Back when most coaches were growing up, football in the fall had little competition. You either played football or you did nothing. That was how it was when I was growing up too. Fast forward to 2014, we have competition for kids coming from all sides. We have to accept that and adapt if we want youth football to survive and thrive.
There are fall sports options that exist today that weren’t options for kids 10-20 or 30 years ago. Lacrosse and Soccer weren’t even around back then. Sports like basketball, baseball and hockey were reserved for their respective seasons, now many of them go year round and take our youth football players.
Then you have the fringe sports like skateboarding, BMX and even non-contact flag football have taken a few kids. On another level, many kids aren’t engaging in competitive sports at all and are relegating their time to their video games and computers. A study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association showed that since 2008 there has been an 11% decrease in youth sports participation. That shouldn’t shock those in the health industry where childhood obesity and diabetes rates have skyrocketed.
So what’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers but I can share some ideas that I know do work. I’ve started two youth football programs from scratch that both ballooned in a very short time to be the largest and most successful in the communities they served.
Recruiting– It has to be consistent, year-round, aggressive and multi-pronged. If your program is more than just football there are lots of great people and organizations you can team up with including schools, churches, community organizations and even governmental entities. Recruiting doesn’t have to be expensive, I have an entire chapter on that in my free 170 page e-book on how to start and run your own youth football program: http://winningyouthfootball.com/startinganewyouthfootballprogram.php
Equipment– Spruce up and modernize your uniforms and helmets. Like most coaches I was a fan of the Penn State and Nebraska no-nonsense uniforms. I’ve changed my tune, I still don’t allow the kids to have their names on the back of the jerseys, but our Helmets and Uniforms are the envy of our league. We are the Eagles, so our black helmets have vegas gold winged decals on them. Our game jerseys are black and vegas old with a gold rib insert, gold ringed sleeves and neck and we have some really neat feathers on the shoulder pads. The names on the back are of our 10 base character themes like Selflessness, Teamwork, and Perseverance etc
This doesn’t have to cost you a lot, Sportdecals has some amazing stuff they can do for your helmets at a very low cost. See the cool helmet at the top of this post. We’ve been using them for the last 6 years. When you go to their site use the coupon code: WYF2 for free shipping. http://www.sportdecals.com/Football-Decals_106
Public Relations– Recruiting and good PR go hand in hand. That means you are systematically working with the press, radio and other influencers in the community to get your programs name out there. More on that in that free e-book. PR is MUCH more valuable and influential than any paid add.
Social Media– Facebook and Twitter, you have to have a presence and always keep updating it with pictures and content to get people coming back and talking about you.
Word of Mouth-That is an extension of your PR. What do parents say about you to their peers in the community? Do you run great practices and not waste anyones time? When you do things like train and certify your coaches, use tools like Hudl, engage all the players and are competitive, these are things parents whisper about, they can be your best recruiters.
We have to change with the times and times are changing. Think about what you can do to help your program survive and thrive in the coming years. There are LOTS of youth programs that are busting at the seams right now because they have taken steps to adapt in todays climate of change.
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