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Rethinking Athlete Programming After COVID-19

This week, I’m building on last week’s article and continuing the discussion about the world of sport since the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, we’re rethinking athlete programming after COVID-19 to consider how sport clubs can evolve delivery to meet athletes’ needs according to the new realities we face.

Rethinking Tradition

Traditionally, sport has been delivered in a certain format, on a certain timeline, with very little variation. Take soccer, for instance. The majority of soccer players in Saskatchewan participate in weekly league play with neighbouring communities, from the end of April to the end of June. Teams attend the odd tournament and only the most competitive attend provincials. Although the sport landscape has been shifting over the last several years, many sports have been structured so that you strive for more competitive and intense programming, and when you have had your fill, you exit the sport.

Is this format practical now that the world has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic? Parents are likely concerned about packing their kids into vans and busses where the circulated air is from handfuls of other individuals’ mouths. People who have new, non-traditional working arrangements may be challenged with shuttling themselves and their kids to practices and games. Participants, of all ages, may not have enough disposable income to spend on programs now, especially on programs that already had a high price point before the pandemic. Now is a good opportunity to trial new formats of programming.

Drop-In Programs

How could more time-limited formats work for your club? Time-limited formats could be both programs and sessions that are shorter in length. Coached drop-in sessions could be an effective answer for those who cannot commit to a greater length of time. As well, these types of programs could be a great opportunity to recruit new participants to your club. Drop-in sessions offer those who have never tried the sport a low-risk opportunity to see if they like it before committing to a full-season program. Likewise, existing members could bring a friend who is not currently a member to show them how awesome your programming is, which would make them more likely to join as well.

Recreational Programming

Sport is inherently competitive and many people assume that this means that people are looking for competitive programming, i.e., programming that strives to make athletes the most competitive (and by extension, most winning) athletes they can be. This is a myth. Many people, young and old, want to participate in sport that is fun, and this does not mean winning. The Keeping Girls in Sport e-module, developed by Canadian Women & Sport and Jumpstart, shares data from a study conducted with youth athletes. The study identified 81 factors that make sport fun. The top 3 factors were positive team dynamics, trying hard, and positive coaching, while winning was 48th

Too often, sport caters only to those who want to be the most competitive. That is not to say that recreational programming isn’t or shouldn’t be competitive. As stated, sport is inherently competitive. However, recreational programming is essential for participants who have different participation interests and needs. These participants will otherwise leave your organization when their interests are no longer reflected in your programming. Recreational programming means a greater number of people who may be attracted to your club.

Ensuring that your programming and organization is participant-centred is one way to maximize your potential to ‘bounce-back’ in the aftermath of the pandemic. Do you have other ideas about how you’re rethinking athlete programming after COVID-19 that sport clubs and organizations could consider? I’d love to hear what they are. Email me and let’s chat!

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