Youth sports organizations are no strangers to challenges. The problem is, most organizations don’t know which challenges are fatal if left unaddressed. The seven challenges I’ve identified aren’t all immediate threats to an organization, but will cause decline and can sink an entire organization when unhandled. Find which challenges are present within your organization and take action so that your organization is retaining youth sports members.
Inability to Make Decisions Quickly and Act Fast
Decision-making is a true test of how your youth sports organization functions. If strong leadership is in place, they do a wonderful job of delegating and trusting people to carry out their role with helpful frameworks that make those decisions easier. That often looks like relying on one or two people to be responsible for making a specific decision that their role oversees. When that doesn’t happen, your organization begins making decisions by committee, which keeps the clock ticking.
Slow moving organizations lose members because they’re slow to adjust and make changes that serve members well. This challenge can be fixed quickly, but you must have a level of trust that each person can handle their role responsibly.
Your Coaches Lack Communication and Management Skills
For better or worse, coaches are likely the most powerful agents within your organization. The effect they have on an athlete’s experience, enjoyment, and development are powerful. This becomes a challenge when your coaches have weak communication skills and don’t understand how to manage expectations for athletes and parents. These skills are especially tough to foster when dealing with veteran coaches that have established their coaching philosophy and how they handle parents.
If you have coaches like this, you may have to make a tough decision about whether to replace them or begin investing time in improving these skills. If you keep them around too long, it only drives away more members with each new season.
Coaches Have Too Much Administrative Work
Another challenge youth sports organizations face from their coaches is either:
- An inability to handle admin work well
- Too much admin work given the time commitment for the role
In both cases, this leads to less than their best coaching effort. This challenge won’t take root immediately in your organization, but over time, your members will start to feel that their athlete’s development is not getting the attention it deserves. Once rumors in your community swirl around saying that your organization is second-rate at developing athletes, it becomes incredibly unlikely to recover from that (even after you solve the problem). This challenge needs to be handled before that critical point in time.
High Turnover Weakens Your Volunteer Pool
Your organization likely couldn’t exist without incredible volunteers that want to see athletes succeed, enjoy the game, and learn the lessons that sports teach. High turnover becomes an endless cycle that often results in fewer volunteers with worse quality. Depending on how much you rely on volunteers, this can become a serious issue.
To thwart high volunteer turnover, spend time asking them what is working, what needs change, if they feel taken care of & supported, and if they know others that you can reach out to for volunteering. The best time to find volunteers is when you don’t need them. You don’t want to reach a point where you need another volunteer and the barrel is empty.
Inability to Raise Money to Make Your Organization Accessible For Athletes
Finding sponsors, grants, and fundraising aren’t fun. They also aren’t optional. To run a high level organization that is accessible for families that are cost-sensitive, you need to raise as much money as you can to offset the costs of joining your A+ organization.
Asking for money can be quite exhausting and humbling. Even worse, it’s incredibly hard work because so many other organizations are competing with you for the same purse. If you want to raise money well, you need to spend time doing your research. The internet helps, but the best method for becoming an expert fundraiser is to seek the advice of others in the same role at different organizations. And of course, you have to spend the time growing your skills and learning different tricks to improve your odds of raising money.
Conflicts Across Your Youth Sports Organization Drive Away Good People
No organization is immune to conflict — it’s inevitable. The healthiest organizations understand that having intentional methods for conflict resolution is a major differentiator between your organization and your competition. Parents want to know that they will be heard, that their issues are taken seriously, and that you aren’t going to turn the tables on them when they seek your help.
This challenge is an exponential issue. If you handle conflicts poorly as a youth sports organization, good people leave. And when good people leave, they aren’t always replaced with other good people. The bar falls lower, the challenge grows bigger, and you fall to retain youth sports members until your organization either gives a hard reset to approaching conflict, or the entire organization fizzles.
Your Director of Coaching Has Too Much Administrative Work to Work With Coaches and Athletes
Not all youth sports organizations have the resources to bring on a Director of Coaching, so this may be the least deadly challenge mentioned. That said, if you’re paying a Director of Coaching and they can’t create meaningful improvement in your coaches because of admin work, it becomes a two-headed problem.
First, this position becomes a financial blackhole at your organization. You’re plugging money for a specialist that is spending more time doing admin work than with coaches. Your board doesn’t wanna learn that the position you spent so much time lobbying for is adding no value. Second, the original reason you hired the Director of Coaching still exists — your coaches need instruction and uniformity across your organization, and can’t do it themselves.
Are you facing all seven of these challenges at once? Likely no. But the odds are high that one of these problems is present or attempting to surface within your organization. Take time to assess where your team stands, and make the necessary changes so that your members are happy and want to stick around.
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping sports organizations better support players and coaches. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools.
In 2020, Ruth was inducted into the International Association of Facilitators Hall of Fame. She was a co-creator of the international 2019 Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports. In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged sports enthusiasts in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.