Youth sports participation is experiencing a national decline, and that understandably has some league directors worried. According to the Wall Street Journal, participation in the four major youth sports—soccer, football, baseball, and basketball—dropped 4 percent between 2008 and 2012. This may not seem like much of a decrease, but the population of children age 6-17 declined only 0.6 percent in that time. In other words, besides fewer kids in the available pool, the ones there aren’t playing as many organized sports.
Several factors may be at play to cause this participation decline: tighter family schedules, more individual sports options (e.g., martial arts or gymnastics), more non-sports activities, a greater emphasis on kids just playing one sport (thus decreasing participation in others), less money to pay for rising fees, and the aforementioned population dip. With these underlying reasons working against them, hard-working youth league coordinators can’t let poor organization hinder their efforts as well. For example, the most diligent administrators once in a while may not be able to get out the news of a rainout to parents, which can create a negative impression and make those families less likely to register the next year.
However, there are plenty of steps youth league directors can take (if they aren’t already) to help improve their struggling leagues. Here are four such tips:
Promote Your League
Many admins already are good about getting the word out about registering for the season and about other league-related events and news, but too much promotion can never be a bad thing. The best way for families to want to register year after year—rather than forget or think it’s unimportant—is to remind them as much as possible, particularly if you know they haven’t signed up yet. Online league management software helps this cause by tracking registrations, facilitating email announcements and reminders, and offering a convenient league homepage containing all the information families need about the upcoming season.
Make Registration Easier
If the registration process is too elaborate or unclear, parents may think it’s a hassle and not bother. Automating the process can save families time and headaches while also streamlining admin responsibilities. Parents can register one season and have access to that information year after year—all they need to do is log in, make any necessary changes from the previous season’s info, and be all set in just a few clicks. And with online credit card payments, these parents aren’t bothering with checks. Families who are happier with the registration process are more likely to return the next season and for years after.
Hire Good Umps and Refs
Many parents grumble of the quality of some officiating, and that probably will never change. But some leagues can only manage referees and umpires that are inexperienced and legitimately not good. And as much as coaches and parents say winning and losing isn’t important, an official that blows a call because he didn’t know the rules can be infuriating. When youth league coordinators turn to online management software, their time and resources are freed up to seek out, and train, better umps and refs. Not every call will be perfect, but parents can recognize officials doing their best to help teach the game to the kids.
The scenario mentioned earlier about a rainout not being communicated effectively happens all too often. And when it does, it diminishes the reputation of your youth league, even just a little, even with the diehard parents committed to the organization. Online league management software offers powerful tools to improve and simplify communication to coaches, parents, officials, volunteers, and field/gym coordinators. When a rainout occurs, everyone can be texted and/or emailed within a few minutes—no more phone trees, and no more fingers crossed that parents and coaches get the message. Leagues that communicate effectively run more smoothly and cause less aggravation, which goes a long way in keeping families coming back.
What do participation numbers look like in your youth league?