A Conversation with our Partners: What Youth & Local Sports Leaders are Thinking About Right Now
Twice a year, we gather together as a company for an offsite. inspired by the NFL’s off-season training, we call them OTAs (short for “Organized Team Activities”). They allow us to reflect on our growth, connect as a team, and align our goals for the next six months.
One of the highlights of OTAs are our partner panels. This year, we sat down (virtually) with organizers and entrepreneurs from Zero Gravity Basketball, 3 Step, District Sports, 4USA, Houston Juniors Volleyball to talk about the challenges they’ve faced since the outbreak of the pandemic, and where they’ve been able to identify opportunities.
Creativity On Full Display
Sports organizations around the country, from professional to pee-wee, have gotten creative in the wake of COVID-19. This has ranged from the MLS and NBA playing in “bubbles” in Orlando to youth and local programs launching virtual training programs. But the future of non-professional sports in the US is still facing a major hurdle in the form of facility shortages.
Greg Kristof, the co-founder of Zero Gravity Basketball and the Head of the Basketball Department for 3 Step, noted that facilities provided by local municipalities and public schools will be few and far between in the foreseeable future. Alex Bearman, the Executive Director of District Sports, echoed this challenge. He coordinates adult soccer for over 10,000 players in the DC area and said that they’ve been finding new venues for future events ranging from unused tennis courts to parking lots. This facility squeeze will impact organizers of every level in the coming months and will need to be overcome with creative, outside-the-box solutions.
Tori Carras is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ marketing team and works closely on their youth programming and grassroots initiatives. She explained that the success of their virtual offerings have led to in-person skills training clinics at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in downtown Cleveland. The execution of both the virtual and in-person events have required a brand new game plan but the NBA, and specifically the Cavaliers, have been up for the challenge thus far.
The Knowns (Safety Protocols) And Unknowns (Travel)
Stephanie Rhodes, the Club Director of Houston Juniors Volleyball, listed the lengthy health and safety measures taken by her organization. From extensive floor markings to provide youth athletes with social distancing cues to enhanced ventilation for optimal airflow, Houston Juniors has made their 52,000 square foot facility an example of how to protect parents, players and coaches. The new normal, as Rhodes explained, has been accepted for the most part, but the question of travel remains a wildcard.
Jaime Alonso Franco’s organization 4USA, which offers travel planning services for club soccer teams, understands firsthand the travel disruptions that have plagued sports since March. In his opinion, this will continue to negatively impact sports at every level through the end of the year and likely until a vaccine is widely available around the country and the world. Greg Kristof noted later in the panel discussion that he believes tournaments will become regionalized for quite some time and the idea of getting on an airplane for a national tournament may be reevaluated for the vast majority of youth sports programs.
Technology To Bridge The Gap
For Alex Bearman, utilizing technology has been a critical way to engage with everyone in District Sports’ massive community. With the environment less certain, they pivoted to offering more pick-up or one-off games in lieu of full seasons. For Stephanie Rhodes, sharing safety information via social media helped put parents and players at ease, knowing exactly what was expected of them and what Houston Juniors was doing to protect them. Greg Kristof closed the conversation on technology’s role in youth sports by saying that “the written word is dying.” By this he meant that texting, emailing and sending players home with forms isn’t enough. If you want to communicate safety protocols, training techniques, or reach them with a guest speaker, providing that in video form is vital. So vital in fact that it should become a mainstay long after this health crisis has been solved.
Interested in knowing more about what our community is talking about? Join our NextUp Slack Community to network and swap best practices with other sports organizations.