Community recreation leaders share strategies and top tips behind the most successful fall youth sports. Photo courtesy of Mission Valley YMCA.
According to CNBC, a vast majority of children play at least one sport as they are growing up. As of 2020, 76.1% of kids ages six through 12 and 73.4% of kids ages 13 through 17 played a team or individual sport.
Community rec centers are uniquely positioned to provide several sports for thousands of children across the country. With those opportunities comes the chance to generate an ample amount of revenue to close the calendar year.
There is arguably no better season to capitalize on the need for youth sports than the fall, but many rec centers are still bouncing back from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, the Southeast Ventura County YMCA’s flag football program is seeing optimistic results. Dani Hutchison, the Y’s senior director of financial development, said the fall youth league is the rec center’s only profitable sports program since the pandemic began.
“We relaunched the program in October 2021 with 278 participants,” said Hutchison. “This previous flag football season we have grown to 427 participants. We’ve not been able to relaunch the other sports programs we were running prior to the pandemic for many reasons. After seeing the success of the return of flag football, we hope to bring back several other programs by the end of 2023 at both of our branches in Simi Valley and Westlake Village.”
Hutchison partly attributed the success of the league to partnerships with Westlake Village Parks and Rec, Agoura High School’s football team, software programs like Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Excel, and GameBreaker equipment supplier for jerseys.
To run a profitable fall sports program, Hutchison said to first over-communicate with parents and staff and have understandable deadlines. “Make sure to have clear policies, rules and a code of conduct,” she said. “Our registration process is ‘bring your own team.’ Coaches would register and provide a list of players for their team. Then, players would enroll in the program and provide their coach’s name.”
Hutchison said other fall programs seeing solid levels of engagement include:
- Youth Enrichment: Session-based, healthy living classes for children.
- Adventure Guides: A program for parents and children designed to help foster a lifetime of understanding and companionship through outdoor adventure activities.
- Youth & Government: Model legislative and court program for high schoolers.
- Model United Nations: Model legislative and court program for middle schoolers.
A variety of fall offerings can also be found at the Mission Valley YMCA where youth soccer and basketball leagues reign supreme. Rob Sauvajot, the regional executive director of the Mission Valley YMCA, said they also offer youth sports clinics ages six to 12 and Pee Wee sports like soccer, T-ball, volleyball and lacrosse for ages three to five.
“Our two skateparks in San Diego also continue to do well along with day camps and adventure clubs for families that include sports and physical activities,” said Sauvajot. “Overall, our youth sports programs focus on well-being for all participants and communities with an emphasis on positive youth development.”
However, other community rec facilities like the Tucson JCC are finding success through one primary fall sport. Amy Dowe, the director of wellness at the Tucson JCC, said several youth basketball programs are the center’s biggest revenue generators during the season.
“Our leagues play on Sundays, and the excitement in the gymnasium is palpable,” said Dowe. “It’s a great way for the whole family to spend time at the JCC together. While our leagues are competitive, we are committed to offering these programs for all skill levels, so as many kids can participate as possible. We emphasize team building and having fun to create a friendly, low-stress environment.”
The JCC’s basketball offerings include the Lil’ Ballers clinic and league play for ages three to five, the Mighty Mites clinic and league play for ages six to eight, and the All-Stars clinic and league play for ages nine to 11.
New to the JCC in the spring of 2023 were the Tucson Jays club team for middle schoolers and the high school internal league for students grades nine through 12. Dowe said the program tiers allow for youth of all ages to participate, and many of the youngest players come from their early childhood education program, which creates a direct pipeline for families.
“We’re thrilled to now be offering a club team for middle schoolers and look forward to watching our youth basketball programs continue to grow,” said Dowe. “People were wanting to get back to basketball specifically after COVID-19. We ran many clinics and all-star-style competitions when we could not have direct contact with the kids, and we were still masking. League play finally picked up in the fall of 2021.”
Dowe said the league saw a total of 95 participants that season. However, that number is now on the rise as they saw over 120 last fall. She said the recently added club team for middle schoolers, which was an idea driven by participants, has assisted with the growth.
The Mission Valley YMCA has also had an increase in enrollment since reopening from the pandemic. Sauvajot said total participation has grown each year despite still not reaching pre-pandemic volume.
“The Y, like many others, is needing staff to help meet the needs of our community and welcome those who may want to join our Y team,” said Sauvajot. “Strong enrollment, trained volunteer coaches, strong staff leadership, suitable playing spaces, parent communication, an organized schedule, affordable prices and a strong safety reputation are all needed to run profitable fall youth sports.”
Sauvajot said the Y’s youth soccer leagues partner with the San Diego Loyal SC professional soccer team for co-branded league jerseys, volunteer coach recognition, player appearances and more.
“We’re also looking to expand our partnership with the San Diego Padres in our youth outreach baseball league ran by our Y,” said Sauvajot. “It’s free to all enrollees and funded by the Padres. Additionally, we use Score Sports and MOJO Sports — leading sports manufacturers — for league jerseys and coaching resources.”
No matter which sports community rec centers offer, Dowe said all leagues and offerings need to be consistent and customizable to be financially successful.
“Our fall youth sports do well in part because we continue to offer programs all year and keep the momentum going,” said Dowe. “Invest in your staff as well. They are the face of your leagues and make all the difference when building a sports program. Use member feedback to innovate and adapt. Listening to the needs of your community goes a long way.”