, and eliminated adult greed at the expense of our children.
In a world that values likes, views, and NIL deals, Rick Wolff was counter-cultural.
To him, youth sports were not meant to serve as a vehicle to consistently promote oneself, with the goal of obtaining a discount on college tuition. Worse yet, it was never meant to be used as a tool for adults to profit off our youth.. As college price-tags have soared, and professional contracts have swelled, we’ve likened success in sports to cashing in a lottery ticket. By doing so, we’ve created false hope and have placed unreasonable expectations upon so many children that a Division-1 scholarship or multi-million dollar contract is the ultimate goal. Anything short is a failure.
This premise could not be further from the fundamental intention of youth sports. And week-after-week, Coach Wolff did his part to combat the more popular views of today. His mission was to help parents, coaches, educators, and athletes navigate the increasingly complex world of youth and amateur sports. He accomplished this by focusing on the hallmarks of sports participation, specifically, how competing in athletics helps children learn life-lessons while building confidence and character.
The sad truth is that we need Rick Wolff now more than ever. We need his voice of reason in today’s unreasonable world of youth and amateur athletics. His presence and refreshing perspective on these important topics will be sorely missed.
As a guest on his show, I had the privilege of speaking with Coach Wolff both on and off the air. He proved to be as friendly and gracious a man when the microphone was off as his on-air personality would suggest. I feel blessed to have briefly known him and I’m sad he’s left our world much too soon. My heart goes out to his family. And in spite of this tragic loss, I’m thankful Coach Wolff has left an enduring legacy on our youth sports community, one that hopefully we will all continue to learn from and live by.