One of the most important things that board members, administrative staff, and coaches can do for any sports club is to build relationships with local community stakeholders, regional and national authorities, and different coaching groups and teams. In youth sports, a lot of focus has been brought to coaches building relationships with their athletes and parents and the general club membership. However, there is a broader reach when building relationships that are often overlooked, even though it is a valuable way to grow a strong, competitive program. This article will be one of a three-part series and will focus on how coaches can build these important relationships to add to the strength and growth of their organization.
In general, one problem that can be found in youth sports clubs is that one or two coaches are the relationship holders with the membership, each other, and outside stakeholders, meaning that they are the only ones who have taken the time and effort to build these relationships with those around them. Perhaps they are the only ones who see the value or maybe they are just responsible for doing all of the work when it comes to relationship building. Also, it could be that one coach holds these relationships closely, and doesn't share the details with the other coaches or even the board members, leaving them clueless about the work that is being done. Instead, all of the coaches need to be aware of the important work being done to build these relationships, and the workload should be shared among them. That way, if someone has to vacate their role, the relationships built by the club can continue, and someone can pick up where someone else left off. This avoids confusion and the possibility of the feeling of neglect if communication from the club stops abruptly. Again, this is not relationship building as it pertains to your own athletes and parents, but instead, relationships that are being built within the community and with regional and national authorities.
If one coach holds all of the information, what happens when that coach moves teams or changes jobs? What happens if that coach is on an extended break for a family matter or a medical matter? It could be that the organizations and people that the coach had built relationships with feel overlooked or forgotten, meaning that all of the hard work fades away and has to be rebuilt. Relationships are built on trust and communication, so all of the coaches need to have a part to play for their club organization. For example, if one coach was responsible for doing all of the communicating and relationship building with the local governing body, such as Virginia Swimming, what happens when that coach moves to another team or changes jobs? It is possible that all of the work and strides that had been made will be lost with one coaching change. Instead, coaches should communicate with one another and share the responsibility of building these relationships. Each of the relationships and important people and contacts should be documented, and coaches should keep a running list that is well updated and talked about so that everyone is on the same page. As things change, every coach is aware of who they need to be in communication with and what important relationships need to be maintained.
Why is it so important to build relationships with local community stakeholders, regional and national authorities, and different coaching groups and teams? First of all, you will be able to leverage your relationships to achieve the outcome that both organizations are looking for. For example, if your team would like to hold a large tournament and you have a relationship with the local City Council, perhaps you could negotiate rental fees by knowing how many people you are bringing to the area. Each of those athletes represents families that will need lodging and food, so City Council being able to recognize the monetary benefit to the city is key. Mike Salpeter, Associate Head Coach of TIDE Swimming in Virginia Beach, Virginia says, “The importance of building relationships at the LSC level (VA Swimming) or with our partners at the YMCA is immeasurable. In the case of VA Swimming, it has given our team an opportunity to have a voice in the governance and operations of the sport we all love. During the pandemic, this became valuable because it helped us keep our families and athletes engaged and have a pulse of how we can keep our sport alive and thriving. For the YMCA, we have a shared vision and partnership regarding youth development. Without strong communication, and a great relationship that joint vision and passion could be knocked off track. The communication we have and share with our partners at the YMCA is just as important as the conversations we have within our own organization!”
Who are some of the people and organizations that coaches should be working to build relationships with?
Local Government leaders, such as City Council members
Local community leaders--these may be non-profits or people who have a foothold in local community activities and decisions
The “key players” in any town or community--these may be people who own companies, donate their time and effort, serve on multiple boards, or run non-profits
Local hotels or restaurants--these can become part of your marketing strategy. For example, we are bringing 500 athletes to the area for competition. How can we work together to make it a good experience and a profitable experience for everyone involved?
Governing bodies of your local sports club (USA Swimming, USA Soccer, USA Field Hockey, etc.)
Other area coaches/teams that are in your city, region, or even broader.
Overall, the strength of a youth sports program can be found in many areas, including the coach's ability to work together and build strong relationships with the community assets around them--these organizations, groups, and people become supporters as the team is able to grow and flourish. For proper relationships to be built, all of the coaches need to be stakeholders in the relationships with a defined plan and consistent documentation and strategy.