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On the ball: Tips for marketing sport to youth


gippsport - December 11, 2020 - 0 comments

We all want to see more young people playing sport, right?

Well it might be time to review your club or association’s approach to communication and marketing when it comes to youth.

Two key themes that emerged during the consultation phase of the Increasing Access to Sport project were that many young people believed there were not enough opportunities to play sport in the Latrobe Valley and that they did not feel sport was for them.

Now we could debate whether that is an entirely fair reflection of sport opportunities in the region, but it does little to address the issue. That’s how some of our young people feel, so how are we going to change that perception?

We can start with the way we approach marketing, which is often the first impression a person gets of a sports club or association – be it via social media, website, flyer or brochure – long before they walk through the door.

We know grassroots sporting clubs have limited resources to put towards communications and marketing strategies and implementation. However, there are some simple considerations that can be made to ensure any activity that does take place in this space has a high likelihood of succeeding – or at the very least not being counter-productive.

So here are some simple questions to ask when marketing your club or association to a target market that includes youth participants.

Sport is about fun, first and foremost. ‘Fun’ may be a relative term – according to American sport scientist-practitioner Amanda Visek there are more than 80 fun “determinants” – but the three that make the biggest difference in fun according to young people are ‘trying hard’, ‘positive team dynamics’ and ‘positive coaching’. It’s one thing to say those values matter to and are in place at your club but it’s important to show it as well. Photos/footage of young people smiling, laughing and positively interacting with their peers and other people (such as coaches) can say more about your club’s culture and environment than those showing players competing hard, executing skills or holding a trophy or medal.
Take a look back at your club’s recent marketing material – social media posts, flyers, etc. Would you say they provide a fair reflection of your active members? There’s a good chance the balance of the former will be skewed towards senior teams and adult players – particularly men – with less attention on youth or junior players and teams. The latter may say the right things, but not include a complementary image. The phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ is highly applicable when it comes to youth sports participation and will be a constant theme through these tips. If a boy or girl looks at a social media page or website and only see men and/or women, why would they feel it’s a place for them?
Youth sport rarely gets as much attention as senior or adult sport and when it does it’s almost always adults talking about it. We need to change this and give young people more of a voice when it comes to their participation and experiences. So how do we do this? Give young people a chance. Put them forward as an alternative to a coach or committee member. Take the recent COVID-19 situation as an example. Youth sport returned before senior sport which presented a great opportunity for promotion, yet when the coverage came, we saw adults talking about how excited youth were to be playing again. But how much more powerful would it have been to see a young person talking about how excited they were to get back playing with their friends, having fun and enjoying the benefits sports participation has to offer? It’s empowering for that individual and their peers can see and hear one of their own sharing their experience, rather than another adult telling them how it is.
OK, so you’ve improved the balance of content to show more young people having fun, but it’s also important to acknowledge the diversity of your participants. It’s not necessarily about specifically referencing people from Indigenous or multicultural backgrounds – although telling their stories can be incredibly powerful – but simply ensuring they are visually represented so others in the community know you are welcoming of everyone. There are other ways to promote diversity as well. Sure participants are members of your club, but are they students? Do they have jobs? Do they play other sports as well? Don’t be afraid to show them dressed casually or in other uniforms to show that people with a diverse range of backgrounds and interests are welcome at your club. Once again, you can’t be what you can’t see.
This is a tricky one, but Increasing Access to Sport project consultation identified time constraints as a notable barrier to youth participation. Many young people look at sport as too big a commitment to fit into their increasingly busy lives. The solution here is two-fold – reducing the minimum expectations on young people to play, and effectively communicating that to potential members. Highlight flexibility and short/sharp participation opportunities, particularly modified formats on offer such as Twenty20 cricket, GoFootball, 3v3 basketball or Fast Fives tennis, as well as the traditional formats. Remember, you can’t keep them if you can’t get them in the door to begin with because they think they’re too busy.
The fundamental role of a grassroots sports club is to provide participation opportunities, regardless of experience or ability. You may feel your club is inclusive of everyone, but ‘fear of judgement’ remains a major barrier for some young people. Don’t emphasise competitive elements such as grading or trials – better still, eliminate them all together – but the supportive aspects, such as great coaching and focus on fun. Phrasing is important too – consider replacing words like ‘try’ with ‘play’ – e.g. a come-and-play day gives off less of a sense doubt and effort and more fun. And, once again, ensure visual representation is balanced, don’t just include images of stereotypically athletic body types, but people of all shapes and sizes.

For more tips on marketing your sports organisation to youth, contact GippSport Community Sport Planning Officer Damen Francis at damen@gippsport.com.au

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