Partner Spotlight: Steel United and Bethesda Soccer Club Engage Players Virtually
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, many of our partners have doubled down on digital—exploring everything from virtual coaching and training to “senior nights” held via video conference. We spoke with two of these organizers, Bethesda Soccer’s Lisa Frates and Steel United’s Ian Hughes, to learn more about their approach to online programming and gather a few of their tips.
How they’ve supported players physically and emotionally
The club has launched an integrated curriculum which is shared with players on a weekly basis. The curriculum is focused on four areas:
- E-learning modules: Each week, two different e-modules are shared with athletes. These ensure that players are continuing to study and learn the game, Hughes explains. They incorporate technical, tactical, physical, and psychological/social elements, making sure that athletes are developed as both players and people. Each module finishes with a quiz that helps assess whether kids are retaining what they’ve learned.
- Physical fitness and individual technical sessions: Athletes are given an activity to complete each day. They are either focused on fitness or technical skills.
- Communication from club staff and coaches: It’s fundamentally important to make sure that face-to-face interaction with athletes and their families is still happening, Hughes says. “It’s what maintains the strong bond between teammates and keeps spirits high during this trying time.” Club personnel have been setting up individual sessions with each family, and players are continuing to attend team meetings. They’re also hosting live webinars and other virtual sessions.
- Social and sharing: Athletes are encouraged to post videos and pictures of their weekly activities on their social channels.
How they’ve prioritized accountability
Just because players and coaches aren’t able to train together in person doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable for reaching their goals, Hughes says. “We consider the tracking of player activity paramount, so at the end of every week players will complete a player log outlining everything they’ve completed for that specific week.” The coach, player, parent, and cub director automatically receive the log once submitted. All parties can then keep track of which players have completed assignments.
How they’ve kept things engaging and competitive
Hughes says that the feedback they’ve received has been incredibly positive, and that kids are especially engaged when they’re faced with a particularly challenging task or something that feels like a game.
“As part of a recent module, athletes had an opportunity to beat their coach at certain moves within a set time frame. This engaged and focused them and made it fun. We’ve also established different levels that players can complete before moving to the next activity. This is inspired by video games—players always have to complete a level before they can move onto the next.”
How they’re seeing the positive
Hughes says that while he believes this curriculum will never wholly replace on-field instruction and interaction between players and coaches, they’re still able to provide their athletes with a positive experience. “We have tried to develop a program that, in a world of social distancing, still challenges players technically, tactically, physically, and psychologically.”
Bethesda Soccer Club
A holistic approach to coaching and training
In just a few short weeks, the club has launched the Bethesda Virtual Academy—utilizing a variety of different platforms to keep their players competitive and connected.
- Strength and agility training videos have been created for each age group
- An app called Teche facilitates tactical and technical training and competitions
- Group discussions are held using Zoom to discuss film breakdown and strategy
- Recruiting activities continue to take place with the help of Sports Recruits
In addition, Frates shares that they’re sharing resources from Soccer Parenting and the Aspen Institute—focusing not just on sport, but on important topics like mental health and sports psychology as well. “In many ways, our players are getting more contact with their coaches—it’s just on a different level.”
Finding ways to continue celebrating traditions
“Each year, we host a Senior Recognition Dinner to celebrate our seniors, their next chapter, and their time spent with Bethesda,” Frates says. This year, instead of gathering in person, they’ll come together virtually—watching their senior video together and celebrating all that they’ve accomplished.
Setting your coaches up for success
The success of your virtual offering is going to be dependent on the commitment and passion of your coaching staff, she says. It’s also going to be dependent on the technology you’re using and how comfortable your coaches are with new tools. “Make sure you walk through everything with them so that you can anticipate any potential sticking points before you officially launch.”
Being resourceful, creative, and customer-first
For those who may still be thinking about how to launch their own virtual programming, Frates has a few tips:
- Think about the resources you have, your existing partnerships, and the things your club does well. You will likely find that there’s a lot that’s already in your toolkit, and you can use this to create something that’s unique to your brand.
- Lean on your supporters and partners. If you have great relationships with a nearby pro team, reach out and see what they can make available to you. The same goes for your sponsors and vendor contracts. Take stock of what you have and think about creative ways to use it.
- Be customer-centric. “We saw that although our Virtual Academy could be a great marketing tool to bring new players to our club, it was necessary to make it available only to our players and families in order to protect the content.
As you work to develop your organization’s virtual programming, remember that there are a number of tools and technologies that make it easy to engage your coaches and players. Check out Famer, Homecourt AI, and BallerTV, and join our industry group on Slack for more ideas.
Many of the major leagues are also sharing helpful resources for their communities. See what the NHL is doing to engage the hockey community with Future Goals, a free online course.