As COVID-19 started to impact daily life in the United States, leaders from sports programs across the United States are re-imagining ways to stay connected with their players. There is uncertainty around when we will all start and resume "normal" activities like practices, games, training, and tournaments.
From the Twin Cities, in the midst of this pandemic, Ken McGinley is humbled by his role in helping organizations mobilize on mobile devices. The fourth employee at SportsEngine, McGinley oversees the account managers and staffers that provide support to over 20,000 organizations. McGinley’s customer success team helped 480 organizations defer payments on spring and summer sports.
“We don’t know when we’re coming out of this (pandemic),” McGinley says, “but we focused on, ’What can we control?’"
In the meantime, youth programs nationwide are prioritizing ways to engage with its young athletes in consistent and creative ways.
Here are some key steps that can help your organization maximize online and virtual tools for the benefit of your young athletes:
Customize a Virtual Program
Different organizations have different needs. Steve Sack is the owner of Michigan Elite Volleyball Academy, which has 1,400 players at six different locations in southeastern Michigan. One of the challenges of volleyball is that core skills like passing, setting and hitting are tough to do solo. But club coaches are being resourceful, and they're mixing in yoga and other cardiovascular exercises.
They’ve had “challenges,” and coaches recommend books to read and movies to watch. Coaches are also hosting Zoom meetings with their players once or twice a week, and parents receive weekly emails. Just for fun, the club also had a practice t-shirt design contest, with the winner set to receive a $100 gift card.
In Massachusetts, former NHL player Brian Pothier’s Blue Line Hockey club is offering its players free one-on-one video consultations.
Spirit Tae Kwon Do in Ankeny, Iowa is hosting regular Zoom workouts.
Molly Dies’ Dance Unlimited loaded its classes to its Video Library.
But players at SJEB Rush in New Jersey certainly have a lot of “homework.” There were seven assignments for Monday, April 20th, including:
- 17 minutes of technical ball work (four-cone ball workout, cone line, figure eights and turns, and foot-skills routine)
- Mini-quarantine home workouts that emphasize functional strength, power, stability, balance and injury prevention
- Reading a feature on former FC Barcelona star Xavi
- A video analysis of Manchester City star Sergio Aguero
- An hour BBC movie on Sir Alex Ferguson’s “Secrets to Success,”
- An article titled “Psychology of Winning Lesson 10"
Select Software and Tools for Delivery
Elizabeth MacKenzie, Sports Engine’s senior customer content manager commented "There’s no shortage of software that can be utilized for clubs to communicate with players. Zoom, Google Meet, and Facebook and Instagram Live have been popular with our customers."
Zoom offers free accounts on the Basic Plan 40-minutes time limit on meetings with three or more total participants.
Google Meet is now completely free to anybody with a Google account. Users are able to create free meetings of up to 100 people that can last any amount of time
Facebook or Instagram Live is free to anyone with an account and can go live for anyone to join. You can only go live with one other person at a time, however.
Mackenzie also stated, "Organizations are using the communication tools in SportsEngine HQ and their SportsEngine.com directory listing to get the word out about their virtual programs. Also, the SportsEngine Marketplace features a handful of apps that can help keep young athletes engaged."
TopYa!, for example, motivates players to practice at home and upload their videos to get feedback from a coach and earn points, climb the leaderboard and win prizes. Currently, it services soccer, lacrosse, and volleyball.
GoMotion is a platform built specifically for class-based sports, and there’s a built-in video producer feature.
Promoting Your Virtual Program
Most organizations are communicating with families via email. But some are utilizing closed Facebook groups, and social media channels on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
A simple way to promote and enable people to register for your virtual program is to host it on SportsEngine.com. Like adding a regular program, you can now add virtual camps, workouts, and assignments for youth athletes to sign-up for.
AI9 Baseball in Illinois uploads a video created by a coach every day on its public group on Facebook. Sporting Missouri Valley is sending out two videos per week, similar to what they would normally do for many age groups.
Michigan Elite Volleyball funnels most of its content on Instagram then pushes through to Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they send regular email updates via Constant Contact.
If you have a workout you’d like to share with your organization, you can embed it directly into your SportsEngine site-builder site. Find instructions on how to do so here.
Sack says Michigan Elite Volleyball does look at metrics, likes, page views, and shares.
A few other simple ways your club can measure success are:
- Track Zoom (or other video software) call attendance and pageviews on videos
- Record and reflect the amount of "homework" your athletes are completing
- Track email opens and clicks to see how many families are interacting with the content you share
- Ask for feedback from parents and athletes on ways to improve or things you can do to provide more value
To incentive players to complete homework or online trainings, try sharing their at-home workout videos to your social media channels or via email.
Based on his position, McGinley appreciates quantifying what success is and the measurables that help define them. But a father himself, McGinley adds that there’s a more honorable goal during these trying times.
“There’s no doubt that analytics matter,” he says. “But there’s going to be a story that makes a difference. That we engaged our membership with an e-contest or a weekly message. That we engaged. That we did something, and we did it really well.”