During the Spring semester of 2022, students in the Sports Management Consulting senior capstone class at IUPUI were tasked with reimagining the entire youth and high school sports ecosystem in a partnership with the Center for Sport Transformation and renowned coaching expert Dr. Wade Gilbert. Students set out to understand the needs and challenges faced by youth sports stakeholders through interviews. Each student conducted 4 interviews with student athletes, parents, coaches, school officials, and Athletic Directors, reaching a total of 100 interviews as a class.
By employing the Design Thinking framework for creative problem solving, students used empathy and human-centered design to create valuable and innovative ideas. Along with this, students employed Systems Thinking to scope the problem and create meaningful solutions that have the potential to impact all stakeholders. Lastly, the solutions created by the students were guided by the principles of Long Term Program Development (LTPD) and Long Term Athlete Development (LTPD). These two concepts are concerned with the systemic and continuous improvement of student athletes and athletic departments and helped direct the solutions created by students in the course. Rather than being concerned with wins and losses, LTPD and LTAD seek to turn sports into an asset to communities and to guide the development of children and young adults in a positive way. Below are the insights gathered and solutions created by the students in the course.
Follow this link to view the full broadcast – Spring ’22 Capstone
Set the stage for winning conversations with high-impact data (Starts at 17:20)
A high school teacher would have an incredibly challenging time evaluating and teaching their students if the only grade that they relied upon is the final test score. In this example, the teacher would not have any clear idea of the progress students have made until the end of the semester. In most cases, this is the reality faced by coaches and athletic directors. An athletic director has countless areas to monitor progress and evaluate success, and there are no tools that consolidate these data points and empowers athletic directors to truly understand the performance of teams and athletes. This group of students set out to solve this problem by asking, “how might we visualize athletic department progress to assist in AD’s decision making.”
To solve this challenge facing athletic directors, a group of students set out to create the “report card” of the athletic department. It is challenging to ensure that every team and athlete within and athletic department is developing over time with data that is limited to stat sheets. While game stats can be indicative of athlete proficiency, countless other developmental factors are left unmeasured in the current system. To help ahtletic directors to monitor their departments, the students created a platform called Magnify Athletics that would measure 15 factors in an athletic department at the player and team level. A core component of the factors measured through this platform are the 4 C’s of athlete development. The 4 C’s measure Competence, Confidence, Connection, and Character. Competence refers to physical skills and abilities required to play sport. Confidence relates to the belief in oneself to be successful in a sport. Connection measures the bonds that form between players and coaches. And lastly, character refers to the moral development and sportsmanship of the athlete. More information regarding the 4 C’s can be accessed in this article, published by Vierimaa et al. (2012). This platform gives athletic directors and coaches a holistic view of the development of athletes and can help decision makers in an athletic department address important issues that arise during the season that could easily go unnoticed without data. More importantly, the ADs can use this data to empower their decisions and have winning conversations with players and coaches without having to sacrifice time out of their busy schedule gathering the data themselves.
Ensure that the athletic department is ingrained in community (Starts at 29:10)
Throughout the 100 interviews conducted by the class, a recurring theme that arose was the importance of the community surrounding an athletic department. The bond between and athletic department and its community has been shown to benefit both the department and community by providing opportunities for athletes to give back and contribute to their community. This relationship is a two-way street and can lead to more attendees at sports events, fundraising opportunities, and overall support of the mission of the athletic department. To explore how a relationship can be created between the community and an athletic department, a group of students created a fictional academy in an urban setting. To create a relationship from the ground up, the students created a plan of events and outreach efforts. At the beginning of the school year, it is recommended to bring stakeholders into a meeting and ask them to write down and reflect on what they expect out of the athletic department. This helps the community to feel heard and respected and can provide administrators with key insights of needs and wants of the community. It is vital that an athletic department engages the community around it to leverage support and instill pride and confidence in student athletes. A group of students presented this information as well as creative ways to integrate interaction with the community into the Athletic Departments annual operations.
