NextUp Town Hall: Youth And Local Soccer In The Wake Of COVID-19
As multiple states begin reopening, players and parents are naturally wondering when 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 field.
That’s why we’re spending the next few weeks exploring what return to play looks like, starting with soccer. (To sign up for future events, click here.) This week, we spoke with four industry leaders running large clubs, facilities, and tournaments to understand how they’re navigating this complicated situation—from managing their finances to communicating with customers.
We were joined by Fred Wilson (Mustang Soccer), Craig McGinn (Steel Soccer), Matt Libber (Maryland Soccerplex), Glenn Schneider (SUSA Academy), Jeremy Goldberg (LeagueApps). Collectively they represent nearly one hundred years of youth soccer experience.
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.
This is not the time to wait around and hope that the situation gets easier. Mustang Soccer’s Fred Wilson explained that when it was clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going away quickly, they made the necessary budget cuts to ensure that their organization could continue to operate. “You can still cut costs and ‘play defense’ while innovating in other areas, he said.” SUSA’s Glenn Schneider shared similar advice, explaining that they actually used this time to make an acquisition.
Keep Pace with the News Cycle
Steel Soccer’s executive director Craig McGinn pointed out that keeping up with the rapid pace of the news and properly communicating new developments to your parents and players is crucial. The key is to be forward-looking. Placing an emphasis on the information that will have the largest impact in the coming weeks and months is one way to keep parents and players engaged and informed. Internally, staying up-to-date on the latest news is also vital because it creates an internal mentality that is constantly asking, “What new information can we use to our advantage in order to open safely in the future?”
Use Refunds & Credits as a Way to Build Trust
Matt Libber serves as Maryland Soccerplex’s executive director and made the wise decision to get out in front of a potentially volatile financial situation with his parents. His organization made the decision to handle registration fees in three ways. The first was to credit the payment to another season. The second option was to allow parents to repurpose the funds as a donation to businesses being supported through the CARES Act. And the third was a refund option with a small administration fee. They also chose to give priority refund access to anyone who had lost a job. By presenting these options and communicating with parents via video right away, they were able to mitigate both financial losses and any potential damage to their brand/credibility within the community.
Work with Your Local Leaders
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re prepared to play again is to work closely with your city and state officials. Wilson shared that he has partnered with other organizations in his area to take their plans for return to play straight to the people making the decisions. “Next week we’re meeting with a local county health officer to show them a plan,” he said. “Then it goes to the state assembly. We’re trying to show them that this industry can safely restart.”
Make Virtual Your New Reality
Wilson explained that his organization began hosting virtual programming using Google Classroom, and is currently working to build out their own training platform. He believes that this crisis has provided a blueprint for organizations in a post-COVID-19 world, and that virtual skill training sessions and practices are here to stay. Detailed practice schedules that incorporate video components have the capacity to expand the amount of time coaches can help their players improve. “Virtual training has taught kids self discipline they didn’t know they had,” he said. “As a coach that means we can have practice 5 days a week instead of the 2-3 we’re out there.”
Borrow What Works, Avoid What Doesn’t
Numerous panel members mentioned that they’re keeping a close eye on how other states and countries are returning to the pitch. For example, Holland and Germany are beginning to play soccer again and will serve as an example of which protocols work and which don’t. Sanitation, traffic flow, protocols for when a player/coach/parent is sick, and even the ideal amount of players on the field for practices and games will all be attempted in Europe first. Gleaning lessons from their initial attempts will be vital on an operational and legal level. The latter will play a part in crafting waivers and medical forms that stipulate exactly how player safety will be approached.
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 soccer leaders.
Great organizations often emerge from chaos stronger than they were before. Our President and Co-Founder Jeremy Goldberg recommends reading this Harvard Business Review article on “Roaring Out of Recession.”