Takeaways from Day One of NextUp 2023 the Youth Sports Management Conference

By Melissa Wickes
October 25, 2023
5 min

Day one of NextUp 2023—the Youth Sports Management Conference—was a success!

The energy in the room was buzzing, as NextUp is one of the very few (perhaps only) opportunities to be in the same room as youth sports leaders from all over the industry, from all different sports. We heard from a number of inspiring speakers, including but not limited to:

  • Danielle Slaton, Soccer Analyst, former USWNT player, and co-founder of Bay FC
  • Kendra Gaunt, Lead Product Manager for Color of Change
  • Dhani Jones, former NFL and entrepreneur
  • Brian Scalabrine, former NBA and TV analyst
  • Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley, Olympic Gold Medalist and CEO of Multiplying Good

In the afternoon, we split off into breakout sessions to get more specific about certain areas of youth sports—like accessibility, player development & recruiting, sponsorship & partnership strategies, events, corporate development, and health & safety.

Without further ado, here are some of the main takeaways from the conference that you can refer back to when your friends, family, and colleagues ask how the only youth sports conference of its kind went.

The conference kicked off with a high energy intro by our emcee Danielle Slaton, followed by a welcome by Brian Litvack and Jeremy Goldberg, the co-founders of LeagueApps (complete with their “secret handshake” to a Taylor Swift song, naturally.)

Danielle tied her experience in sport to her passion for NextUp and why she chose to emcee the event, and then Brian and Jeremy set the scene and context for NextUp. They even introduced LeagueApps’ newest product feature: LeagueApps Analytics.

Introducing LeagueApps Analytics

One of the reasons many attendees told us they wanted to attend NextUp 2023 is to learn what’s going on with youth sports tech now, especially LeagueApps’ technology.  Brian delivered on that ask by announcing that LeagueApps is now the most advanced data and analytics platform for youth sports, with the upcoming launch of LeagueApps Analytics in November 2023! Dozens of attendees stopped by the LeagueApps Lounge to get their own personal demo of this exciting new tool. Check out the video below that was played during the presentation.

The Transformational Impact of Data & AI on Sports

The first main stage session started off the conference strong with an in-depth discussion about the impact of data and AI on youth sports.

Travis McDonough, Founder & Chairman of the Program AI, explained the need to apply the tech you choose to use in the right ways to better your business, and where there are lapse in data in the youth sports industry compared to the pro industry—like performance and health data. By accessing more of this data, it can positively change the way youth sports develops athletes.

And while we recognize the importance of this kind of data, we also know that it is a tricky topic (especially as it relates to kids). There needs to be a moral and ethical approach to data to make breakthroughs, Travis says. We can develop insights that protect people from the conditions we see today.

Of course, what youth sports tech conversation would be complete without gamification. We live in a world where everything is digital—if we don’t go in that direction with sport, sport may become obsolete. We’re already on the edge of kids not wanting to play, we have a responsibility to figure out how to innovate, Craig Moody, President & Founder of Shoot 360, shared.

As far as the future, Travis is excited about camera-based biometrics. Craig predicts that if you aren’t using tech to develop, you won’t get to peak performance.

The Future of Where We Play

What makes a sports facility safe?

Well, it’s a loaded question, and a lot goes into building a safe playing facility—especially money. In fact, the cost of construction is 55% more now than it was a few years ago.

Jason Clement, Co-Founder and CEO of the Sports Facilities Companies, shared that not having enough facilities is a better problem to have than having a facility that does not suit your needs. So what’s the solution…? Building more multi-purpose facilities. The industry needs more facilities that can handle more than one thing—sports, events, trade shows, etc.

Have you heard of Pickle Mall? Tim Katt, Managing Director of Sports & Entertainment for Transwestern, shared the new concept that takes unused mall spaces and converts them to pickle ball courts. At the end of the day, what matters is what happens inside the facility, not how the facility is built. Think creatively and take advantage of your assets.

How We Lead

There’s a reason so many business books use sports examples to convey the principles of what it takes to lead—it’s because sports creates leaders. So, we sat down for a fireside chat with two seasoned sports professionals to pick their brains about leadership—Brian “Scal” Scalabrine, former NBA player and TV Analyst; and Dhani Jones, former NFL player, TV Analyst, and entrepreneur.

Chances are, as youth sports leaders, you’ve all been on or a part of a team that was successful in some way. (If you haven’t sorry for the sore subject).

What was it that made these teams successful?

“For me, it was my teammates. The level of excellence they showed up with everyday, the leaders set the tone,” shared Brian.

“It’s a level of humility. The talented group of people that sat at the top was able to teach younger team members of give them bits of advice,” Dhani shared.

It’s also about being able to move past mistakes—and Dhani learned from a sports psychologist in order to do that you have to “recognize, regroup, and refocus.”

As far as their best advice for you guys—Brian recommends a small court for young kids—lots of small games, lots of reps, tons of playing time.

Dhani emphasized the importance of multiple sports.

“There’s no substitute for being a multi-disciplinary athlete,” said Dhani. “It’s a mistake to teach them one sport, you aren’t giving them a chance to fully hone their skills. Being able to cross train is critical.”

Understanding and Navigating Change

What goes hand in hand with technology in youth sports? Change.

For the last session of day 1, we heard from Justin Bockmeyer of MLS Next—who spoke about MLS Next and the immense growth they’ve seen since inception (5,000 players added), despite being born out of the pandemic—a great example of successfully navigating a huge change. Part of that was the implementation of rigorous standards and more DEI practices.

Chelsea Piers is an example of an organization on the other end of the spectrum—one that has to navigate and pivot to change while maintaining the brand they’ve used for 25 years. Their solution is to focus on the whole athlete of the child.

When discussing what changes are on the horizon, Erika White, General Manager of Chelsea Piers, says club owners should understand real estate.

Justin says access is the next big change—how do we find more players in the area? Technology.

Adam Geisler, CEO of Youth Athletes United, says it’s sports and fun. How do we give kids the same dopamine rush as TikTok when they’re playing sports?

Day 1 closed out with a discussion between two impactful authors—Brad Stulberg and Linda Flanagan—where they shared their perspectives of what youth sports can offer to someone.

Day 2 of NextUp is on the horizon—we hope to see you there!

If you weren’t able to make it to NextUp this year (we sold out!) be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s conference, you don’t want to miss it.