Takeaways from Day One of NextUp 2022 the Youth Sports Management Conference

By Melissa Wickes
October 6, 2022
4 min

The time has finally come—NextUp 2022: the Youth Sports Management Conference is underway and we had a very successful first day! Attendees had the unique opportunity to spend a full day meeting with and learning from other leaders in youth sports and management to gain a better understanding of how to lead their youth sports organizations. Not to mention, we ended with a happy hour to unwind after a long day of learning.

A central theme of day one of NextUp was definitely team—the importance of teamwork and how working as a team implements life lessons that are crucial for success. Throughout the panels, main stage presentations, and breakout sessions, it was made abundantly clear that collaboration is the key. And this is learned through team sports.

The list of youth sports leaders that attended NextUp Day 1 is impressive to say the least—each offering unique perspectives. To name a few of the impressive organizations that our speakers come from:

The list goes on!

The Changing Future of Youth Sports

Youth sports has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. And yet the pace of change will only accelerate as technological, societal, and industry shifts take hold. Paul Rabil, Co-Founder and President of the Premier Lacrosse League, and former professional lacrosse player; Josh Wolfe, co-founder of Lux Capital and Forbes Columnist & Editor joined moderator Nayeema Raza, Executive Producer for “On with Kara Swisher” for a panel about how organizers can respond to the youth sports world we see coming.

With the added pressure athletes are experiencing in this further professionalized youth sports world, with everything on social media, Paul urges leaders to understand their athletes and build great athletes—on and off the field. If possible, take the weight off of the athlete to build their “brand” by hiring in-house production to do it for them.

As a way to continue to engage athletes in this digital-obsessed world, Jeff Addiego, Vice President of Golden State Warriors Basketball Academy suggests the gamification of practices, workouts, etc. Make the experience feel like a video game to drive engagement and make kids “addicted” to the physical activity, he says.

Griff Long, CEO of EL1 Sports, uses technology to create deeper connections with his customers and employees—like providing Apple Watches, an app, and technologies that simplify administration so coaches can focus on coaching. He also underscores the importance of investing in continuing education for your employees, so they can help enhance the experience for customers.

Above all else, don’t lose empathy, says Paul. Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) opportunities are really only going to affect that tippy top percentage of athletes, so keep an eye on the mental wellness of your athletes and respond accordingly. To dive deeper into this essential topic of mental health, attendees had the opportunity to join a breakout session “Mental Performance & Health” where conversations got raw and real between coaches and other sports leaders.

The discussion also noted the disruption that Web3, Blockchain, and NFTs present in youth sports. While they seem like distant technologies, youth are adopting them and they are becoming a way for fans to feel even closer to their teams.

“Youth sports is complicated, and it’s only going to get more complicated,” says Jeremy Goldberg, President of LeagueApps.

Despite all of the challenges, it is more clear now than ever before that kids need these kinds of programs. In fact, research shows that active kids do better in life (mentally, financially, etc.). So, we will continue to do what we do best—provide these sports programs to the kids that need them (hint: it’s all kids!).

Putting the Why in Youth Sports

Our second session was opened by our highly decorated emcee, Victoria Arlen. Victoria is a host and reporter at ESPN, Gold Medalist, and Author—but that’s not why we chose her as our emcee. She is the true picture of resilience and how the lessons we learn in sport lead us to success. At just 11-years-old, she was left paralyzed and in a vegetative state for four years due to two rare neurological conditions. She kept fighting, though, and lives to tell the tale today walking, talking, dancing, and having broken World Records swimming in the Paralympic Games. I encourage you to listen to her full story below:

This discussion was centered around the lessons our panelists learned by playing youth sports—and how they’ve gotten them where they are today. The panelists for this discussion were:

  • Derrick Dockery, former NFL player and Executive at TikTok
  • Skip Gilbert, CEO of US Youth Soccer
  • Emilio Collins, Chief Business Officer at Excel Sports Management
  • Renata Simril, President and CEO of LA84 Foundation

The takeaways were clear: Youth sports teaches us invaluable lessons. Derrick has been able to work his way up to Capitol Hill with the grit and determination his coaches taught him on the football field. Emilio got through some of the darkest days of his life with the help and guidance of his wrestling coach. The list goes on.

However, Renata reminds us, not all kids are given the same opportunities to participate in these important sports programs—so it is our job to increase access to them and to prioritize those kids that are from underserved communities.

“Sports are not just nice to have, they’re a central tool,” she says. “How do we shift the thinking so people understand the universal power of sports?”

There’s so much more learning to look forward to at NextUp 2022 on Day 2—with main stage sessions including “High Performance on and Off the Field,” “Youth Sports Culture,” and a number of breakout sessions to dive deep into topics like digital marketing and scaling your business. Plus, Swin Cash, 3x WNBA Champion and 2x US Olympian will be speaking. See you there!