Youth league officers are just like you and me. In fact, they are you and me. Most of us have day jobs and do not have the luxury of a huge professional staff or unlimited corporate resources to do the job of keeping our kids and coaches on the field or on the court. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that among the topics we find the most challenging are those that take us most away from the reason we got into youth sports in the first place. Let’s look at league officers’ Top 5 Most-Hated Topics, as surveyed by the staff of League Network Magazine, starting with #5.
#5 Learning League Management Best Practices
While many league leaders bring many years of youth sports experience with them into their roles, the fact remains that there is no single place for league managers to learn best practices in their sport and on killer topics such as background checking, volunteer recruitment, buying insurance, specifying a league management system, fundraising, dealing with a crisis, injuries, et cetera. While organizations such as League Network have designs on creating the ultimate one-stop-shop for how-to’s for running youth leagues, the job is just starting.
#4 Recruiting & Retaining Volunteers
Some find recruiting harder than retaining volunteers. Some find the opposite. Many point to two factors that determine whether volunteers are at the top of your problem list. First, do you have a ready supply of new volunteers comping into your league? If so, your stress level will be lower on recruiting. Second, have you set appropriate expectations among volunteers for their workload and commitment? If so, you’re likely to keep people longer than if there are surprises.
#3 Finding Fields and Courts
With the proliferation of private leagues and clubs out-pacing the construction of new facilities many-fold, the competition for court, field and ice time is at an all-time high. Most facilities have two price cards, one for non-profits, the other for for-profits. Typically, non-profit rates are about 1/3 the price of for-profits. And scheduling puts a lot of stress on athletes, coaches and parents, with many practice times set for late night or early morning, with tight turnaround times between school and sleep.
#2 Nasty Parents
If you Google “nasty youth sports parents,” you will get about 257,000 hits. Stories abound online of youth sports parents who abused his or her kids, an umpire, other parents, or acted out their inner brat. While there is no silver bullet for curing nasty parents, watching the movie Kicking and Screaming is a good start.
#1 Fundraising & Budgeting
In a gathering of 90 youth league officers in San Diego early this summer, League Network found that 87% of the volunteer and career youth sports officers said that fundraising and budgeting were their biggest challenges. Among the quotes: “As much as I love leading the kids on the field and in the gym, I hate fundraising even more. In the end, fundraising will be the reason I leave youth sports.” “Every year I’m $40,000 short, and every year I have to sell $120,000 worth of candy, raffle and banquet tickets to make up the difference. And that’s on top of my day job.” “If there were a way to balance my budget with fundraising that didn’t eat up all my available spare time, I would do it in a heartbeat. Somebody’s got to invent an assisted fundraising utility for youth sports leagues.” Stay tuned to LeagueNetwork.com for new developments in assisted fundraising for youth leagues and tournaments.
Any knucklehead knows that the main difference between a non-profit youth league and a for-profit is that the non-profit pays no taxes, while the for-profit pays 30% or more of its profits.
For the 84% of youth leagues who are non-profit, being tax-free is Plan A, the only way to go. But for the 16% that are for-profit, paying no taxes is too high a price to pay. Plan B, for-profit, is a plan with more and more fans. And for four good reasons.
First is that only for-profit leagues can distribute residual income, aka profits, to the folks who control the organization. While non-profits can pay reasonable wages, league managers cannot pocket “profits.” Profits are the result of a “non-related business activity,” and is the reason many non-profits lose their tax-exempt status. For the thousands of leagues who are run by committed volunteers, being non-profit keeps everyone exclusively focused on charitable activities. But every year, a growing number of league managers think that volunteering is over-rated. Instead, they argue, the profits the league makes should rightly flow to the people who run the league well.
Second is the limited supply and increasing demand for youth sports facilities—fields, courts, gyms, tracks and pools—which has driven many entrepreneurs to raise money to buy their own facilities. For-profits have access to investors who can own a portion of the company or facility, or can borrow money from a large variety of sources. Non-profits with cash can buy facilities, or can borrow (but with more difficulty than for-profits), but can’t have “investors.” Instead, non-profits need “donors” who can never get their money back or earn a financial return, which limits their access to capital.
The third is the rapid professionalization of youth sports, the “4th dimension” of America’s sports economy. League managers, athletic directors and coaches in the first 3 dimensions, pro, college, and high school are trained, experienced, certified, professionalized and paid (some paid very well). By contrast, in youth, 79% of league managers and coaches are untrained, uncertified and unpaid.
But parents and players in youth sports are now applying much more pressure on leagues to provide “elite” levels of training and competition, in preparation for high school team selections and the ever-alluring potential of college scholarships. To meet these ever-higher demands, more and more leagues are realizing that only if they are for-profit can they attract the right talent. As gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.”
