Youth Sports Organizations Seeking Answers

Welcome to this week’s TMR Sports Philanthropy Spotlight…Today we look at sports-centric youth organizations with insights from Sports Philanthropy Network’s Roy Kessel.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the youth sport landscape. Many organizations are concerned about whether they will ever see participation return to its prior level. Sports organizations across the country are asking the question about whether parents and children will be eager to return to team sports.

As in-person contact has been all but eliminated, organizations have struggled to pivot their service delivery models to provide virtual programming to a population that frequently lacks the computer equipment and connectivity need to properly engage remotely.

Though both nonprofit and for-profit organizations share financial pressures, there are significant differences between the issues each face as they attempt to recover from COVID-19.


Fundraising for nonprofits is a big challenge at any time. However, during this type of crisis, organizations that do not provide direct COVID-19 relief are facing even bigger hurdles. As we covered in our Apr 15 Sports Philanthropy Spotlight, many organizations have been forced to cancel or delay their primary fundraising efforts.

In addition to the direct losses from cancellation, the uphill battle to fundraise becomes steeper. Our exploding unemployment rate and related drastic drops in income limit available funds for many families to contribute. And, we are seeing most of the funds available being contributed to direct COVID-19 relief.

A coalition led by the National Council on Youth Sports, Laureus Sport for Good USA, Pop Warner, League Apps, Triple Crown Sports and Reigning Champs has been organized to help lobby for $8.5 billion in funding for youth sports nonprofits. Many other organizations have joined in the initiative including Little League, USA Lacrosse, numerous sports federations and other sports nonprofits.

In the midst of this struggle, organizations like The Aspen Institute, Laureus, Beyond Sport, the Sports Philanthropy Network and America Scores have stepped forward to help address some of the toughest challenges.

The Aspen Institute:  Aspen has created a resource section for the Coronavirus, and is hosting weekly webinars with leaders of the youth sports community. These sessions are titled “Coronavirus and Youth Sports” and are held every Wednesday at 2pm ET. Topics have included:

Laureus Sport For Good USA:  Laureus launched its Virtual Training Camp program which currently hosts conversations every Thursday at 11am ET. The Apr 30 session is entitled: Social Emotional Learning in These Critical Times.

Beyond Sport: A global sports consultancy, Beyond sport has brought together organizations from around the world for its Community Chats, the next one scheduled for May 14.

Info on Beyond Sport’s May 14 Community Chat

Sports Philanthropy Network: The Sports Philanthropy Network hosts webinars every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11am ET on a wide array of topics impacting nonprofit management. SPN also curates a page of COVID-19 Sports Resources listing upcoming education programs, trainings, webinars and other free resources for designed to engage young athletes.

America Scores, a national organization that incorporates soccer, poetry and education, held a Soccer Coaches Summit over the last week. The Summit incorporated more than 100 sessions with an astonishing array to topics. Although focused on soccer, if you went back to look at the sessions you would find topics that apply to almost any youth sports organization.  America Scores also has a terrific resource page at with a full array of At-Home-Activities

(Many of the webinars and materials listed above are available on the organizations’ websites for free access during the crisis. I encourage you to look at the resource pages linked above so that your organization can avail itself of the opportunity to engage and learn from these experts.)

Players are starting to gear up their foundations to lean away from summer camps and pivot towards providing virtual education. Aaron Donald is hosting his Mental Flex Forum series for students ages 13-18 to give students “a learning experience they won’t find anywhere else,” according to Executive Director Akita Donald.

Despite the resources provided by these groups above, many organizations are struggling to maintain connection with their participants due to the technology and connectivity issues we cited before. Many kids live without regular access (or have only shared access) meaning they may not be available during the hours that the organization typically provides services.

America Scores has done an especially good job at making the resources available at all hours so that kids who want to engage can do so–at whatever hour the technology is available to them. Executive Director Bethany Henderson spoke to a George Washington University audience Tuesday about the importance of following up and engaging these athletes. Henderson emphasized how the coaches in her programs are often the ones on the front lines of dealing with the families and learning about their needs for food, shelter or other services.

As difficult as the current situation is for many organizations, the return to sports will have its own challenges. Medical experts believe that kids need a gradual return to sports after COVID-19. Many articles have looked at the challenges high school athletes face due to their cancelled season, as well as the mental health concerns as kids are not able to unleash their bundles of energy.

Since only 24 percent of American children between ages 6-17 get the recommended amount of physical activity each day (60 minutes per CDC Guidelines), experts believe that physical education matters now, more than ever.

The uncertainty as to both the timing and the conditions under which activities can resume has left many with unsatisfactory alternatives that are at odds with their mission. It is challenging for nonprofits to have the need to pay more staff and more staff hours to deliver virtual programming.

Among the issues raised this week in a Milwaukee Youth Sports Alliance call was the challenge that would accompany any return to participation. Restrictions may limit each “group” of participants to no more than 10 at a time, meaning a coach for every nine players. This likely requires adding more coaches at a time when organizations lack the financial resources to sustain existing programming and staffing, let alone adding costs and staff.

Only one thing is certain at this time: big challenges lie ahead. The constantly changing rules make for a difficult path for these nonprofit organizations.


Many in the for-profit youth sport industry are concerned that participation levels will never return to the previous levels. There is significant fear that families will no longer desire to be traveling as much as they used to, nor exposing themselves to the large number of other families.

In a world where the concept of “Tourna-cation” has taken hold, the biggest venues in the country are preparing for anticipated revenue drops of over 50 percent–if they are even allowed to operate this summer.

They will also face the challenges inherent in whether to allow spectators at games; how to check people’s health and the difficulty in implementing new sanitization policies.

Smaller organizations and youth leagues that are dependent on registration fees will be hit especially hard. Since they are not currently able to register young athletes, they have no revenue streams to sustain their operations.

Updates: NFL Draft-A-Thon, All-In-Challenge

Updates to items we covered in last week’s Sports Philanthropy Spotlight:

  • The NFL raised over $6.6 million during its Draft-A-Thon while the NFL “family” as a whole, has surpassed $100 million raised.
  • The All-In-Challenge is still going strong and as of press time has raised over $23 million. Impressive work which has set a high benchmark for other fundraising initiatives.

Ready to check out past TMR Sports Philanthropy Spotlights? View them all, plus other recent Sport Philanthropy coverage, HERE.

Roy Kessel is the Founder of the Sports Philanthropy Network. Roy has worked in the sports business world for over 20 years including serving as an instructor in Northwestern University's graduate Sports Management Program. Having served as a sports lawyer representing athletes, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, Roy has extensive experience helping organizations improve their strategy, marketing, communications and leadership development.