MIKE DUTTON of Brunswick talks about his business venture “The Will To Play.”

MIKE DUTTON of Brunswick talks about his business venture “The Will To Play.”


In Mike Dutton’s world of academia and student/athletes, where there’s a WILL, there’s a way.

The former North Yarmouth Academy athletic director and coach has a novel approach to help get non-recruited high school athletes into the right collegiate fit.

The Brunswick resident has started a new business venture — The Will to Play — and hopes to help Maine students achieve their goals and aspirations. He’ll use planning, guidance, research, exposure, evaluation, connections and personal advocacy to accomplish this.



“I came to Maine after 20 years of college athletics and recruiting. I was the Director of Athletics at NYA and I could see that there are good athletes up here … and I’ll call them Division Three athletes. You know, where’s that kid going to play? And how will he get there?

“Basically, in my four years at NYA, it occurred that there are great Maine kids who could go on to play Division Three sports and they weren’t getting recruited.

“And, it was like OK, how do we change that? We found out at NYA that up to a third of the senior class goes on to play sports in college. Or, at least a club sport, or junior hockey.”

“I was thinking back to when I was a college recruiter at Vassar for 17 years, and yeah, there were some kids from Maine who I thought were good. But, how often do I get from Pookeepsie, New York, all the way to Maine to watch them play? If they came to me here, or came to where I was, then OK, I’d see those kids play.”

The 53-year-old has summed up the state of Maine with five issues or assumptions: location (we are true north), weather (short seasons, tough traveling), population numbers (low enrollments), diversity (ethnic) and talent (or a lack there of).

“So all of these things are actually truisms … reasons coaches might not make the trip, especially if their budget is tight. And Division Three budgets aren’t huge. So, I say, ‘we’re going to fight those, or we’re going to deal with those issues.’”

When he left NYA a year ago, Dutton came up with an idea of providing a service to families and their student/athletes, the latter of whom hoped to play a sport in college.

He started by meeting with high school athletic directors, many of whom he knew and had developed relationships with.

The goal was to help let families know that their children can still play after high school even if they weren’t being recruited.

“They, with the right information, plan and connections, can research the things that I’ve been doing on the other end as a college coach … I know how it all works. It’s been great and people have said ‘yes, this makes sense.’”

The process is multi-layered.

“The first thing I want to do is meet with the parents (the first meeting is of no charge) without the student/athlete there. I want to understand what the parents see and what they want because they are the ones who are essentially hiring me.

“I want to get on the same page with the parents. So, I would lay out what I do and I would ask them what it is they are they looking for. And, usually there’s two or three stumbling blocks where they can’t see the actual connection … it’s just being totally clueless to the process, which is my first level of helping them with guidance, planning, information.”

The second phase involves research and finding appropriate schools, which include academic settings and the “fit” factor.

“Do you want to be farther away from home? Do you want a bigger school? Do you want things close to the area like a seashore, or suburban setting?

“Also, academics have to be number one. I come from Vassar College, which is along the lines of Bowdoin, Bates and Colby … academics have to come first and that has to be my foundation. One thing people are starting to realize that even in Division Three if a coach wants you they can help you get into a little better school that’s maybe above where you may naturally fall in an admissions profile. So, we can use athletics and academics, not so much to get a scholarship, but in a way of helping you get in.”

From there he will touch upon the player’s ability and at what level can he/she play at with a chance to be successful, have fun and compete.

Other factors to consider include, is the child playing in the off-season, possibly AAU? Is there a strength and/or conditioning program in place? How much of a time commitment is there?

The final piece involves the financial aspects of collegiate life.

“To me the parents then have to decide if their son or daughter is serious enough and has enough intention to do this. We can’t have the parents, or Mike Dutton, wanting it more than the students if they don’t want it themselves.

“From there the parents should get together with their child or children and see if this whole process makes any sense.”

The whole process can be as easy as compiling a list of viable schools, but there are just so many factors, so many rocks to uncover when finding the perfect institution that could really use these type of players.

Dutton will come up with a list of 35-50 schools.

“And if a family is willing to travel or go further away from home then I can create a bigger list.”

From there it’s up to the family to do their legwork to which school “makes the most sense.”

Along the way he’ll continue to guide those involved.

“There are always some ways where you can get evaluated by a college coach, because unless they’re doing basketball or golf, of which I’ve coached in college, it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the college coaches think. Maybe I can get them into the right spot so that the college coach can evaluate them.

“Or I can teach them how to present themselves to a college coach so that a coach can take the time, say, to look at their YouTube video.”

Dutton feels that establishing that coach/athlete relationship is one of the biggest components.

“That is where most families have the most nervousness, trepidation. Coaches are a little bit scary sometimes, they’re a little bit like moving targets, they don’t always communicate all the time.

“And I know that there are parents out there who know that their sons or daughters are good enough, but are frustrated. Being a former college coach I know what certain things mean and I know what not to read into.”

Into college and beyond

If the family feels that they need Mike to advocate for them to a coach, then Dutton would be handson as well. He said he will be there for the student/athlete right into college and beyond.

“That’s the last level of service that I would apply and I’m probably pushing 200 coaches that I know personally and now am approaching 100 institutions. It’s a trusting relationship … they’re trusting me and so hopefully that trust will carry on once they get into school.

“And one of my goals is to also create multiple playing opportunities. So then they have choices in case something doesn’t quite work out. I’ll see it all the way through to the end … as much as the family needs me.

“Whether you want to go to Southern California, or you want to go south, or maybe stay in New England, the contacts that I have are what differentiate me from what I do as opposed to some of these recruiting websites. They are not doing something personably to connect these student/ athletes with the specific schools they want to go to.

“That’s the most fun part of this … the calling on my connections and my resources to kind of open some doors for these families. It’s been working wonderfully so far and the key for me has been that I’m doing this locally with word of mouth to let people know that I’m out there.

“You know, there are so many places out there to play. I made a presentation at Waynflete and I said, “do you know how many places there are to pursue college sports in Maine?’ One kid said four! There are 20 institutions in Maine from community colleges to Division One. Now, all of them might not have every sport, but just to know that, OK, in our little neck of the woods, there’s 20 schools that you could potentially play basketball or soccer.”

And Dutton feels that time is of the essence.

“If people get with me early enough, say freshman or sophomore year, we can start to develop a plan to help them develop themselves. To either be a better student to get into the school that they want, or to be a better athlete, working on other skills, or ways to get more exposure.

“Sometimes they come to me in their senior year and it’s like ‘OK, the mold has already been cast, and this is all we can do.’ But, now I’m hearing from families of sophomores and this will be a little bit more of a process for them. I charge them the same whether they start as freshmen, sophomores or juniors. Not like a lawyer charging by the hour.”

Dutton is passionate about collegiate life.

“I just think there’s so many life lessons learned. They won’t have mom or dad there to usher them through those lessons. They now have more time … are they going to follow through and be a good teammate? Are they going to have a good work ethic?

“You also have to look at the connections that come, the friendships that are made, relationships.

“I just want to get this going for the boys, and especially for the girls in our state of Maine. So many kids love their sports in Maine. One of the things that I really believe in is that playing college sports has value to a young person’s education.”

Maybe it’s time to open some doors …

FOR MORE INFORMATION, log onto www/thewilltoplay.com or call Mike Dutton at 207-632-2279

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