Kids in the Game or KING, is dedicated to developing New York City’s youth by providing opportunities through sports and fitness to the schools and communities they serve. The goal is to develop the next generation of leaders by developing healthy habits, an active lifestyle, and promoting personal growth through play and competition. Paul O’Connor is the Director of Business Development and has coached for four different universities all over the country throughout his career. Tatum Boehnke is the Director of Community & Impact. Paul and Tatum share a bit about their work at KING, the passion that drives what they do, and some of the challenges of building a nonprofit program.
You can read an overview of the interviews with Paul and Tatum or listen to the podcast below for the full interview.
Q: What is the vision and mission behind Kids in the Game and how did you get started?
Paul: So we were founded over 10 years ago by our founder Michael Murphy. He has a diverse background in sports. He coached college basketball for about 10 years and his last job was at Columbia University here in the city. And he founded kids in the game as kind of a side project. He was coaching and he would use it in the summer, go to different schools and coach different sports, and he then met or cofounder, Matt Murphy. About 2012 they met and since then it’s really taken off. We were in a handful of schools in 2012 and in 2018 we’re in about 50 schools. We have a foundation and we recently just acquired a sports-based youth development organization here in the city. So things are really growing for us at a rapid pace and it’s an exciting time to be working in the space, especially in New York.
Q: Tell us a little about what you’re working on at the moment?
Paul: Like I mentioned, I think the two biggest things we’ve been working on in the past couple months were the acquisition of a company called Fit for Life. They were in the same ecosystem as us. They were mostly providing Fitness and sports programs to Charter Schools, which is an area that we just work in, so we spoke with them almost a year ago now About possibly acquiring them, and were working through that process for the past 8 and 9 months… And Tatum can definitely talk about the other huge project which was establishing our nonprofit/ foundation.
Tatum: So we have a second entity called King Kids, which is a non-profit. working in the landscape of New York, a really big thing is that talent is equally distributed to all kids but opportunity isn’t necessarily, so we wanted to close the opportunity gap. We have a wildly successful for profit and so we thought it was a good time to start a nonprofit in order to provide scholarships and opportunities for kids that don’t typically get those opportunities.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone who’s thinking about offering an athletic scholarship, we’re making that non-profit switch, what would that advice be?
Tatum: … It’s funny because there are a lot of people that work in our space who are looking at our model and saying, “that’s pretty smart to have for-profit and a non-profit, because we kind of have a safety net a little bit with the for-profit, and the missions aren’t different. We still want to provide the best quality of programming and provide opportunities to kids and that’s the for-profit side as well. So I think having both of them, and being really mission-driven is the best advice. Stay close to your mission and you’ll do the right thing.
Q: Tell us a story about some of the challenges you faced in your coaching/athletic career and how you overcame them, or maybe you still are?
Paul: I think for us, building a basketball program anywhere is hard, from scratch, but New York especially has it’s unique challenges. Kind of on the micro-level just finding gym space, as funny as that sounds, is virtually impossible in this city. And having consistent gym space and getting all the kids there… I think on the other side of that, you know in New York, there is a basketball program on every two blocks… Here in New York, especially with the history of basketball here, with all of the premiere hoops organizations, trying to build your own brand here is super tough. So I think we’ve done a really good job of trying to differentiate ourselves compared to the existing programs but that’s certainly been a little hard for sure.
Q: Could you talk a little bit more about how you tried to build in the mental side of Player Development at kids in the game?
Paul: I think we have a variety a different programs. We teach Pre-K kids all the way up to seniors in high school. So for me I think with our basketball and our volleyball, and kind of our travel teams, the mental side, if we’re being honest, is 100%. Physical is important, but if your brain and your mind and your body are not in line then you really don’t have a shot. So we, especially with our basketball practice, we get after that point immediately. We don’t allow negative talk, we don’t allow screaming at teammates… The main thing that we preach is you’re never going to get taken out for making a mistake, you’re going to get taken out for your reaction to a mistake. And it takes awhile for kids to get used to that, because I think they play for a lot of coaches where you know if they miss a shot or they turn the ball over or something like that they get pulled…They kind of see “Oh I can play. I can be myself out here. I can be confident.” I think that’s what we really try and teach…
Q: What wisdom have you picked up over your years of working in the sport industry?
Paul: Yeah I think for me, similar to Tatum, we both had similar arks of our careers where we were coaching college athletes and now we’re coaching high school and middle school, so patience for sure. Patience is huge. They are not going to get it on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or maybe even 10th time, where as a college athlete you expect much more, they’re here on an athletic scholarship… in high school it’s much different. They’re here to have fun. They’re here to learn. They’re here to be with their friends. Of course everybody wants to win, that’s all well and good, but I think having ridiculous patience has been really really good for me in the past couple years.
Tatum: Yeah I definitely agree with that. I came here straight off of coaching College, and I’m a competitive person by Nature. I do less coaching here. I’m much more in the office, and I spend a lot of time with our after schools programs, less with our sports teams, and it took a long time for me to not get so frustrated with the kids for doing a relay race and they dropped baton… because my background is so much more competitive. And so I think what I’ve learned is there is so much to be learned in sports, even if you’re never going to do it in college, even if you don’t do it in high school. And just getting kids active and participating is a huge win. And it’s okay if they’re not good. If they’re having fun, and learning, and being active, then we’ve done our job…