What You Need to Know About How Technology Will Affect the Future of Youth Sports
By Melissa Wickes
November 4, 2022
This October, we were fortunate enough to bring NextUp: the Only Youth Sports Management Conference back in person. 300 leaders in the youth sports industry attended over two days to learn about the hottest topics in the industry right now.
The first panel of the conference was “The Changing Future of Youth Sports,” moderated by Nayeema Raza, producer and journalist at the New York Times and executive producer of On with Kara Swisher. The panelists, Paul Rabil—LeagueApps investor, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Premier Lacrosse League—and Josh Wolfe—co-founder and managing partner at Lux Capital (a VC firm that invests in emerging science and technology ventures)—discussed where the future of youth sports is headed and how technology plays a part in that.
The Coming Disruption
As Wayne Gretzky famously said, skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been. How will trends we’re seeing today impact youth sports organizations and the future of what kids are doing?
The intersection of sports and technology is in the way we consume media, says Josh. Now that we have instant access to teams via social media, we’re not going back to the days of early broadcast television. Youth sports leaders can consider following this trajectory by changing the way they view and use social media.
We’re seeing professional athletes use social media to build their own personal brands—and it’s trickling down from professional to amateur sports. With the recent Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) decision, young athletes will become more and more motivated to do the same. Also, it’s easier than ever to create great content with just a phone—special effects, overlays, high quality video, and more are accessible to more and more people. This won’t hurt your marketing efforts, either.
In a lot of ways, NIL and social media are leveling the playing field. Players who may not be at the best school, best program, or best team are given a platform to showcase their talent anyway. However, this also adds a lot of pressure. It’s no longer just about being the best athlete—it’s about your personality, your presence, your influence. As a leader in youth sports, don’t let this shift your focus. Develop a great player on the field and take as much weight off of your players as possible by hiring a social media team to take care of that end of things for your athletes.
“Don’t lose the empathy of the coach despite this progress,” says Josh. “Some things can’t be measured or tracked by technology no matter what.”
Speaking of wearable technology, is this good for the youth sports industry?
Well, with anything, perspective is key. You can have an unhealthy vegan diet, you can work out too much, you can be overly analytical.
“Whether it’s software to grow your business, being more analytical to reviews, using recruiting software, take that information and put it in a box. When you’re on the field, block it out and do what you do,” says Paul.
Consider Michael Jordan’s famous “flu game.” The analysis of his health in that moment would argue he’d have an off game because he should be exhausted. But his intensity is something that could not be captured by data.
There’s no industry like sports that converge hard and soft skills, says Paul.
Watch the full panel “The Changing Future of Youth Sports” here.
Look to the Amish and the Young
It’s no secret that discussions about technology today can be overwhelming—NFTs, Web3, blockchain, crypto… But how does this fit into youth sports? And how should you be responding?
Well, based on what we’re seeing so far with web3 in professional sports, Josh and Paul expect NFTs to democratize fan ownership. Fans will become “owners” of teams based on their contributions to the system—going to games, purchasing merchandise, etc.
But will something this complex make it’s way to youth sports? It’s hard to say for sure, but when it comes to new and perhaps scary technologies, Josh suggests this: Look to the Amish and look to the young.
The Amish are deliberate about what technology they choose to use—they have a few people test it out and see how it would affect social dynamics. What would happen when everybody has access to this technology?
Kids are a different story. Almost every technology we use today was adopted by younger generations—crypto, mobile, gaming, etc. However, as the presence of these technologies continue to grow in sports, how can we maintain sports participation growth? Keep it fun, minimize pressure, and keep hiring really great coaches that dig into details on the field. Video games aren’t going to go away, but the fun of sports can if we don’t maintain that focus.
Hope for the Future of Youth Sports
Social media and technology in general offer endless opportunities for growth in the youth sports industry—but they also contribute negatively to teen mental health. So, what’s the prescription for this epidemic?
Kids have to get back outside. It will be a national movement, says Josh, and it’s imperative that you’re all well positioned to do that.
Did you like this piece of content? You can watch the full panel discussion with Paul Rabil, Josh Wolfe, and Nayeema Raza here.
For more of the incredible content and discussions that came out of NextUp 2022, visit our NextUp content hub here.