Recapping NextUp: Return to Play – Day 1
As we return to play after months of sheltering at home, athletes and their families will need to adjust to a new normal. The youth sports experience will play a critical role in our nation’s physical, social, and cultural recovery, which is why we’ve been creating assets for organizations to utilize during this transition.
Our three-day virtual conference featured medical experts, professional athletes and commissioners, sports technology entrepreneurs, and elite youth sports organizers who helped us explore innovative revenue models, the delicate parent-organizer relationship model, new health and safety guidelines, and why technological advancements made in the past three months may be here to stay.
Read on for a full rundown of Day 1 of NextUp: Return to Play—if you’d like to read the recap of Day 2, you can do so here. If you’d like to watch any of the sessions, please click here for the recordings.
As organizations all over the country return to play, the topic on everyone’s mind is health and safety. Elite organizations have begun implementing protocols informed by national, state, local, and sports-specific guidelines that have been developed over the past two months. Many have also leveraged the value of virtual training and education, and begun emphasizing safety and flexibility in the event of a recurrence by a player, coach, or parent.
Establishing Health & Safety Best Practices
Jeremy Goldberg, the President of LeagueApps, spoke with Dr. Bill Taylor, the President of Idaho Youth Soccer, to understand what forward-thinking soccer organizations are doing to protect their players while ramping back up. Dr. Taylor stressed that soccer is figuring things out on the fly in the same way that other sports and industries are as states reopen. “There is no textbook for this, no one has gone through it before. We went through our national governing bodies as a starting point. We then looked to US Soccer and the Chief Medical Officer for US Soccer for guidance,” remarked Dr. Taylor. According to Dr. Taylor, the protocols that organizations implement at the end of the day need to be detailed, straight-forward, and easy to understand for parents and players. For example, the Boise Timbers broke down their Return-To-Play protocol into five phases. It began with training at home, transitioned to small group training at facilities, limited team training, full team training, and culminated with a return to local competition. For the full PDF of their “Recommendations for Returning to Play in a Training Environment” click here.
As Dr. Taylor pointed out, “…this virus isn’t going away anytime soon, it is going to be in the background. We’re entering into a transitional phase which forces us to ask how do we live with the virus? What is your personal, family risk? We have a role as sports coaches to help players overcome new anxieties and help them transition into this new normality going forward.” That’s why controlling what you can (safety protocols, facility/equipment hygiene, virtual training) is so critical. Taking a holistic approach as it relates to COVID-19 and youth sports is the best way to mitigate risk, while returning players and coaches to the field.
Deep Dive: Designing Digital Products and Virtual Training Programs
This session was moderated by Eric Fisher (US Editor of SportBusiness International) and featured Rich Abend (CEO of Famer) and Yael Averbuch (Founder of Techne and former member of the soccer US National Women’s Team). Averbuch detailed Techne, which is a soccer resource for individual training. The innovative technology provides players with guides and workouts that they can do with minimal space/equipment. Abend’s Famer platform was designed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and has since taken on a larger role in players development. Famer provides organizations with advanced technologies and custom training content production to enable team and personal training. These programs come equipped with interactive feedback functionality between athletes and their coaches. It’s that level of communication that helps youth athletes avoid burnout. Both Famer and Techne have proven the value of individual training and are expected to remain a part of the modern youth athlete’s training regiment long after the COVID-19 pandemic has been neutralized.
Organizations that are poised to succeed during the return to play movement understand how to adapt their programs, operations, and revenue models. Jeremy Goldberg welcomed two featured guests to discuss how they’ve adapted during their careers and what insight they can offer youth organizers facing a once-in-a-life upheaval. Dave Elliott (President of Augusta Sportswear) and Scott O’Neil (CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils) stressed that this era has placed an emphasis on flexibility, particularly as it relates to reallocating resources. Given the social distancing, O’Neil’s organization has placed more resources into content and data strategies aimed at reaching fans where they are. As he noted during the discussion, “less than 1% of our fans throughout the world will ever attend one of our games live.” For Elliott, his business was significantly disrupted by the pandemic (down 85%) and as a result, Augusta Sportswear has needed to completely transform its identity as a business. “Our mission and values haven’t changed, but we had to adapt from providing products to providing information. Stepping up, providing leadership in a fragmented industry, has allowed us to change our business, take our learnings, and improve as a business,” noted Elliott.
Elliott’s organization has also balanced short term and long term strategies in the wake of COVID-19. “In a lot of ways a ‘start-up mentality’ has taken hold of our company, and as a result we’ve developed the muscles to be able to change,” said Elliott. A willingness to adapt needs to be paired with a comprehensive understanding of your business and your industry, according to O’Neil. “You need to understand your business backwards and forwards. You need to understand and have a worst-case scenario plan and not waste the incredible mission and efforts you’ve put in,” stressed O’Neil. Once you see the whole picture, you can allocate the time and resources to items that are truly mission critical. As O’Neil noted during the conversation, individuals need to find a way to spend 80% of their time on the critically important functions. Both O’Neil and Elliott are optimistic that youth sports are flexible enough to not only survive but come out of these unprecedented times even stronger. The speed at which parents, players, and coaches have adapted to e-training for example, could indicate growth potential for youth sports in the coming years.