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North Van 19-year-old starts coaching business aimed at shaking up youth sports

Owen McBride burned out after reaching elite levels in youth soccer. He hopes to help others avoid that same fate.

A North Vancouver 19-year-old is hoping to bring some new life into the youth sports world with a private coaching business aimed at making sure young athletes stay in love with their favourite games.

Teenager Owen McBride already employs nearly a dozen coaches and works with more than 50 athletes through Private Coaching Co., a company he founded last year to provide one-on-one and small group sports training sessions. What sets his philosophy apart from traditional sports models is that he and his coaches all aim for fun and fulfilment with all of their sessions, completely eliminating the emphasis on the scoreboard that currently pervades most levels of sport.

“We don’t care about winning,” said McBride. “We’re all about just developing humans and athletes. That’s our main thing, and that’s how we separate ourselves from everybody else.”

Burned out by the sports system

Though he is barely out of high school himself, McBride brings a lifetime of sports experiences with him, stemming from his own journey through the world of elite soccer. Born and raised in North Van, McBride started playing with the Lynn Valley Soccer Association (now part of North Van FC) before moving on to the elite Mountain United program, the B.C. provincial team and finally the Whitecaps youth program.

McBride said his passion for the sport was slowly sapped away as he progressed through the levels and the game he loved turned into more of a business.

“As I was moving up the ranks through the various levels, I started to realize that more and more kids were dropping out of sports. And what I realized is that they were dropping out because they weren’t enjoying it anymore,” he said. “Kids from the age of 12-13 were getting scouted and ranked – they turned it into a business. And [the kids] weren’t wanting to play anymore. And that’s kind of what happened to me too.”

McBride said he burned out after spending a year in the Whitecaps program.

“The main thing for me was the fun. I used to love soccer and I played it since I was like four years old. And as I started to get burned out it was no longer something that I was excited to do, or something that I looked forward to doing,” he said. “When we were with Whitecaps, we trained five days a week, two or three hours a day, we had to go to school out in UBC and every weekend we were either in Portland or California or Texas. … We played seven days a week, and that was all it was. It was just school, soccer, school, soccer, school, soccer, repeat. So that takes away from your social life. I didn't get to see any of my school friends or anything like that.”

Suffering from burnout, McBride decided to leave the Whitecaps program, scale down his soccer training and focus more on school, enrolling at Simon Fraser to study health sciences and play for SFU’s team.

Coaching rekindles passion

While his passion for playing dimmed, McBride found a new love in coaching. In his early teens he started volunteering with younger age groups at NVFC and North Shore Girls Soccer Clubs, and by age 16 he was already working one-on-one with a few young athletes. His client list slowly grew, and then it really took off when the pandemic hit and he started to advertise his coaching services a little more aggressively.  

“I went from running four or five sessions a week to running between 15 and 25 private sessions a week, just by myself,” he said. “It just exploded.”

Realizing there was an opportunity to create something bigger, McBride went about recruiting other coaches to start a more formal business. Private Coaching Co. was born Nov. 1, 2020, and the company now boasts 11 coaches on its roster, all between the ages of 19 and 24 and all bringing serious athletic credentials with them. The list includes former provincial or national team players in a variety of sports, including field hockey, soccer, football, rugby and basketball, among others, said McBride.

The training sessions offered focus on fundamental movements with sport-specific training mixed in.  

“What we’re realizing is that a lot of kids come in and they’re like 16 or 17 and they still don’t know how to run or jump properly,” he said. “So what we focus on is helping kids develop all of those basic skills. … Our goal is to have it so that they have the skills that they need to be able to pick up any sport and play it for the rest of their life. Because when you join a new sport and you're not good at it, chances are you're probably not going to keep playing. So we're trying to give kids a base that allows them to do whatever they want as athletes.”

Always focus on the fun

The main priorities, however, are creating social connections with athletes and making sports fun, said McBride. The two concepts are vitally connected.

“The first thing I always tell my coaches and the first thing we emphasize is creating a connection that actually has nothing to do with sport,” he said. “I'm not running these sessions with the hope of creating professional athletes. … My goal is to help develop competent, complete humans. And how I do that is by connecting with them on the social level, and, you know, putting them through awesome sessions.”

And the plan doesn’t change drastically even when they are working with elite athletes possibly bound for the national stage, McBride said.

“Just because you are in a professional or elite environment, it doesn’t mean you need to lose that connection you have with your players,” he said. “What I’ve realized is, as a coach, you get a lot more out of your players when you connect with them, and when you treat them respectfully. … No matter what we do when [kids] come into our sessions, when they leave they go ‘Mom, that was fun. I want to do it again.’ And that’s everything that we’re about.”

McBride is hoping that his company will continue to grow, with the aim of getting franchises started far beyond the North Shore to bring his concept of fun and fundamental movements to as many young athletes as possible.

“My overall goal, and our goal as an organization, is to help as many kids as possible,” he said. “And when I say as many, I mean millions of kids, because this is a problem that's global. It's not specific to North Vancouver, or B.C. or Canada. … My goal is to have this company running worldwide, in tons of different locations, helping as many kids as we possibly can and help increase participation numbers in sports.”

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