Feature Article - May 2007
Find a printable version here

A Child's-Eye View

Expanding Your Audience to the Younger Set

By Kellye Whitney

Good Sportsmanship -
The Whole Point to Marketing

The whole point of worrying about marketing in youth recreation program development is to get kids to attend and participate in programs that will help to keep them healthy and out of trouble.

OK, maybe it's not the whole point, but it's a healthy percentage of the reason that marketing is important. If you market programs around survival and self-esteem or team-building exercises using sports and other recreational activities for structure, the result is likely to be children who believe in those things and behave accordingly. But one of the biggest obstacles to high participation in these types of recreational youth programs is competition—competition from video games and assorted high-tech gadgetry, the Internet and good old-fashioned television, only this television has had a Starbucks-sized shot of caffeine in the form of a billion cable channels.

Consider the popular concept of good sportsmanship as it pertains to competition: Following rules, encouraging one's teammates, congratulating someone on a good play or for giving it their best effort, even learning how to share the spotlight and exercise common courtesy and respect for teammates and opponents alike. These are all good lessons in teamwork. These are lessons that are likely not being emphasized in the competitive video-game space. In order to promote the concept in a more beneficial way, first you have to get kids involved.

The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) promotes and fosters good sportsmanship in any application using marketing strategies that appeal to youth and adult audiences alike.

"There are many benefits to learning good sportsmanship apart from the athletic aspect," said John Eng, chief operating officer, NAYS. "Children who learn good sportsmanship in a team setting are much more likely to have positive and healthy interaction with their classmates and friends in classroom and group settings. We encourage parents and coaches to promote good sportsmanship as they learn in our National Youth Sports Coaches Association and Parents Association for Youth Sports clinics."

Education is a big part of the NAYS operation. The organization holds training classes for certifications of various types for volunteer coaches, parents, administrators and officials. These certifications all emphasize the importance of ensuring that good sportsmanship stays in the forefront of any sports experience. Programs such as Start Smart, which was developed to teach children skills in parent-child teams, and Hook A Kid On Golf, which teaches the rules, fundamentals and history of what's essentially an individual sport in a team setting, all encourage teamwork.

"The emphasis that we put on good sportsmanship is inherent in all of our programs," Eng explained. "We don't offer step-by-step instructions to parents or coaches specifically on teaching sportsmanship, but through our encouragement and our efforts to make sure the youth sports experience is fun and positive, we teach parents, coaches and administrators to maintain a happy environment. Sportsmanship is a natural result."

When a program's emphasis is too strongly focused on simply winning, the positive benefits of youth sports take a back seat.

"When a 7-year-old starts playing soccer, there is so much he can look forward to: meeting new friends, learning new skills, working together as a team, keeping physically and mentally healthy. If the main goal is to win, those other benefits can fall by the wayside, and that includes a proper emphasis on sportsmanship," Eng said.