And the fourth reason is that even though non-profits pay no taxes, there are still large penalties for not filing your non-profit tax form 990 by the end of the 5thmonth following your fiscal year-end. In fact, if your non-profit is under $1 million a year, the penalty is $20 a day or a max of $10,000, and if you’re $1+ million, it’s $100 a day or a max of $50,000. The IRS reports that on any given month, about 65%, or two-thirds of the ~60,000 registered non-profit youth leagues are late or have filed incorrectly. And then there’s the “death penalty” for not filing on-time three years in a row: the automatic revocation of your tax-exempt status. Paying no taxes does indeed come with a price.
One final note: Based on the experience of those league manager who have done it, converting a non-profit league into a for-profit entity is a relatively simple path. The reverse trip, from for-profit to tax-exempt, is a rougher trip.
Bombarded with beaucoup buzz-phrases from your sport governing body? Need a quick primer? Here are a few recent phrases that YLMs have asked us at LeagueNetwork to summarize.
USA Football: Heads Up Football
Heads Up Football is a joint effort of USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck and NFL authorities including Dallas Cowboys EVP and Chair of the NFL Foundation Charlotte Jones Anderson to eliminate head trauma from youth football by teaching safe blocking, tackling, concussion and equipment management techniques. The Heads Up program involves four steps: First, Heads Up Certification of Player Safety Coaches to serve a league. Second, the Player Safety Coach trains other coaches on how to keep players’ heads up and avoid use of the head in tackling and blocking. Third, the Player Safety Coach engages players, parents and coaches to reinforce the technique. And fourth, ongoing guidance in technique. More at USAfootball.com/headsup.
Little League & USA Baseball: Baseball Bat Moratorium
In 2011 Little League prohibited use of bats with barrels bigger than 2-1/4” or made with composite materials (not wood or aluminum or other metal) because the bats performed better than the level printed on the bat. 2-1/4” bats are tested in a lab for their BPF (Bat Performance Factor). The moratorium came in response to a rash of injuries to pitchers from balls batted by composite bats. A new set of bat performance testing rules will come into effect for the 2018 season.
Little League & USA Baseball: Pitch Count Limits
Pitchers must be removed from the game as a pitcher (they can take another position, except catcher if they throw more than 41 pitches) once they hit the pitch counts by age group:
17-18: 105 pitches/day 13-16: 95 11-12: 85 9-10: 75 7-8: 50
US Lacrosse: Girls Headgear Rules
While girls cannot wear the same hard helmets that boys lacrosse teams wear, effective January 1, 2017, any field player choosing to wear headgear will only be allowed to wear headgear that meets the soft-helmet (ASTM F3137) standard for women’s lacrosse. The state of Florida now requires that girls wear soft helmets, and other states may follow suit.
US Soccer Federation & AYSO: Heading the Ball
In November 2015, the US Soccer Federation outlawed heading of the ball in games or practices for players 10 years or under, and players 11 to 13 can only do it in practice, not in games. The new regulations followed 15 months of class action lawsuits from parents groups concerned about the high level of concussions in soccer.
Return-to-Play (RTP) Guidelines Following Concussion
In 2014, the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy introduced the following 6-step Graduated RTP Protocol following a concussion. Timelines for the steps vary by sport and severity of injury.
Steps Activity Objective
Step 1 No activity For recovery
Step 2 Light aerobic exercise Increased heart rate
Step 3 Sport-specific exercise Add movement
Step 4 Non-contact training Exercise, coordination, cognitive load
Step 5 Full-contact practice Restores athlete confidence and skills
Step 6 Return to play
Got a buzz-phrase that’s confusing your team of YLMs? Send it to Editor@LeagueNetwork.com, and we’ll put it in our next Governing Body Buzz-Phrases Explained columns.
We’ve likely seen the children in leagues that we can tell don’t want to be there. They look bored or irritated, they aren’t receptive to coaching and their playing is usually lackluster. These are all signs of a child who doesn’t want to play a sport, but their parents are forcing them for whatever reason.
Parents run into this problem on their home turf – they have a child, they want to put them into a sport, but the child isn’t receptive.
There are children who just aren’t interested in sports, but these others treat sports like vegetables on their dinner plate – they haven’t tried them, but their minds are already made up that they aren’t eating them. They’d rather stay at home texting or they don’t like spending time outside.
It’s important to never try too hard to force a child to play sports. Parents do have the power to make children try something, but it’s never a good idea to force them to play sports past the initial trial period. This doesn’t help the child flourish like they should while playing. When a child doesn’t want to play, they truly won’t. They may be on the field, running around like they should be, but this is out of obligation and they won’t ever play at the level they should, or could be.