Retain quality coaches (Starts at 40:00)
Coaches leave the job for many reasons, including burnout, lack of recognition, and communication issues within athletic departments. Retention of coaches is a serious issue in high school athletics, as high levels of turnover can prevent teams from creating an identity and hampers the overall effort of continuous improvement that is outlined in Long Term Program Development. Without a consistent coach, students will receive inconsistent messages which can lead athlete retention issues. In order to create a system in which coaches are motivated to stay in their position, a student group set out to reimagine the coach hiring and assessment process. From the beginning, the objective should be to hire a quality coach that is committed to the student athletes. To accomplish this, the students recommend observing how a potential coach interacts with student athletes as a part of the interview process. Coaches should be aware of the mission and vision of the department and be willing to contribute to the overall goals that guide the program. When a coach is hired, it is vital to see how they progress and how the students they coach develop. The group stressed the importance of recognition for coaches and appreciation efforts to ensure that the coach know they are valued in the department. Within the department, the athletic director should encourage the interdisciplinary collaboration between coaches in the form of a community of practice. A community of practice unites individuals facing similar challenges in similar times, for example a community of practice among all of the fall sport coaches in a department will be facing similar challenges and can help each other overcome said challenges. From the beginning of the hiring process, an athletic director should ensure that a coach appears to be in support of program values and will fit in with the culture of the department to mitigate retention issues.
Facilitate feeder systems that value participation and skill development (Starts at 50:30)
During their research, students found that athletic directors want stronger feeder programs that can prepare youth athletes for the next level of play through proper skill development and competent coaches. A quality feeder system drives participation and encourages young athletes to remain involved long-term. To engage young athletes and facilitate high levels of participation, there is and underlying need for participation, fun, and skill development. These two factors make sports accessible to more young adults. As we heard from one athletic director, no athlete should be told that they are not good enough to play at the elementary or middle school level. To imagine a system in which feeder systems encourage young people to get involved in sports, a group of students asked “how might we develop effective feeder programs for young athletes so they can get involved and have fun prior to high school athletics?” High school sports programs need to align the objectives of youth sports in their community with the vision of the athletic department. The platform created by these students is meant to provide a central location for youth sports stakeholders to access that facilitates registration and communication in one website. Often times parents struggle to understand what youth leagues are offered in their area due to the fragmented nature of the youth sports ecosystem. By easing parent and administrative pain-points, the focus of youth sports can be returned to the athletes. By accomplishing this, young athletes will be able to learn and develop skills and values that will be necessary at the high school level and provides consistency in instruction throughout the student athlete’s career.
The second group addressing this issue begins at 1:01:50. The second group of students found that athletic directors wanted a feeder system that will develop athletes that are ready to play at the high school level, but that many still aren’t doing much of substance to improve or integrate the developmental programs in their communities. New coaches and parent coaches come into youth programs with their hearts in the right place, wanting to give back to the community to give students the ability to play sports. However, they lack the right knowledge and tools leaving youth athletes underdeveloped as the advance through the feeder systems and grow up. Many programs focus more on winning games when they should be focusing on how to properly dribble the ball or shoot a layup. Poor and inconsistent coaching leads to kids leaving local rec and elementary programs to join travel leagues or even transferring other schools in search of better coaching. If feeder systems had more consistent and stronger coaching, athletes will be properly taught from the start, which will keep high school coaches from teaching the basics all over again. To address this topic, students asked “How might we prepare coaches to properly teach skill development for athletes?” The solution that the students created is a platform designed to customize a coaching plan based on age of the players, years of coaching experience, and the school system they coach in. This platform would allow new coaches to confidently lead practices that develop crucial skills and would provide an opportunity for high school coaches to influence the coaching principles being used in the feeder systems around them. Empowered by the American Development Model created by USA Hockey, this platform guides youth athletes to develop skills relevant to their level of experience and age. This development plan was created by experts in athletics and physical development, and provides and invaluable framework to understand key points of growth in the career of a young athlete.