Industry Insights

NextUp 2022

5 Things Coaches and Administrators Should Consider About Youth Sports Today

By Melissa Wickes
February 16, 2023
3 min

— The information in this blog was derived from a panel discussion at NextUp 2022: the Youth Sports Management Conference. To learn more about the conference click here. — 

Picture this: It’s the late 1980s and you just watched Michael Jordan kill it on ESPN once again. The endorphins are coursing through your veins and you can’t help but grab your ball, run out to your driveway, and attempt to mimic the jump shot that won the game. Over and over again.

Now, it’s 2023. Kids are spending their afternoons after school playing Fortnite. They run outside with their friends to mimic “the floss” dance that they see over and over again in the video game. In many ways, life is so different now. But in some, it’s exactly the same.

Youth sports are still a quintessential part of so many kids’ upbringings—they still teach them so much about life, camaraderie, community, resilience, and teamwork. But now, youth sports administrators and coaches are no longer competing with only other sports—they’re competing with addictive, dopamine-inducing forms of media like video games and social media.  

The answer isn’t to fight these things, it’s to learn how to operate in conjunction with them and make youth sports experiences as compelling as possible to compete with them. Here are 5 things leaders in youth sports and technology suggest considering to compete with and capitalize on the world of social media. 

Build player self esteem

One of the reasons why social media is so addicting is because it builds our self esteem through online validation. In the past, you strived to get your highlights on some sort of website or get your name ranked on a list. Social media puts that into overdrive, says Kazeem Famuyide, on-air talent at MSG Entertainment Corp. 

Teaching kids to do things at practice that build self esteem while having nothing to do with external validation builds resilience, Erica Anderson, co-founder and CEO of The New Savant and former employee at Google and Twitter, tells us. What activities and drills can you facilitate that will make players feel good about themselves on their own?  

Pay attention to reasons for player retention

At the end of a season or camp, do you ask players what they liked or disliked about the program? Do you ask them why they’re coming back or why they’re choosing not to? Surveying information like this can help you build “addicting” experiences through youth sports, suggests Reed Shaffner, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Mojo Sport.  The more kids feel “addicted” to good things the less likely they are to be addicted to more harmful ones.

For example, kids love video games because it’s their opportunity for self discovery. There’s no parent or coach telling them what to do or when, it’s their own world, and that’s a tough experience to compete against.  

Create experiences kids want to mimic

The more you demonstrate engaging and exciting parts of a sport at practice, the more kids will want to mimic it, and that’s how you keep youth sports competitive against things like video games. In fact, e sports—like NBA 2K—can actually be helpful in this scenario. Games are getting so advanced that they can simulate things that are actually happening on the field, and they’re helping kids learn more about the sport, says Kazeem.

Understand the context

Ignoring the overwhelming presence social media has in the lives of your players is just not going to cut it. Kids have so many influences beyond what happens at practice. It’s not just about relating to them, it’s about understanding what’s going on—whether it’s online harassment, bullying, or a constant need for validation—and building your youth sports strategy accordingly. Have conversations with your players about what they’re experiencing online and how it plays into their thinking, and shape your practices around that.

Utilize your community

We’re experience a time where young kids grew up with all of this technology at our fingertips, but young adults remember growing up without it. Take advantage of the people in your community who understand both sides of the coin.

LeagueApps has spent the last 10+ years building and training a customer support team that understands youth sports, technology, and their intersection. To learn more about what your youth sports organization can be doing to provide better experiences for your players, talk to a youth sports specialist.