All hope isn’t lost, though. There are some ways you can try and convince a child to give sports a try. Think about our dinner plate analogy.
Hold on. We do not believe in buying gifts and promising the world in order to get them playing sports. Think of a way to incentivize them that both promotes the benefits of sports and doesn’t bribe them. Talk about the friends they’ll make when they play sports, and the fun they’ll have during the after-game luncheons. Children like to be included, so up-sell the idea of a team, seeing their friends outside of school and having mom and dad come to watch. Promising to coach might also be something that a child will be proud of, and something you’ll enjoy doing as a family.
When they refuse to play, make sure they understand – when they’re old enough – that you are making a financial and schedule commitment to them, by allowing them to play a sport. Changing their mind without a valid reason is unfair to you on both levels, (and sometimes also unfair to siblings). Being part of a team is also a commitment to a team, whether it is a sports team, a theater troupe or a school project. Letting your child “off the hook” without explaining the consequences to everyone involved is doing them a disservice.
Take Them to Games
Sometimes a child doesn’t want to play sports because they don’t understand what it’s like to be interested in them. In order to promote this, start trying to get them interested in sports. Don’t just show them sports on television. Give them the full experience of going to the game. Reiterate that this is what it feels like to be in the audience, and if they’re a player they’ll get to hear the noise of the crowd and feel the emotion of being supported and cheered on by an audience.
Taking a child to sports games also gives you time to bond in a very intimate way. Many parents bring their children in order to bond like this, and you should get to experience this as well. It might also spur some quick “home games” – even in the living room. Showing your child that you are enjoying the game, and enjoying playing with them, will give them a new, lasting connection to their parents.
Give Them Variety
One reason a child isn’t invested in a sport is because it isn’t the sport for them. If you come from a football family, don’t be disappointed when your child doesn’t immediately take to the sport themselves. Show them that there’s more than one sport out there, and they can pick and choose which they like.
After all, any sport can be beneficial to a child, no matter which one they might fall in love with.
If you’re a sports parent, or even a league manager, you know that traveling is part of being supportive of your child’s development. For families engaged in very competitive sports, or particularly equipment intensive ones, the added purchases prove to be a true family budget buster.
Here is a brief list of some of the costs associated with sports travel. Consider this checklist the next time you’ll be traveling for sports and start writing out a budget that fits in with your exact plans and location.
First, where will you be traveling? How far away is it? There’s a vast difference between driving to the next town over for an away game and needing to fly to a different state for a nation-wide championship. You’ll also need to consider miscellaneous expenses in with this category, like auto tune-ups or paying for luggage if you are indeed flying.
How long do you plan on staying where you’re going. Is it just a day game or something that will take a few days? Using this information, base your budget amounts on this. If it helps, budget out how much it would cost to spend a day traveling and then multiple this number by the number of days you’ll be away.
Number of Travelers
It’s one thing if you’re traveling with just yourself and a child player, but you’re likely traveling with more than one or two people. Even staff sometimes bring their spouses and/or families, so it’s always important to consider the number of beds you need and mouths to feed when figuring out your budget. As a matter of fact, sport tourism is one of the fastest growing segment of the industry.
What kind of hotel will you be staying in? Depending on the reason behind your trip, your hotel might be paid for (like in the case of a national championship or title game.) Otherwise, your accommodations may be your own responsibility. Look into alternatives if you’re strapped for cash, like staying with friends or rooming with others who are also part of the team or league. Consider swapping with another family to bring their child with you and for them to return the favor at the next tournament.
You know you’re traveling for sports, but will you also be using this opportunity to travel as a mini-vacation? Since you’re in a new city, will you take in the sights? This can also add to your budget and should be considered before you solidify any plans.
If you do want to spend some extra time participating in some touristy activities, consider giving yourself a “fun stuff and souvenir” cushion within your budget. It’s also nice to get your child a memento to remember their trip by in regards to playing their sport.
Chances are you won’t be buying groceries and making your own meals on your trip. Many hotels don’t have kitchen options, so you’re at the mercy of their food or going out to eat. Depending on where you go, this can get pretty expensive.
Before you leave, check out local restaurants. In the hotel you’re staying in, what food options are there? What are the local restaurants like? Are they high class, or are there more “down home” options?
While you might be concerned with costs for your own family, when considering travel as a team, pull out comparative budgets to look for alternate tournaments or cheaper options. Other parents might thank you.
Setting up a specific fundraiser is also an option. League Network’s assisted fundraising tools and tips are available to help.