Brian Litvack is the CEO and co-founder of LeagueApps.
My youth sports experiences have had an extraordinary impact on my life. It didn’t much matter that my impact on the field was, at best, ordinary. I simply loved to play. I loved being part of a team.
In the years since, I’ve spent much of my professional career focused on how to help organize youth sports communities. Even if you haven’t made youth sports your livelihood, research from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play backs the wide variety of lifelong positive effects of youth sports participation.
My company, LeagueApps, has created a software operating system that focuses on youth and local sports organizations. In the software industry, there is the concept of a “problem statement.” It’s a concise way to identify gaps between a current state and a desired outcome. Once a problem statement is agreed upon, it allows all stakeholders to work together toward a common goal.
Most youth sports stakeholders agree on the problem statements facing youth sports. We know youth sports organizations must operate more efficiently. We know youth sports must be safe, accessible, equitable and enjoyable. We know we need to attract and retain more kids and allow them to have positive sports experiences.
This was true even before a global pandemic disrupted youth sports organizations across the country and necessitated new standards and protocols to ensure safe play.
So, how do we get to this solution?
First, it’s important to state that I—in addition to LeagueApps and every youth sports stakeholder—am part of an emerging industry. It’s an industry driven by passion and mission and measured by more than just dollars and cents. Nonetheless, the growing global youth sports market, estimated at $25 billion, has an economic impact rivaling that of professional sports.
LeagueApps, along with many other companies and organizations, has been striving to solve the problem statement in youth sports. But the trials and tribulations of 2020 reminded us of what we knew all along. To have any chance for success, the youth sports industry must utilize and rely on those lifelong traits we learned from playing sports.
We need to all work together as a team. Let’s look at a few ways collaboration and teamwork must happen to ensure youth sports evolves to achieve the shared goals of our industry.
Shared platforms and frameworks. The youth sports industry must invest in, and develop, infrastructure frameworks and platforms constructed from our shared principles and from our problem statement. These platforms must be open and accessible to all stakeholders to build upon. These platforms are emerging and include the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, national governing bodies’ membership programs and leading software platforms focused on youth sports.
Software and technology company cooperation. The leaders in the field need to work together to bring desperately needed solutions around youth sports organization and the actual sports experience. Companies such as Famer (virtual training), Player’s Health (insurance, compliance and background checks), Mojo (coaching education) and Snap! Raise (fundraising) are providing new and more accessible solutions for youth sports communities. These software companies are some of the first to attract investment into the youth sports industry and should leverage the software platforms mentioned above to more quickly drive adoption.
Government participation. Federal, state and local governments recognized the importance of youth sports during the pandemic. We now need to leverage that awareness to solicit government support and structured programs to support youth sports communities. We need to educate government agencies on their roles in youth sports. The recently launched PLAY Sports Coalition, led in part by my colleagues Jeremy Goldberg and Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, has galvanized youth sports organizations to have a voice with legislators.
Professional sports leagues and clubs. The pros have a vested interest in developing the next generation of players and fans. We need these organizations to continue their efforts to invest in youth sport (and the future of all sports). As an example, Major League Baseball continues to invest access and participation in underserved communities through programs like Play Ball, RBI and the Youth Academies. Professional sports can help drive new ways to organize the “bottom of the pyramid” and support rec programs—an area of youth sports that has struggled to evolve.
Collaboration over competition. Youth sports stakeholders must continue to find ways to work together. More national governing bodies and associations should follow the lead of organizations such as USA Hockey and US Lacrosse, making their member databases accessible via APIs. At LeagueApps, we’re asking ourselves how we might collaborate with our “competitor” organizations even if we’re vying for the same partnerships or customers.
Support of local youth sports leaders. We need to all support those that organize sports in local communities. Many of these “sports entrepreneurs” build and run small businesses (both for-profit and nonprofit) that are pillars within their communities. They are the grassroots sport ambassadors to kids.
2020 was excruciatingly difficult for these local sports leaders as COVID-19 forced a pause in play. Like many small business leaders across our country, youth sports professionals are doing whatever it takes to survive—forgoing paychecks, furloughing staff and more. This struggle continues into the new year with tremendous uncertainty ahead of us.
Local sports organizers continue to be in great need of guidance and support to serve their communities. Our industry must be united in providing our expertise and resources to help these leaders uncover new opportunities to develop their leadership, their organizations and their businesses.
Finally, and personally, I’m proud to share that I’m playing a new position as a sports parent. I have two young boys who are just embarking on their own youth sports experiences. I take on the responsibility of helping to guide, but not dominate, their youth sports journey. I’m excited that one day, decades from now, my kids will be able to talk about their ordinary youth sports careers—and the extraordinary impacts those experiences had on their lives with as much joy and pride as I do mine.
I know that has a better chance of happening if we come together in 2021 to ensure that our youth sports industry and its local leaders have the resources to survive and thrive.
Before co-founding LeagueApps, Litvack was part of the founding team at Sportsvite and held various business development roles at CBS Sports, College Sports Television and the Official College Sports Network. He is a current board member of the New York City chapter of Positive Coaching Alliance.