Sunday, November 20, 2011
In July, a nationwide survey of youth soccer clubs was published. The study had been conducted in March and April by Korrio, an organization which is the developer of a youth sports automation platform to help clubs with the day-to-day operations. Therefore, the survey results have to be considered with some restraint, since the questions were designed to point out how Korrio could be helping these clubs. Nevertheless I found the survey telling in several aspects.
The primary focus of the survey was to look at the number of and use of volunteers in youth clubs. That makes sense, since Korrio's software is intended to ease the stress on and even eliminate the need for volunteers. But the details illuminate the significant role volunteers play in the operation and success of youth clubs. We've all been part of that volunteer crew. Some of us do our required six hours and that's it, while some of us put in scores of hours serving on boards, coaching and acting as team managers. This dependence on volunteers is a double-edged sword, which the study points out. They discovered that 43 percent of clubs depend on 26 or more volunteers to keep the club running, but that 55 percent of volunteers serve a club for three years or less with only 18 percent remaining on the ""job"" five years or more. Anyone who runs a business knows that turnover makes operations more difficult. But it makes sense that people don't stick around for long. Children don't keep up their interest in the sport or they get cut from a team or they move to a new club. Turnover is inevitable, which leaves clubs constantly recruiting volunteers to fill positions.
Along with the revolving door of volunteers, the survey also discovered that clubs do make use of computer software to manage the club operations. Unfortunately they often use two or more programs which don't integrate with one another. In fact only 20 percent of clubs had a single platform, while 63 percent used two or three separate programs. I can attest to that. When I was club registrar I had to use a horrible, unfriendly program to do the registrations and submit them to the state registrar. But our website, which included the initial registration form, was on a completely different system. Therefore I had to re-copy all the information members submitted on our website into the registration system the state had. While Korrio has the ulterior motive to explore this topic and to offer clubs a more unified platform, it also points out the unnecessary hours volunteers have to perform duplicating work. Volunteers like to feel useful, but doing busy work merely discourages them. It's frustrating, for example, to know that all the club members filled out detailed registrations, but that those registrations don't transfer to the registration program the state uses. Likewise, any time volunteers feel their time is being wasted, they are unlikely to continue to volunteer. So Korrio makes a good point. Clubs should look to modernize as best as possible to universal, integrated software for club operations such as payroll, registration, tournament scheduling, practice schedules, field assignments, and referee scheduling to name just a few of the many tasks a club performs throughout the year.
Additionally, this survey looked at overall parent involvement and sportsmanship. Of the clubs surveyed, 80 percent reported that parental involvement was higher than it was five years ago. In fact, 75 percent classified parental involvement as committed or highly committed. That bodes well for getting the necessary volunteers to run clubs. In judging parents' sideline behavior, 66 percent said that behavior was either good or excellent. While that leaves room for improvement, it does indicate that parents and clubs are making a unified effort to keep sideline antics at a minimum. On the player side, 42 percent of the clubs reported that sportsmanship had improved over the last five years, 38 percent said it remained the same, and only 2 percent said it had declined. Of course, when parents provide a good example and make it clear to their kids that bad sportsmanship won't be tolerated, it usually spells more mature play from the kids.
This study was somewhat self-serving for Korrio, but does offer great insights for clubs. First of all, it shows that volunteers are still the lifeblood of our soccer clubs and that the years of reinforcing good behavior both on the sidelines and on the pitch have succeeded in improving behavior. It also opens the door for even further improvement. Since volunteers are not a consistent and stable work force, clubs need to find ways to create a continuum of organization. Some clubs keep notebooks of procedures and practices which are passed from volunteer to volunteer, however these are only as effective as the volunteer maintaining the records. Keeping detailed minutes of meetings can insure that details of various jobs get recorded as they come up. Following major events such as tryouts, tournaments, and camps, having each volunteer write up a short summary of the event with any suggestions can help a board refine the events to make them more efficient and improve the involvement of the volunteers.
When it comes to sportsmanship, it's not a bad idea to have players and parents sign a sportsmanship agreement that outlines behaviors and consequences for violating those behaviors. Various organizations require such agreements with good results. Parents think twice before acting out because the consequences include being banned from attending games. Likewise, kids learn to control their behavior on the field when they know they might have to sit out a game or even a season. Some contract examples are found at http://www.suburbanathletics.com/sportsmanship_agreement.pdf
and http://www.mshsaa.org/resources/pdf/Parent percent20and percent20Student percent20Conduct percent20Contract percent20(PDF).pdf
. Both our sons had to sign such agreements at the beginning of each high school season, although there was no parent agreement. We all know how disquieting it is to stand next to someone who continually taunts referees and/or players. So I'm sure we would all be grateful if sideline behavior could be confined to positive remarks.
Ultimately, the study points out how many support systems exist for youth sports. While Korrio sells software for managing the administration of clubs, there are also groups who provide workshops on promoting good sportsmanship, how to get recruited, coaching issues and fundraising. Your club can look to the major youth soccer organizations who have plenty of resources to make your club function better. U.S. Youth Soccer Association has online resources from coaches and experts that your club can utilize. In addition, U.S. Youth Soccer Association has created an educational platform which will make even more information available (/news/story/?story_id=6302
). Presently coaching teaching modules and an introductory course to concussion are available on the platform. If your state association doesn't yet participate, encourage them to join. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (www.nscaa.com
) offers licensing courses, online education, and news about upcoming competitions and events. A number of software products are available for soccer clubs, although I encourage any club to set up a 30-to-60-day trial before purchasing software. Software developers should offer training in the software and the ability to reprogram parts of the software to make it appropriate for your club's needs.
Finally, I encourage all of you to give time to your club beyond any time that is required. Each of us has special talents that we can bring to our clubs to make them stronger. The stronger your club, the more it can depend on volunteerism, and the longer it can keep someone on the job, the more competitive it will be and it should help lower costs. Some clubs are now offering incentives for volunteers in the form of reduced dues. Take them up on this. You will find it is a pretty painless way of keeping some dollars in your own pocket.