Digital Innovation During COVID-19 and Beyond: A Toolkit for Launching Successful Virtual Programming
By Jamie Hancock
April 10, 2020
This week, our virtual panel was all about embracing technology as an organizer of youth and local sports—not only as we navigate the uncertainty brought on by the Coronavirus, but once we’re able to get back to the fields and the courts as well.
We were joined by three sportstech professionals who shared how their products provide coaches, parents, and players with opportunities to improve their game and connect with their communities—and what they believe the future holds. Alex Wu, Founding Team Member and VP of Strategy, Marketing and Partnerships at HomeCourt; Rich Abend, Founder and CEO of Famer; and Sandeep Hingorani, Founding Team Member and EVP of BallerTV sat down with Jeremy Goldberg, President of LeagueApps.
Below, we turned their tips and strategies into a toolkit that you can use to incorporate technology into your offering.
Tip #1: Take cues from social media.
If you’re sharing coaching and training content with your players, you’re competing with the social platforms where they’d otherwise be spending a significant amount of their time—especially while we’re unable to socialize. Taking cues from these platforms will help you create programming that’s engaging. Specifically, you should:
- Invite sharing: encourage players to share their skills and drills on their social channels
- Keep it short: if you’re sharing video content, make it brief and digestible (no videos longer than a minute or two, says Famer CEO Rich Abend)
- Focus on interactivity: focus on finding opportunities for real-time feedback and two-way communication
(At our 2019 NextUp conference, Overtime CEO and Co-Founder Dan Porter spoke about how to create content that engages youth athletes—and why it’s harder to do than ever before. Watch his interview with Gary Belsky here.)
Tip #2: Don’t forget about competition.
Just because you’re not practicing or playing in person doesn’t mean that you can’t maintain the competitive element that keeps players motivated.
“Virtual training needs to be fun and competitive so that players, especially kids, want to keep at it,” says Homecourt VP Alex Wu. “They expect Fornite and TikTok—it’s hard to compete with these things. We’re always asking ourselves how we can incorporate this kind of gamification into physical activity and movement.”
Tip #3: Put your coaches at the center of your skills and drills.
Your players are used to receiving instruction from their coaches—the people who they feel accountable to. So the more you can do to involve your coaches in your virtual programming, the better.
“Right now, you can go on YouTube and see millions of skills and drills videos,” says Abend. There are a lot of places you can go to provide your players with content. But it lacks structure. It’s not coming from the coaches who know the athletes and can engage with them.”
Tip #4: Take the time to get tech-savvy.
BallerTV EVP Sandeep Hingorani recognizes that your staff will have varying levels of sophistication when it comes to the technology necessary to launch a virtual training program. As an organizer, the best thing you can do during this time is to get familiar with the platforms that you’re going to need to succeed.
“A lot of these sports technologies are designed specifically for youth and amateur sports,” he says. “The ecosystem is evolving weekly, so you need to keep up.”
Abend adds that a benefit using a platform like Famer can be helpful if your team is starting from square one, since they spend time familiarizing their customers with their mobile app. He recognizes that while using a platform like Zoom or Instagram might be easier, they’re not able to support real two-way communication and mentorship—two essential ingredients for a successful virtual training program.
Tip #5: Make it personal
When we’re practicing or playing together in person, it’s easy to remember that every player is looking for something different from their sport experience—something that’s easy to get lost when we’re online. Some want to be elite, while others are focused on the social experience and spending time with friends. The best virtual content needs to be personalized enough to appeal to any player and what they’re looking for from your organization.
This might mean finding a platform that easily connects players and coaches for one-on-one conversations and evaluations, making sure that there’s still an opportunity for this important dialogue. Or it may just be making sure that when you share drills, you’re thinking about all skill levels.
As each panelist expressed, the COVID-19 crisis has turned virtual programming from a nice-to-have into a need-to-have. There’s a lot to learn—so we hope you’ll join us in our NextUp community group on Slack, where we’ll be sharing some of the questions that our panelists received during the session along with their answers.