Fueled by surging participation in youth sports in the past decade, club sports organizations have become big business ventures. As the size and scope of these entities have continued to grow, it is necessary for these organizations to begin viewing themselves less as seasonal enterprises and more as year-round thriving small businesses should they want to ensure their survival in an increasingly competitive space.
ESPN recently tried to wrap its arms around exactly how big the youth sports space is. Looking for room to grow, understanding the youth sports space is important for a behemoth company like ESPN. As the graphic from their piece below illustrates, participation numbers are very high.
“Youth sports is so big that no one knows quite how big it is.”
This increase in participation numbers naturally leads to an increase in options for student-athletes and their families. The next logical question, then, is how and why families are choosing the organizations they ultimately join.
SportsRecruits recently conducted a survey of its club families to aid in understanding the thought processes by which they make decisions in choosing a club organization. Among the notable findings, 59.27% of respondents noted that they chose their club team primarily for the coaching and level of recruiting expertise.
The survey also noted that families are not afraid to change club teams to put themselves in the best position possible. 47.96% percent of respondents have already changed clubs or are unsure if they will switch clubs in the future.
It is increasingly necessary for club’s to think about their organizations as the small-businesses they have become.
Here are five best practices for club organizations to consider as they continue to grow.
1. Set Expectations
The best small businesses – and really, the best businesses regardless of size – are those that are able to meet the expectations of their customers. However, what comes before this is often the most overlooked and paradoxically, the most important: What exactly are the expectations you are trying to meet?
The first step in this equation is to discover what your customers are expecting. For a club sports organization, that means doing research and more importantly, discussing the expectations with your families.
Once you have a clear idea of what is expected, a club organization can put together and then clearly articulate the expectations and more importantly, how they will be met.
In the club space, expectations are often very vague. A family wants help with recruiting, but what does that mean? What kind of help do they want and/or expect?
A club often thinks it is doing enough or is at least doing what is expected, but too often a disconnect exists between the family and the club.
It’s as if you help a friend move, but they also expected you to help them set up their new television as well. By not clearly articulating the expectations, you have left too much in the way of ambiguity.
Suddenly, doing what you have always done – or operating under the status quo – is not enough.
Only by understanding and then clearly articulating specific expectations can a club sports organization put itself in the best position possible to reduce churn and keep families – and their powerful referral voices – happy.
2. Create Clear Lines of Communication
While it seems an almost obvious practice, having clearly defined lines of communication between families and the club is often overlooked. With technology, cleaning up communication is an easy opportunity to dramatically improve an organization.
Often, clear lines of communication are as simple as defining not only the communication but also how it is happening. Is email the most effective way to communicate? If so, how often are updates being provided? Is there a weekly recap email? Are there certain lists that need to be created?
Again, clear lines of communication may seem obvious, but in the club sports space we see room for improvement.
Transparency across a small business is a vital way to ensure everyone – from members of the staff to the customers they are serving – is involved and has clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
In a piece on American Express’ Open Forum, Chuck Cohn notes transparency is often overlooked, yet can greatly improve productivity, employee morale and your company’s culture.
Taking this ideal to the club sports model can help greatly. One of the many reasons a family cites for joining a club program is the organization’s expertise in the field of recruiting. With the competition for scholarship dollars increasing each year, the perception that a club is responsible for a student-athlete’s recruitment has never been more prevalent.
With this process occurring earlier and earlier in many sports, the pressure on club teams has only intensified. Articles like those in the New York Times exploring this topic only amplify this notion.
“From the CEO down, transparency is a two-way communication street. When you implement it throughout the entire company, it becomes more about teamwork than about a focus on any one individual.”
-Chuck Cohn, Founder & CEO, Varsity Tutors
Given that families are very interested in the recruiting assistance a club is supposed to provide, it would be prudent to be very transparent with regards to your recruiting plan for each student-athlete.
Being transparent with the roles your staffers are responsible for when it comes to recruiting along with what the family is responsible for will allow all parties involved to be on the same page at all times.
Said another way, it is vital to create a transparent culture around recruiting activity, putting systems and expectations in place so should a disconnect occur, it is very clear where this happened and can be more easily remedied.
4. Make Data-Driven Decisions
In the small business landscape of today, the trend across the space is moving toward adopting technology-based solutions to better inform decisions while streamlining current activity.
According to Tim Harmon, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, this represents a shift. He notes the last time the average small business made significant upgrades in technology was five years ago, when the economic recovery began.
He concludes that the change is due in large part that many owners now want to operate their nascent businesses more efficiently, and often from multiple locations.
“As competition increases, newer and younger businesses entering the space will be using some sort of technology that will be far ahead of those used by tenured club’s hesitant to change the status quo that has worked for a long time.”
We can draw two reasonable conclusions for club sports organizations.
The first is that technology is increasingly becoming a necessity, not a luxury. Having the ability to not only make business decisions wisely, but also to interact with families in a way they are accustomed to in their everyday life is vital.
The second is that as competition increases, newer and younger businesses entering the space will be using some sort of technology that will be far ahead of those used by tenured club’s hesitant to change the status quo that has worked for a long time.
5. People, People, People
Small businesses at their core are about the people. For club sports organizations, this could not be more true, because the interaction between employees and the families they serve are the crux of the business.
As such, it is imperative for clubs to invest wisely in their coaches and administers. Equally as vital is ensuring there is a proper roadmap for employees to follow.
With turnover sometimes high with seasonal coaches and assistance, clubs should be focused on creating an employee handbook and invest in training them properly.
Club families are looking for the best experience possible, and as we have seen, are not afraid to take their business elsewhere in order to gain what they perceive are the best opportunities possible.
Since families will be interacting almost entirely with team coaches, it is important those on the front-lines of your organization are sending the same, unified message and representing the business well.
It is imperative to think of club sports organizations as small businesses in order to help them grow and prosper.
Considering business challenges faced by small businesses in every sector of the economy is a helpful exercise as a way to solidify a club’s place in an increasingly competitive market.