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Commissioner Perspectives: Brian O’Malley

By Mike Lemons, 02/08/22, 7:15AM CST


Coaching life lessons through football

Non-profit youth sports is one of the purest expressions of love for a game. It requires an orchestrated effort from players, coaches and parents. What we may not appreciate is the effort behind-the-scenes running such an organization which starts at the top - the Commissioner.

We recently sat down with Naperville resident Brian O’Malley to learn about his experiences in youth football. Brian was a coach, player parent and commissioner of St. Raphael Football (now Naperville Saints) from 2000-2016. Over those 16 years he helped St. Raphael players become great young men coaching under a core principle: Coaching life lessons through football.

As it turns out, Brian was the benefactor of that same principle. He learned valuable life lessons of adversity and triumph, both he and his family developed lifelong relationships from the program, and helped those in the community. More about that later.

Camps to Coach to Commissioner

Brian started coaching both in-house and travel teams for St. Raphael when his boys started playing. When Brian’s oldest son started playing football, he became involved in the St. Raphael football camps and moved into coaching for St. Raphael.

Brian coached both in-house and travel teams with the Saints. After several years coaching “Mighty Mites,” the youngest players, up to the older grades he assumed Commissioner responsibility of the in-house league. 

Brian speaks with beaming pride when he talks about his kids’ experiences playing for St. Raphael. In particular when his sons played on the travel teams and went to the championships. Playing at St. Rita’s, on the biggest stage in the league was one of his most fond memories. But the great experiences didn’t stop there, as he recounts with pride a few situations in particular.

Football Beyond Naperville

In the fall of 2013 Jim Brown and Brian learned of a youth football program, the Gators,  in Garfield Park in Chicago. The Gators were facing some grave challenges. While the program fought to youth out of gangs and off the streets they were devastated by one of their players fatally wounded in gang crossfire. While devastated, the Gators head coach, Tim Hall knew that playing football kept his players focused and motivated with life lessons.

To help the Gators, Jim Brown reached-out to Tim to organize a scrimmage in Naperville at Commissioners Field. Brian recalls the enthusiasm, energy and emotion at that game. The players and coaches recognized how important this gathering was, traversing boundaries and helping each other. As Brian states in the article, “Sports levels the playing field…it builds confidence and teaches kids a good work ethic; those lessons will take kids a long way throughout their entire life.” To this day, Brian recalls that kids involved in that scrimmage, including his own sons, still talk about that special night. Read more about that momentous night below.

Naperville Sun (9/27/2013)

Naperville Sun (9/27/2013)

The fond memories continued as Brian recalled one particular summer at hitters camp. He stood to address the players and parents, looking out over the massive sea of Naperville youth ready to play. The enormity was truly inspiring.

Additionally he shared what a fun and exciting event Picture Day was. Seeing kids all over town, flooding the practice fields with their jerseys and equipment on. A gathering swell of excitement as the upcoming season fast approached.

Life Lessons

Brian shared that the life lessons afforded by the game of football were not limited to the players, as Brian learned many skills he uses to this day. Here are just some of the things he learned which others might experience too:

Lifelong Relationships: Brian and his family formed bonds with others that have stood the test of time. He stays close to many coaches, players and parents whom he calls friends today. His wife also has tight connections with those from the program, including Lisa and Linda who combined with his wife to start the pom and cheer squads. His boys are also connected to those they played football with, forming bonds that stand the test of time.

Management skills: The challenges were never in short supply as a coach and commissioner of a youth football team. With 20 coaches to manage he had to navigate personalities, team rosters and more. Greatness is formed out of adversity, as they say. Building these “calluses” helped form his ability to turn diversity and challenges into opportunities in his life and business career.

Teamwork: One the bonds which fortify relationships are shared common experiences. Football is unique in that players are battling on the field, supporting each other and holding each other to a high standard. As Brian stated, “There is nothing like football because of the intensity, action and players who held each other  accountable.” No matter how great a quarterback, wide receiver or running back is, without effective blocking by the line the play breaks-down. Without an effective and aggressive defense it becomes much harder to win. Without effective coaching the winning plays aren’t called and the team isn’t likely to succeed. 

On the subject of lessons learned we discussed the evolution of safety in football which has been a hot topic for several years. As someone who was front and center with many players, coaches and parents Brian has some unique perspectives on player safety. 

Youth Football Safety

As Brian describes, “First, safety is a real issue. When you have kids playing any sport there is an inherent risk, including football where collisions are imminent and frequent. The question players and parents alike need to ask themselves is, ‘do the rewards outweigh the risks?’” For many the answer is yes, and they play. When they do play there are many measures and protocols implemented which were not around decades ago. The new rules help make it a safer game and more equitable sport.

The sport relies on safer play measures - after all, we can’t just hope players don’t get injured. For example, there are specific tackling techniques in place.

Another component to safety is less from impact and more from repetitive stress injuries. When kids play the same sport every year and don’t try other sports, they tend to get repetitive stress injuries. One of the best things a player can do to reduce the likelihood is to play multiple sports throughout the year. Many kids go from football in the fall to basketball or wrestling in the winter months, then baseball in the spring before football starts late summer. Participating in multiple sports is an important aspect of keeping kids healthy.

Author Note

Special thanks to Brian O’Malley for his time sharing his perspectives and experience with youth football. If you’d like to learn more about youth football in Naperville please visit, and on the Naperville Saints Football Facebook page HERE.