What Youth Sports Professionals Should Know About Web3
By Melissa Wickes
June 9, 2022
Technology has been changing youth sports for years. But, just as professionals are beginning to understand and navigate how to implement it into their programs, we’re on the brink of a new digital age known as Web3.
Kirby is a former Harvard Women’s basketball player and founder of New Game Labs, and Jamal is a former NBA player and leader of eCoach. With their combined knowledge of how technology affects youth basketball, Kirby and Jamal offered their unique perspectives about where they see the industry heading in the new digital age.
How Technology Has Changed Youth Sports
New Game Labs was created with the new generation of athletes, who are digital natives, in mind. They aim to empower athletes to take control of their brand through content and partnerships with brands that can help lift them up.
Through Kirby’s eyes, the professionalization of youth sports earlier on, both on and off the court, is one of the main ways technology has changed the industry. NIL (name, image, likeness), she says, accelerated this process and shed light on the “business” of youth sports.
Technology in youth sports can mean two things—one, human performance technology and how youth athletes can use it to enhance their performance, and two, business opportunities and creator monetization, she explains.
Human Performance Technology
eCoach is a great example of human performance technology and how it can positively affect youth sports and increase access to them. They partner with the NBA Coaches Association to provide clips of drills, plays, pick and rolls, etc. Technologies like this give everyone access—including parents who want to help their kids understand skills at home—to youth sports coaching resources. eCoach’s platform offers skills and lessons they would “normally have to spend a week in camp to learn,” explains Jamal.
Business Opportunities and Creator Monetization
“If we can give athletes access to technology and what it means earlier than ever before, they can make decisions on their terms at the collegiate level,” says Kirby. “Because they have so many people coming at them with this platform and that platform, you really need the knowledge from an unbiased party to be able to make a decision as to what’s best for you and your brand.”
Does this mean athletes will begin to focus more on their TikTok videos and social media following than on their free throws, Jeremy wonders?
The reality is, the broader theme of professionalization is shifting the way youth sports are operated—for coaches, leaders, executives, and players alike. This professionalization requires training, education, and technology in youth sports management, so the people in charge know how to lead their athletes to where they want to go.
And as Kirby adds: we are increasingly aware of how the professionalization of youth sports can negatively affect and put pressure on the mental health of young athletes.
The mental health crisis within sports, specifically student athletes, is real. The growing professionalization of youth sports creates new opportunities, but it surely comes with additional pressure, and that is something youth sports professionals should always be keeping an eye on.
What Does Web3 Mean—and What Does It Mean for Youth Sports?
In many ways, we’re still figuring it out. But simply put, Web3 is the next version of the internet, enabled by blockchain technologies, explains Kirby.
As consumers, we interact with culture and entertainment every day. Web3 technology will create new and more innovative ways to do that, and we’re starting to see what this looks like in action. During the past year, we’ve seen sports institutions figure out how this will evolve their business models to put community at the front and center of what they’re doing and empower them to be owners in their business models. Kirby predicts we will see it affect every area of sports, as it expands and innovates more.
To put this in the context of youth sports, Jeremy offers this example, “Let’s say I have a highlight video of my hitting the winning shot when I was growing up in Dallas. Before, it was a highlight video and that was it. Maybe in Web2, it was shared on social media and people were able to comment and interact on someone else’s platform. Now in Web3, I can own that asset and control how that asset is used and commercialized.”
Ultimately, Kirby thinks Web3 will help athletes build their brands holistically outside of just how they play sports. Athletes are becoming content creators first, and they’ll have the opportunity to use NFTs and other technologies to build their brands earlier and earlier on, establishing their identity as something much more than just an athlete.
Not to mention, the self-discovery journey of “who am I” when an athlete’s sports career ends becomes much less prominent and intense because the individual’s identity is already way more than that. It allows the athlete to think about themself more holistically. I am an athlete, a creator, an entrepreneur, etc.
In many ways, Jeremy suggests, this expands the benefits young athletes are able to get from sports way beyond just becoming a professional athlete (which realistically, most kids won’t become).
As generations grow up alongside developing technology, it becomes second nature for them. Just like this generation’s youth athletes are used to using Instagram to share highlight videos from their AAU basketball games, NBA athletes are speaking weekly on their own podcasts.
Youth sports organizations will need to continue to meet athletes where they are technologically, much like one of our partners, Pro Skills Basketball, did throughout the pandemic through virtual skills challenges and tournaments. Some day, youth athletes will be growing up alongside NFTs as second nature, and youth sports organizations will need to learn to meet them where they are.
At the end of the day, consuming content from professionals who have both coached and played the game is way less than half the battle, explains Jamal. The hard work comes from transferring that content onto the court.
“We want [youth athletes] to actually engage in playing because that does a lot for wellness, mental health, and fitness. [Technology] is an access point, but we can’t get away from the actual physical touch of playing the game,” says Jamal. “But I am excited about the possibilities of NFTs and the Metaverse and how you can utilize that as an engagement tool to get people outside and to play and be involved in the community.”
Because no matter how much youth sports technology progresses, it will always be about the game.
To listen to the full Twitter Spaces conversation with Jeremy, Kirby, and Jamal hosted by the Jr. NBA, you can click here. Be sure to follow LeagueApps and Jr. NBA on Twitter to stay up-to-date on all things youth basketball technology.