NextUp Town Hall: Youth And Local Basketball In The Wake Of COVID-19
As multiple states begin reopening, players and parents are naturally wondering when and how youth sports will resume. The answer is a complicated one—informed not just by government decisions, but by how comfortable people are getting back on the court.
To dig into this, we gathered a group of leading basketball organizers to discuss what return to play looks like, and share tips and ideas for keeping clubs afloat as we travel the long road back to “normal.”
We were joined by Brendan Winters (Pro Skills Basketball), Brandon Lafferman (The Pacers Athletic Center), Courtney Clements (San Diego Bulldogs), and Dr. Daphne A. Scott (Hospital For Special Surgery), in a conversation moderated by Jeremy Goldberg, Co-Founder and President of LeagueApps. As leaders in the youth basketball and medical space, their expertise and organizational approach in the coming weeks and months will be emulated by organizers looking to deliver a safe return-to-play strategy to their parents and players.
If you’d like to access the Town Hall in its entirety please click this link. For a summary of the major highlights, continue reading below.
Limiting Risk Is The Key, Says Team Physician for the Westchester Knicks (G-League)
Dr. Daphne A. Scott understands the challenges that basketball organizations are facing around the country. While parents and players are naturally thinking about the return to games and tournaments, organizers should break the process into manageable segments, she says.
For example, before players even return to practice, it’s important to provide stretching routines to help them avoid injuries coming off of a long layoff. Once live practices resume, coronavirus safety protocols need to be in place. Screening, testing if possible, and detailed plans for what happens when a player or family member tests positive need to work in conjunction with federal, state, and local recommendations. With that as a backdrop, organizations can slowly phase in practices that spread players out, emphasize individual skill development, and eventually drills in small groups. That’s where things will start, mitigating risks where applicable as a part of a slow return to normalcy.
Tech Teammates: Reaching Players Where They Are
Pro Skills Basketball’s co-founder Brendan Winters has turned a challenge into an opportunity for his organization, all thanks to technology. As soon as they were forced to close their doors, they pivoted to social media and streaming video to reach their players. They’ve organized workouts and drills through Instagram and Zoom and even expanded to virtual tournaments and shooting competitions. Incorporating esports has been a fun way to keep the kids engaged and discussing the fundamentals of basketball with a 2K league. They have plans for virtual summer camps in the coming weeks and just announced PSB+, a virtual training platform for basketball players. This has been more than a pivot to video—it has been a fundamental reimagining of their business with their players’ development as the top priority. This mindset has even extended to helping players with college recruiting videos, in the absence of NCAA coaches being able to watch them play live.
Navigating Credits and Refunds
The San Diego Bulldogs’ Courtney Clements has dealt with the financial realities of the COVID-19 crisis head-on. As soon as her organization had a financial gameplan, she was hopping on Zoom calls to get in front of parents. These initial calls provided parents with financial options and eventually transitioned to remote workouts, in-depth conversations, and special guests/interviews. As a result, fewer parents requested refunds once they saw the value they were receiving from the organization. On the player side, Clements noted that the Bulldogs have been “engaging with kids more now than when we were able to be on the court together.” As a former WNBA player, developing young players is why she wanted to join the Bulldogs in the first place, and that passion continues to shine through even from afar.
Brandon Lafferman of the Pacers Athletic Center really put the credit/refund question into context by saying, “your brand is really important, how you treat your vendors, partners, and parents is paramount.” Taking a short term loss may not sting as much as the potential damage to your reputation should you refuse to issue full refunds to everyone who requests them, he said.
Communication Remains The Name Of The Game
Brandon Lafferman has spent the last few weeks overly communicating with parents to keep them abreast of the latest developments and the Pacers Athletic Center’s upcoming plans. They spent the last 30 days collecting information from sources like the Indiana Governor’s office, the Jr. NBA, and the CDC so that they could set guidelines. Brendan Winters has consulted with similar resources and has communicated to his parents that they’ll be rolling things out in four separate phases.
Phase 1 – Small group training mostly outdoors (limit to 6)
Phase 2 – Non-contact team practices
Phase 3 – Contact team practices + potentially scrimmages with other teams
Phase 4 – Full open
He emphasized that Phase 1 has the potential to last the longest until they can collect additional information from reliable sources (federal, state, and health organizations).
What We Should Keep, Post-COVID-19
Courtney Clements believes that a few of the techniques being employed by her organization during this pandemic are here to stay. The item at the top of her list is film study. Sessions with her team have been more productive and interactive than they were in person.
From an efficiency perspective, they don’t need to cut into practice time. They simply hop on a Zoom call with the team and go through film. “We’ve created a sheet for each kid in terms of what to look out for,” said Clements. Separating this into a remote activity will add valuable time back into their practices on a weekly basis once facilities reopen.
Resources For Organizers
Numerous resources were mentioned throughout the 60-minute discussion and we wanted to provide them here for our audience to access at any time:
Communicating with players and parents during this time won’t always be easy. Here’s a guide to handling difficult conversations with Charlie Hauck.
Community has never been more important than it is now. Connecting with other clubs to see what they’re doing can help you design your own return to play plans. Join our NextUp Industry Slack group where you can connect with other basketball leaders.
Many of our panelists are running virtual programming. We’ve published a toolkit for launching successful virtual programming if you’re looking for tips on how to get started.
Once restrictions have been lifted, you will still need to deal with player and parent expectations and how comfortable they feel returning to play. We created a survey template to solicit important feedback from your community as you develop your plans.